It’s kind of fitting that I tell you about it on Halloween because it’s a story of resurrection from the dead, a Frankensteinian journey of electricity and rebirth. You may recall that my Changli, the cheapest new car in the known world, suffered a breakdown last year which was later proven to be due to the death of the five lead-acid batteries that gave the Changli its lifeblood – batteries , which in their death throes swelled and puffed up to the point where they became trapped in the battery compartment, forcing me to take the sublimely idiotic approach of hacking them out with a hacksaw because I’m stupid, often profoundly so. Changli’s road back to mobility has not been easy, plagued mostly by the twin demons of chemistry and procrastination. But I am happy to say that in the end there was a win and the mighty 1.1bhp Changli is now driving again!
Part of the reason this process has taken so long is because—and I’m telling you this under the strictest of secrecy—we were supposed to have a battery sponsor for Changli. We talked to a battery manufacturer who dazzled me with promises of lithium-ion power and then just some kind of efficient lead-acid power, but the whole process just fell through, leaving me and Changli feeling rejected, alone, and unwanted.
But there’s only so long you can wallow in self-pity! Lamenting what could have been isn’t about getting an 800 pound Chinese Old Man Happy Car moving again, and besides, the last thing I want to do is prove all the haters right. Oh, there is a lot of people out there who would love to see me and chanli fail! And I will not give them the satisfaction!
Of course, it stung when the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Council of Scientific Societies (ACLS) issued their first joint press release to condemn my attempts to relaunch Changli, calling the project “stupidity that not only wastes time and resources but fundamentally degrades the human spirit”, and calls me “a delusional, nasty little troglodyte who looks like what a badly shaved chimpanzee would look like if no one was willing to provide him with decent clothing” and then proceeds to speculate whether I should lose my life in this undertaking, “the cost to the overall value of humanity would be less than negligible.“
Those words hurt. But they also spurred me on.
[Editor’s Note: Neither the ADA or the ACLS could be reached for comment to confirm the validity of the press release or associated quotes. These may have been made up. – JT]
Let’s summarize Changli’s condition: I had cut out the batteries with a chainsaw, reducing their life significantly due to lead inhalation, but I removed the swollen batteries. Here’s what it looked like if you need more horror on your Halloween:
However, the end result was a nice, clean battery box to work with:
Gosh, this looks fantastic! You can eat from the battery tray, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it! While I’m here, I need to check the main battery status just to be safe:
Just as I thought: it’s in superb condition. Without remarks! I rewired and added a new strip, but it looks like I hardly need it, right? I’m glad everything is still top notch.
So now I just need to fill that battery compartment with some electron filled batteries. I wanted to do this quickly and cheaply, but I also didn’t want to get full garbage. With that in mind, I went to Wal-Mart to see what was available. There were some small lawn equipment batteries that were tempting because they would all fit nicely in the battery box, but I’m not sure they would have the durability I wanted.
Indeed, conventional car batteries are not the best choice here, as they are designed to throw out a burst of energy at start-up, then spend the rest of the time being gently recharged by the alternator. I wanted something more suitable for continuous power. Fortunately, even a place like Wal-Mart has a sensible answer to this problem, even in the lower-tech space of lead-acid batteries: marine batteries.
The key difference between marine batteries and car batteries is that marine batteries are designed for longer power consumption, as boats will operate lights, pumps, stereos and harpoon guidance systems and other equipment directly from the battery in ways that cars just don’t. From Napa Auto Parts:
…their work continues after they set things on fire. These [Marine] the batteries must provide enough current to keep the lights working, the gauges functioning, and any pumps or other boat accessories fully operational. This means they have to offer a long power drop before emptying.
Marine batteries have thicker lead plates inside to facilitate this longer battery life and should be better at draining and recharging over and over again. Also, the price wasn’t really that different from car batteries, so I think we have a winner.
I found five roughly identical marine batteries at my local store so I grabbed them all. Marine batteries also had another significant advantage over car batteries: they had better terminals:
In addition to the usual mild metal post that clamps down like a normal battery (why are those the stock ones? They’re pretty crappy. We’ll have to look at that in another story), they also had threaded posts that were about the right size to fit the original Changli terminal cables as you can see above. They also came with the appropriate nuts stored on a plastic positive terminal cover that looked like a maniacally laughing face:
The only downside to these marine batteries is that they are significantly larger than the original batteries, so the battery box can only hold three:
As a result, I had to move the other two to the rear floor, behind the battery box:
There’s still legroom, but those batteries eat up a lot of floor space:
These are my child Otto’s feet. It works, but I think I could improve the experience if I made a little battery cover with drink holders or something to make everything look intentional and maybe even add a touch of luxury to the humble Changli.
The batteries must be connected in series so that the battery voltages reach the required 60V; David wasn’t confident it would all work, predicting the release of Magic Smoke:
What a cunt, right? Thanks for the trust, David! God
Anyway, I connected the batteries using wire from an old outdoor extension cord, which is probably too thin and should be replaced, but I was really impatient.
Well the joke’s on you David! It worked! No magic smoke! Of course, Otto told me the cables got a little hot while we were driving, but the damn thing is alive again! [Ed Note: I do think some thicker-gauge wire would go a long way for you, Torch. -DT].
I am delighted. I realize this is hardly a heroic decision, it’s just a battery change, but I’m thrilled that all the sitting around didn’t cause more things to go wrong, and all of this just makes me even more blinded by Changli’s incredible fundamental no-nonsense .
It was still dirty and covered in leaves, so I vacuumed out all the cobwebs and washed away the accumulated pine needles and squirrel-hidden acorns and leaf litter, and lo and behold, Changli looked as smart and together as the best Chinese convenience stores $1200 legal EV you can imagine.
Otto and I took Changli into town to get some food while I evaluated the performance, which felt pretty much the same as I remembered, which makes sense: it’s the same voltage, and even if these batteries have more amps, they’ll only give that , which the engine requires, and since it’s the same engine, it’s pretty much the same.
I’ve noticed that the battery charge indicator seems to fluctuate a lot more than it used to. It drops sharply under load and then recovers when you’re off the pedal. The voltage reading seems correct; it was about 60 when I first tried it before charging any of the batteries and it was about 65v after a full charge which is about what it usually used to be.
I think where I can see an improvement is in the range. These batteries are just physically bigger, with more materials and chemicals inside to convert to electrons, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nice increase in range. The original batteries gave the Changli a maximum tested range of about 27 miles. I need to do a full test with the new batteries but I bet I can hit oh 35? I bet it’s possible! Is 40 too much to dream? I need a whole afternoon to test this so I can drive around in a loop until it drains the battery. Maybe we can do a live duel with David’s Nissan Leaf for $2000? We’ll keep you posted.
The important thing is that Changli is like that vice versa, and I couldn’t be happier. Eventually I’d still like to try and do some real upgrades to this beast, but for now I’ll start the process of comparing and testing these ordinary batteries off the store shelves.
Changli is back bitches.
Here are the coolest cheap electric cars I spotted on the streets of Beijing
How I used a chainsaw to remove the batteries from the world’s cheapest EV
How wildly bloated batteries ruined my plans to resurrect the world’s cheapest car