I am sad and embarrassed to admit it but my Shoddy wiring job on the bus led to a fire in the rear battery box. I was playing with the cables connecting two batteries and left one cable too long and forgot I had done that, it must have gotten pressed against another battery terminal under my box lid and the vibrations of driving caused the cable insulation to break causing a short. This in itself wasn't too bad, but I had a lot of foam under the lid acting as a spacer/insulator and it caught fire when the wire sparked. Fortunately I was driving by this Bar pictured below when it shorted so I stopped in for a pint while the Fire Department did its job. Pictures of the damage coming soon.
It has turned chilly here in Portland, with nighttime temps in the 40's, and that turns out to mean that my batteries don't charge as well as they used to. My range is down to 30 miles now. I did go 30miles the other day with some 55 mph stretches and two adults and 150 pounds of equipment for work. When I got back I was pretty sluggish accelerating from stop lights and my battery back read 148V. (144V should be the lowest I could go)
To get back to normal battery behavior I am going to need to heat the batteries with some sort of electric blanket or wiring, or wait till spring. From asking questions on the EVDL.org forum, I need to keep the pack near 70 degrees, and my rear pack isn't well insulated.
Jim Husted from Hi-Torque Electric delivered my new 9 inch motor in person! It weighs almost twice my old motor, so it was a bit difficult to put in. Last time all we did was to put the motor on a floor jack and put it in place. This time it required a transmission jack adapter, which held the motor securely. It too three attempts over two days to get it in place, but it worked and I am back on the road.
AS Jim told me, I am really getting a lot more power. 0-30 mph doesn't feel slow any more and I have noticed a distinct difference on small hills in the neighborhood that used to give me trouble. I haven't opened her up yet, I really am in the city, so I haven't gotten above 40 mph in 3rd yet. I'll keep updating when I see how 4th feels, I'm sure higheays are no longer out of the question.
A good 9 inch motor is what the bus needs, my old D&D 6.7 inch just couldn't handle it. I don't know about range, but in the limited driving I've done so far I don't think my range has suffered at all. A goof 40 mile trip should test that.
For now I'm just enjoying passing the gas stations again.
I got a chance to Meet Jim Husted from Hi-Torque Electric. Jim rebuilds electric motors for EV use, and I'm happy to be able to give my old blown motor to him to recycle into someone's EV in the future. Jim is going to work with me to get a 9or 11 inch motor for the bus. I'm sure this photo I took of Jim will be a popular in the EV forum circles 8^) The photo is Jim with the "kill" for the day my 6.7 inch D&D motor.
Well, I haven't written as much lately, because things have been going pretty well. Saturday wasn't a good day for my EV. This is a bit hard to explain to those without an electric car, but the motors are really different. In an EV there is nothing to slow you down when you are in gear, and I was in 1st gear at the top of a hill and I started to coast down, and after 30 mph I heard a small explosion in the rear, and my engine had blown to bits. I had the radio on and wasn't paying attention to the engine noise, and at 7-8 k RPM's the engine just went BOOM! It was my own fault and I'm really bummed out, but I won't be using 1st gear again when I get a new motor. You can see from the pictures that the guts are pretty much a mass of chunks or random copper pieces.
We did it! I drove my VW-EV to Sauvie's Island for a weddign on Saturday at Kruger's Farm, and set it up as the photobooth. The guests came in through a curtain where the sliding door is and sat in the back seat. We got some amazing shots.
Transitioning to an EV isn't easy. I feel like I am still learning how to drive. After doing some research online and asking questions in forums and such I have changed my shifting and driving habits. I am now using 1st 2nd and 3rd, and rarely 4th. I am getting from 0-16 MPH in 1st, then up to 28 MPH in 2nd, then 45MPH in 3rd, and cruise at 50MPH in 4th. I am now reeving the engine to higher RPMs about 4000rpm. Hopefully this will help me get more mileage out of the bus as well as be kinder to the batteries so they will live longer. I am also watching my amp meter to keep the amps below 300 as much as possible. With 6V batteries 300 amps shouldn't hurt the life of the batteries if I don't run it there too often.
I did end up getting on I-5 the other day but I knew there was traffic so stop and go was no problem keeping up with the flow!
I was gone last week, and my bus just had to sit. I left it fully charged, and when I came home it read 155 on the pack, but when I plugged it in, it charged for a good hour or so. Yesterday Erica and I made a trip to Edgefield for a concert (Death Cab), 26 miles total trip on the back roads, which wasn't a problem, but I did have to drive into an open field to park. It was super rough and I had to worry about bouncing my batteries around too much and loosening a connection, but no harm done!
One of my Jobs is renting out photobooths in Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington, and Boise Idaho. www.portlandphotobooth.com
I have an upcoming wedding in July where we are turning the bus into the booth. It will be an outdoor farm wedding and the bus will fit right in. The box with camera and printer will be behind the drivers seat, and the guests will enter through a curtain where the sliding door opening is, then sit on the back bench and hit the button for the shots. It will then print out right away for the guests inside the bus.
I just had two days over 40 miles for work. I had to go from NE Portland to Tualatin, and then the next day to Lower Lake Oswego. Both of these required some big hills and some 25 mph driving up hill on the way home. The pack voltage when fully charged is 155V now and after a trip like that it reads 145V. I was lugging about 200 lbs. of gear and myself, but no middle seat. It also takes 9 hours on 220 to fully recharge the pack after tough days like that.
On the design front I put some electric car signs in the window to see how people will react, I think it keeps them from getting mad at me on the big hills, and I added a new VW logo to the front.
I finally got new tires on the bus. Thanks to LesSchwab here in in NE Portland I got Nankang brand 185R-14/8 N810 Light Truck 2 ply sidewalls steel belted rasdials. 65 psi.
The bus now steers easier and rolls faster. I should get better mils per charge and maybe even faster speeds.
I'll post about that when I figure it out
Shocks are next. I was thinking about coil overs, but the forum over at TheSamba.com convinced me that the bus shock mounts arent strong enough, so I'm going with the gas adjust models. The tires helped make the back end look less saggy already and the shocks will finish the job and get rid of the squeaking noise I make. Bicyclists look out!
Yesterday we really pushed the limits of what this car can do. Me, my wife, my three kids, three car seats and 650 pounds of paint from the paint store to paint our house with. And it was 4.4 miles up hill on the way home. It felt sluggish on some of the hills, and I really need to get some sturdier tires, but it made it! I won't be lugging that much around too often, but it is fun to know I can.
A friend of mine, Lars, has an electric Geo Metro. He was having a battery over heating problem while charging, and I read that 1 bad battery can make the whole pack over heat during charging. We tested the charge of all th ebatteries and found one that was 6v (he has 8v batteries) and we disconected it from the pack. His overheating problem went away. Cool.
Now he has another problem where he has full battery voltage but nothing happens when he steps on the throttle. We'll try to look at it tomorrow and see if we can figure it out. The gas pedal feels right, but no response for the motor, Any one have any ideas or know of a good way to start trouble shooting an electric car? He didn't build his, so we have some detective work to do.
Today I got up to 46 miles per hour and went 40 miles. The voltage at the start of the day read 152, and at the end of the day it read 144. So I'm sure I can go 50. Maybe more. We will see. I just don't have a need to go further yet, and I haven't tried just an all out speed test on flat land.
10 miles of today's trip was with about 100 pounds of gear, for my job. 10 other miles wit My wife and 40 pounds of cargo. Some big hills, and a ton of stop and go in the city between lights.
I'll try a max speed test soon, and I'm sure I'll hit 50 miles in a week or so. The batteries should be in top shape in a few weeks. I hear it takes 20-50 charge cycles to get them in tip top form.
I am tyring to decide how to paint the bus. I am using the bus for business, so I'm going to put logos on the bus, and mention something about being electric, so people don't get mad at me for going a bit slow sometimes.
If anyone wants to help me figure out a good paint job, let me know.
I'm a photographer and I have a photobooth company here in Portland, and I want to advertise these services. Maybe I'll go black and white to keep it film like.
Here is my wiring diagram from wilderness EV, It really covers everything except my split arrangement of batteries (some inside some in the engine compartment, and some in the gas tank area)
The actual hooking up the electrical components takes only a few hours, what took me a majority of time in order greatest to least follows:
Longest...thinking and planning this thing out......then the brake job.... building battery boxes ..... venting battery box with fan (involved drilling a 4 inch hole in my bus, yikes!)....building battery cables.....attaching motor to transmission... attaching all the wires...
The transmission in the bus is the same as the original vw bus transmission. It attaches directly to the moter via a coupler, and an adapter plate bolts on to motor and tranny with just 4 bolts. So the motor just hangs off the transmission, cool! I have no clutch, which as it turns out is no big deal. I just have to be at a stop to get into 1st gear, and I don't use 1st anyway.
I start in 3rd. Because of the motors torque this seems to be the best gear, then after 30 mph I switch to 4th. shifting from 2nd to 3rd actually takes longer than just going straight from 3rd all the way, and seems to keep my amps to a minimum.
To switch gears I just let off the accelerator and the tranny switches really smoothly for me.
I had heard about blown connections and in the first few days of running the bus I had 3 connections melt on me. This picture shows a progression of the lead lug melting. (The deformed lugs were round to start with) So I had to use lock washers to keep my connections tight. I may switch to copper connections which seem to stay tighter for me than these lead ones, but at least the lugs melt before the battery terminals do, which I would be afraid might happen with copper lugs. They make a nice pop, get relay hot and my engine loses power immediately when they blow. Another reason not to go with this style battery I suppose.
To give hope to anyone thinking about a project like this so encouragement, I entered into this conversion with absolutely no skills tools or experience with working on cars. I'm really not very handy around the house either (ask my wife).
I definitely couldn't do it all myself, so I found two friends who donated their time to get me through this. A big Thank You to Scott and Danen for all your help.
So if you are as mechanically uninclined as I am you'll have to have some inclined friends, but with VW air cooled cars being pretty simple, as far as cars go, you can do most of it yourself, or con a friend into doing it mostly themselves.
I suppose you could find a mechanic to pay, but no one I contacted was willing to take it on.
The hardest part of the conversion for me has been the brakes. My bus had been sitting outside for a while and the brakes were locked on. A new brake job had to be done and I had to do it. New calipers, new pads and springs, new rotors, new pads, new bake lines, new master cylinder.... and the reason I went with a 73 bus instead of the earlier versions is that 73 was one of the first years, if not the first, which had vacuum assist brakes.
No combustion engine means no vacuum,so I bought a vacuum pump from http://www.electroauto.com and attached that to the front underside of the bus. Unfortunately I have had no luck in getting it to work properly. When I turn the bus on with the key the pump gurgles loudly for 6-7 seconds until it creates a vacuum in the system and an additional chamber made out of 4 inch PVC pipe. But, the instant I touch the brakes all the vacuum is released on the other side of the brake booster through the air port. I asked a question about this on http://www.thesamba.com and I am thinking I have a bad booster valve.
Not much money left at this time for my bus, so replacing the booster will have to wait a while. The brakes work very well as they are anyway, they just take a bit of muscle to get them to really lock up. My right leg may end up twice as big as my left, especially with no clutch action.
Someday soon, I am hoping ,that Lead acid batteries won't be the most popular choice for powering electric cars, but right now they are the choice of most. Cost is a big factor and they are relatively affordable right now. They are also almost entirely recyclable. Bonus!
On the downside they are heavy, which reduces range and causes problems with the suspension, even though my motor now only weighs 80 pounds and there is no gas or tank to carry in the back. Still, I probably added 1000 pounds to my bus in all. Some day I'll have it weighed.
There is a brand of batteries called Trojan which are supposed to be the best, but they cost almost twice as much as mine, and like I said I really am hoping for a breakthrough in battery technology withing 4 years (the life span of a lead acid battery).
While my batteries are working I have had an issue with the connections coming loose and causing enough heat to melt the lead side post style connectors I used. I fixed this with lock washers though and haven't had any problems since. Other style batteries have better connections than mine, so I would look into this if I was starting anew, but again, the price was right.
I used 24 6V golf cart batteries from Les Schwab to power my rig. 6V seems to be the choice for maximum range (don't ask me why). Then the lights and radio and blinker run off a 12V auxiliary battery that is a deep cycle type battery. This is important since it will be used and only charged when plugged in, not like a car battery which is continuously charged by the alternator.
The 6V units are flooded which means you have to fill them with water every month or so. I haven't done this yet, maybe I'll post about it when it comes time.
I have 10 batteries in a box behind the drivers seat which has a 110V computer box fan attached to vent the explosive battery gasses during the charging process. This is a box I made out of wood and non corrosive plastic sheeting material. it is bolted to the floor and reinforced with some angle iron inside and a steel strap around the whole box.
The auxiliary battery is where the original battery went, and 10 more are on a wooden platform above the motor, and the last 4 are in the compartment that the gas tank used to be in.
The plugs for the battery charging come out through my old gas door. I just had to.
So, as I said this isn't a step by step tutorial, I wish I was that good, but I can tell you some things now that my bus is up and cruising around Portland.
I got my parts from several different sources. http://e-volks.com/ is where I got my main kit. I found them to be super nice and helpful which is what made me choose them to buy my main parts from. I used Kit #4.
Why did I do this. I did it because I felt guilty that I drove too much for my business, using gas and creating green house gasses. I figure I drive about 10 miles a day on average for my work, even though I have a home office. While an electric car isn't entirely pollution free, you need a power plant to charge the thing, from my research it is the greenest way to drive available today.
I am also happy to say that I recycled a car for this project. Much better than it ending up in a landfill.
No, I won't be able to give up having a gas car for longer trips, but most of my driving is in the city which is the most inefficient way to drive a gas powered car.
I recycle, I turn off my water and lights as much as possible, I use flourescent bulbs, and I wanted to clean up my act just a bit more with this project.
This isn't a step by step blog on how to do this. I didn't document it all that well, but hopefully I'll give some good info to those who might be inclined to take on such a project themselves. Feel free to contact me through my website http://www.portlandphotographer.com/ with questions about my project or one that you are looking to do.
I must say that I am not mechanically inclined. I happen to know two people who are, Scott and Danen, who helped me tremendously. With VW's there always seems to be someone that wants to help get yours up and running. If you know a thing or two about cars this really isn't a hard project, and if your car is in decent shape it shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to get it done. Of course it took me 6 months, and I am lucky my neighbors didn't kill me for having it parked in front of my house on the street for so long. I'm sure they are happy I got it moving.
Welcome to my Electric VW Bus conversion blog. In the Summer of 2007 I made up my mind to convert a 1973 VW Bay Window Bus to an electric vehicle (EV). I had been researching stock EVs like the ZAP cars, and decided that if I was going to fully utilize an electric car to carry my work equipment, and occasionally my family of 5, I was going to need to make my own. The bus platform seemed to be a great choice since it is fairly light, and could support the weight of all the batteries I would need to get the 50 or so mile range per charge I would need. So off to Craig's List I went, and found this nice red/orange 73 bus that had a good body and an owner who helped take the engine out for me. Unfortunately he also removed the transmission.