Much to his surprise, there was nothing wrong—no melting wires, no smoking connections, no mystery noises. The vehicle was road-ready.
“Every increment of the testing built my confidence,” Richmond says. “When I actually got up speed and drove it a few miles down the road, I was thrilled with the results. The first thing that struck me was the quiet. When I pulled out, the only sound I heard was the gravel beneath my tires. It was such a cool feeling to drive without putting out any exhaust.”
He noticed only one problem during his inaugural ride: a non-responsive speedometer. Turns out, the signal source for the speedometer—the power train computer—had been part of the gas engine system. So he installed an aftermarket speedometer adapter that takes electrical pulses from the transmission and turns them into signals for the speedometer.
Where once there was a gas cap, there now is a 240 V, 30 A twist-lock AC plug. A vehicle that once drove 400 miles on a 19-gallon tank of gasoline now drives 40 miles when the EV’s batteries are fully charged.
No more gasoline means no more exhaust fumes and none of the maintenance that comes with ICE engines—tune-ups, oil changes, radiator flushes, starter repairs, muffler/exhaust pipe replacements, to name a few. Instead, Richmond performs battery maintenance and system inspections every few months. He looks for signs of heat, bad cables, and poor connections. He also cleans corrosion, tightens connections, and refills the water in the batteries.
Besides eliminating tailpipe emissions, Randy also uses renewable energy sources for recharging the EV’s batteries—an 800-watt grid-tied PV system and grid power purchased from the Green Power program at Puget Sound Energy—eliminating the pollution associated with conventional coal or natural-gas-fired electricity production.
Though he misses A.M. radio reception, which is blocked by interference from the controller’s PWM, Richmond couldn’t be happier with the finished product. “I like driving by the gas station and never stopping,” he says. “I like that I come home and plug in my car, just like plugging in my cell phone.”
One major future expense will be batteries. In four to six years, Richmond will need to replace them or modify the electrical design to run on newer battery technology if it’s available. Either scenario will cost $3,000 or more. But that’s a small price to pay for a vehicle that could last more than 15 years and cut fuel costs by two-thirds, Richmond says.
As much as he enjoys his new ride, the vehicle is not without some shortcomings. It struggles to keep up with traffic on steep hills, forcing him to pull onto the shoulder for one hill along his regular commute to let other traffic go by. By opting for larger batteries instead of more batteries and higher voltage, Richmond chose to get more distance rather than have better acceleration. He’d expected to be able to push 1,000 amps to the motor (the full carrying capacity of the power controller), but he learned that flooded lead-acid batteries are limited to about 400 amps because anything higher could overheat and melt the battery terminals. Had he realized this limitation during the design phase, he could have used bigger cabling and added industrial grade terminals, which might have pushed the power limit to 500 or 600 amps.
The weight of the batteries only exacerbates the less-than-optimal acceleration situation. Richmond had wanted to keep the vehicle’s weight under the gross vehicle weight rating (4,600 pounds), but the heavier, 260 AH batteries that he chose pushed the vehicle to 4,900 pounds and only added a few extra miles to the driving range. In retrospect, he says he would have chosen smaller, lighter 225 AH (T-105) batteries. Reducing the amp-hours would have cost him a few miles of driving range but could have saved him about $1,000 and reduced the vehicle’s weight by 300 pounds.