Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brakes, Car Shows and Solar Power

One of the readers of the blog emailed me a week ago and asked me if I was going to be updating the blog anytime soon.  He was wondering how things were going with the Z3 and if there was any new, interesting things to report.  There are a couple of small things that I thought I'd share, but really, there hasn't been much to report, so I haven't posted anything.  But then it occurred to me that not having much to report is itself, worth reporting.

Anyone who has read through this blog is keenly aware of the various issues and problems I've had with the car.  Usually brought on by a hardware/component issue of some sort, and occasionally brought on by my own ignorance or stupidity, I've tried to turn these episodes into some sort of learning experience, or at the very least, a good read.  These events have occurred frequently enough that I think people have become accustomed to regular posts.  But as luck would have it, nearly a year has passed with no serious issues or problems with the car.  I drive it, plug it in, charge it, and then drive it some more.  Not a particularly entertaining thing to read about on a daily basis.  But the fact that this has been going on for the last year, with no drama, is pretty damned cool.

Truth be told, it hasn't been completely trouble free; I have suffered a minor hiccup.  Sometime mid-summer, the MES-DEA vacuum pump I use for my brake booster stopped working.  It was a bit surprising, and a tad scary as I suddenly needed near Herculean strength to stop the car.  My overall impression at the time was "This is bad!"  I decided I should probably replace it. Apparently the MES-DEA pumps use a diaphragm which over time wears out and tears. As it happens, right around the same time that mine broke, EVTV started stocking a new, double piston vacuum pump.  The problem with the piston pumps is that they are notoriously loud.  But Jack demonstrated this on the show and I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet it was, so I decided I'd give it a go.  The only problem, it's a little bigger than the existing one, which means I'm going to have to do some re-design work to fit it in the car.  *Sigh*  I just haven't been able to muster the will to do it yet.  In the meantime, I've been driving the car carefully and found that the brake pedal has gotten easier every week.  A by-product I didn't expect is that my right leg has gotten much stronger and my pants don't seem to fit the same from one leg to the other.  I'm going to end up looking like Mr. Atlas on my right side.

Perhaps the biggest news, which isn't directly related to the car is that we had a 6.1 kW photo-voltaic solar array put on our house.  We contracted to do it through Solar City which has worked out tremendously well.  For a lease price of $70/month, it is off setting an average of $110 of electricity cost per month.  I call that a win in every respect.  When it comes down to it, it's producing roughly 1/2 to 2/5ths of the power we use.  In September it produced 963 kWhs, and in October 775 kWhs.  As Winter comes and the sun is lower in the sky and up for less time, that number will continue to drop.  But our consumption drops accordingly due to the fact that it's no longer 115 °F all the time.  Lately, I've taken to charging the car in the middle of the day.  So while I'm not powering the car exclusively on sunshine, it's very satisfying to know that a good portion of the electricity pushing the car was from the solar array.

As many of you are probably aware, Plug In America day occurred on Saturday last September 28th.  Every year the Phoenix chapter of the EVAA plans a gathering of electric cars for this event at a weekly car show that takes place here in Phoenix.  Usually I can't join their events scheduled for Saturdays, but in this instance my schedule cleared up and I decided to take the Z3 down to the show.  Now, to give you some perspective, I brought my car down to the same event two years ago.  There was a grand total of 8 EVs: 3 Leafs, a Smart EV, and 4 conversions.  This year was a bit different.

I showed up about an hour after the event was supposed to start.  I found the EV group and was shocked to see 50+ cars on display.  There were 25 or so Leafs, about 5 Volts, a few Ford Focus EVs, 3 Tesla Roadsters, 1 newer RAV4 EV, 8 or so conversions, and about 10 Tesla Model S's.  I was shocked.  I talked to Sam, one of the club's leaders and he welcomed me and told me to bring my car around to join the group.  Looking around I saw no parking spaces left but he said "Don't worry, we'll find a spot for you."  I walked away to go get the car and when I returned, it just so happened that one of the Model S's had pulled away in my absence, so Sam had me take that space.

So there I was, a little home built EV with 4 Tesla Model S's on either side of me.  It was an odd situation, kind of like seeing the cute high school girl you knew from your youth, surrounded by a bunch of super models.  Suddenly the little Z3 wasn't quite as impressive as she once had been.  But then a curious thing happened.  A crowd began to gather around the car.  Everyone started firing off questions.  "What kind of motor did you use?"  "How long did it take you to build it?"  "How many miles have you put on it?"  Suddenly, the super models next to me were largely being ignored, and people were mostly gathered around my car.  But then I realized that they weren't only around MY conversion, every one of the conversions had a crowd around it, were as very few of the manufactured EV's did.  It's easy to understand why that is.  Pretty as they are, once you've seen one Model S, you've pretty much seen them all.  Plus, there's no way to see the guts of the car, whereas the guts of my conversion, and indeed most any other conversion, are out on display in all their glory or horror (depending on your perspective and the car you're looking at).

Maybe I'm pushing it, but I see this as an indication that conversions are not likely to go the way of the dinosaur simply because you can buy an OEM EV.  Just like custom built hot rods haven't gone away even though you can go out and buy a really great muscle car for a fraction of the cost.  Nope, the appeal of custom cars, be it hot rods, or EVs will be with us as long as we use cars.  I spoke with one Tesla Model S owner that also has a Porsche 914 conversion in his garage.  After he got his Model S, he was bothered by the fact that it was faster than the 914.  So, the 914 was put back in the garage so he can upgrade it and fiddle with it until it's once again the fastest car he owns.

But, I digress.  The point of this story was just to illustrate that adoption of EVs really is starting to get some traction.  From 8 cars 2 years ago, and the few people who wondered by looking at them with idle curiosity, to 50 plus cars and dozens of people engaged and asking questions.  Things have changed quite a bit.

Finally, an entertaining story.  A month or so ago, my lovely wife and I were heading out for a shopping errand.  As the circumstances of our lives happen to be, she doesn't ride in the car very often, so it's kind of a treat for her.  Well OK, I define it as a treat, but I'm not entirely sure that she does.  At any rate, I stopped at a sign and for whatever reason, she looked over at the dashboard.  Apparently, she caught sight of the fuel gauge, which is still in the instrument cluster, and she said, with a certain amount of panic in her voice, and in all earnestness, "Oh my God, you're completely out of gas!"  I slowly turned to look at her and I saw the look of alarm on her face change suddenly to one of realization and then embarrassment.  I was doing my best to suppress the laughter as she was shouting various excuses "I just forgot!  I haven't been in the car for a while!  It was just habit!"  I just smiled and nodded, and we zoomed away in silence.


Brad Woodcock said...

Welcome to the solar club!

CZ-EV said...


Good to read your post and also to hear you haven't posted because the EVZ3 had become so reliable.

I attended the first Columbus, OH National Plug-in Day this year and was rather disappointed there were no conversions present. I know of at least 4 completed conversions in our area, so hopefully, next year, they will all attend.

I am getting close to completing my Fiero EV build and hope to have it running by early next month.



vehikelfranz said...

There is a wonderful electric vacuum pump in many VW/Audi Models

some info can be found here
(in german language, sorry)

There are mainly two models with
less or more electronic attached to the pump.
especially the simpler version
might be very interesting to You.
(Passat 2001+ A4 A6 )I`m not sure
if the pumps are in all models.
At first they could be found in automatic models.

Fred Behning said...

Tim, your comments on the car show are spot on. I've done a handful of (mostly) custom car shows, and the hot rod builders are surprisingly knowledgeable about EV conversions. The early EV guys here in Austin seemed to be geeks with little background in auto mechanics, so unfortunately they tended to convert junk cars and wound up with electric junk. They'd never consider a beauty like your Z3, but the custom car guys would!

Wishing you a Happy New Year of uneventful electric motoring!

Inderpal Singh said...
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