Home » How I Used A Chainsaw To Remove Batteries From The Cheapest EV In The World

How I Used A Chainsaw To Remove Batteries From The Cheapest EV In The World

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I’m typing very awkwardly now because the ring finger on my left hand is swollen with a blackened nail and feels like a baby hippo is gnawing on it with those big, flat hippo molars. It’s throbbing. It hurts. It’s like this because in the messy, brutal process of attempting to remove the old, swollen, failed batteries from my Changli. I crushed the tip of that finger between a mass of three fused-together batteries and a steel bar. It hurt so badly I think I became fluent in Dutch for a moment and maybe ejected a searing hot burst of agony-urine. But it was all worth it, because I eventually was successful in getting the old, trapped batteries out of the little EV, but the process was less like car repair and more like demolition. Ugly, loud, messy, crude. But, you know me, that’s how I roll! Oy.

In case you can’t wait or don’t feel like reading, here’s a little video showing the desperate goings-on:

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The Problem

You may recall from my last update about the fantastic Changli, the cheapest new electric car you can buy in the whole wet world, that the five lead-acid batteries that the car was supplied with have failed, and, possibly as a result of overcharging or perhaps freezing temperatures, have all expanded and bloated to such a degree that they have effectively wedged themselves into the Changli’s battery box, firmly pressed against the steel walls of the box, immobile and defiant.

After some vain attempts to get the batteries to budge, I soon realized that these batteries were not going to be willing participants, and I needed to just forget the years of service they gave me, propelling that little Changli all over the place, even doing their best in the potent crucible of the racetrack:

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For these five lead-acid batteries, though, those days were over, and I now needed to view the heavy lumps of lead as adversaries. I took a good hard look at them and made some plans. The first step, of course, is naming your enemy, and the particular circumstances of these batteries helped me do just that:

Batterytriumvirate

Three of the batteries had expanded to the point where they’d fused themselves into one monolithic block: collectively, I named them for the famous First Triumvirate of ancient Rome,  Gaius Julius CaesarGnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus. The other two batteries were not fused to the Triumvirate, but were still swollen and trapped; I named these two for anti-Caesarian members of the Senate, Cato and the famous stabbing-betrayer Brutus.

These names should give a clue to the necessary approach to getting these batteries removed from the Changli’s battery box, the Senate of the car (or SPQR), if you will. To make it happen, I need to destroy Julius Caesar.

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Now, in my last post, I got a lot of great suggestions about how to remove the batteries. People suggested the use of straps and hoists, cutting away the steel of the battery box, or perhaps drilling a hole in the bottom and using a floor jack. While these methods may have worked, I decided that I really wanted to avoid cutting the metalwork of the Changli itself.

The batteries are done and useless now. They’re expendable. So, if anything is going to get damaged or destroyed, it should be them, not the Changli, which I want as intact as possible for when I replace the batteries and drive this fine 1.1 horsepower beast again.

The Solution

That’s where the chainsaw comes in. Here, I’ll link the video again so you don’t even need to scroll back up:

The truth is, this turned into a job that was not like car repair; it became a demolition job, just wanton and crude destruction, because the only way anything would move in that battery box was if I was able to actually make available space for motion, and to do that I had to destroy the physical form of at least one of the batteries. And the best choice was Caesar, right there in the middle, locking everything in.

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I didn’t have a Sawzall or anything like that handy, so the chainsaw it was. I just needed to break the integrity of the battery – physical integrity, as I’m sure morally this battery collapsed long ago – and the chainsaw did a decent job tearing through the plastic housing and churning up the internal plates and dried-up chemicals, which resembled a lot of potting soil, into a powder that could be re-distributed around the battery box, creating space for me to maneuver the other batteries free.

Have you ever chainsawed through a lead-acid battery? It feels very strange. The consistency of the battery material is dense and soil-like, punctuated with the kick of plastic panels or metal webbing. Smells funny, too. Funny in the equivalent-to-huffing-a-plastic-bag-of-RoundUp kind of way, not the ha-ha kind of way.

Smashedbattery

After the first round of chainsawing, followed by some careful and precise whaling-upons with a hammer, I was able to break Caesar down enough to the point where I could get Brutus angled enough to be freed from the trap of the outer steel lip of the battery box, and from there I was able to pry-bar it onto its end, and lift it out.

Prybarbruts

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Elated with my small victory, I snorted a fat rail of lead-acid dust, to be sure my mental capacity was impaired enough to continue. It very much was.

From this point on, it was just a fight. An ugly, unpleasant fight with hammers and crowbars, with casualties on both sides. I got Cato out, leaving the three fused-together Triumvirate batteries. An attempt to get them out as one monolith failed, resulting in the smashing of my finger between the batteries and the wall of the battery box, and my finger still fucking hurts.

Finger Battery

Livid, I decided that the Triumvirate had dictated the terms of my life for far too long, so I used another prybar and a hammer to separate Pompey from the group, which finally allowed me the room and freedom I needed to drag the demoralized remaining one-and-a-half members of the former Triumvirate out of the battery box, permanently.

Batteries Tomato

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There you can see the sorry state of the batteries after I finally got them out. Caesar is half destroyed, but still fused to Crassus. Pompey has some hammer damage, and Brutus and Cato are just horribly bloated and swollen.

I’m also putting a picture of my cat Tomato here, as a way to make up for the gross finger and diseased battery pictures. Tomato watched me the whole time, baffled. That’s healthy.

I’m hoping a battery expert may be able to tell me if the visual condition of the battery internals can give a clue as to how and why these batteries failed; was it overcharging, or damage from freezing, or just age? If I end up going back to lead-acids, how can I avoid the same fate? [Ed note: I’m guessing there was some kind of internal short, maybe a result of high humidity/moisture. -DT]. 

Emptybatterybox

I’m just happy to have those old batteries out; a tumor has been excised, and I can now start fresh. But what batteries should I put in? I could just get five lead-acid car batteries, but are those going to work as well as the more small electric vehicle-specific lead-acids I had in here before? What is the difference? Can I get batteries with more amp-hours and expect more range? Will regular car batteries tolerate all the charge/discharge cycles or will I need deep-cycle marine batteries or something?

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What about a salvaged NiCad pack from a hybrid like a Prius? Or, hell, even a Lithium-Ion pack? But those are crazy expensive, and I’d likely need new charging electronics, too? The point is, I have a lot of research to do, and any input is appreciated. I’ll try and find some experts to consult, and perhaps I’ll start with new lead-acids and then move to something more exotic? I’m not sure yet.

What I am sure of is that I’m excited to get the Changli going again, better than ever, and I never, ever want to have to do this sort of battery extraction job. What a shitshow.

 

Relatedbar

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The Cheapest Car In The World (The Changli) Is Broken And I’m Stumped

Changli Update: The Cheapest Electric Car In The World Is Still Fantastic But Has One Annoying And Confusing Problem

How My Changli Inspired A Man To Start Selling Cheap, Low-Speed, Street-Legal EVs In The U.S.

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Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
5 months ago

Myself I would have gone another redneck route. Tie chain been rope and truck. Put in gear and floor it. *YEET* battery.

Sure it probably would have flown through the read window hitting you, but think of the clicks.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago
Reply to  Arrest-me Red

Comealong

SoCoFoMoCo
SoCoFoMoCo
5 months ago

“I became fluent in Dutch for a moment and maybe ejected a searing hot burst of agony-urine.” Do I need to read any further? Could it possibly get any better than this?

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
5 months ago

screw batteries, swap in high energy quick discharge capacitors instead. Wheelie bar, chute, life insurance, and have fun 1/4 mile at a time.

Dave
Dave
5 months ago

“hurt so badly I think I became fluent in Dutch for a moment” – Funniest line I’ve read online in weeks. Bravo, and I hope your finger heals up quickly.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
5 months ago

I think the problem you’re going to run into here is the size of whatever batteries are available. We sell a lot of golf cart batteries, and AGM deep cycle, but this is not a group size I recognize, to be honest.

You could change the battery box I suppose but I know that’s just going to infuriate the Changli purists. If nothing else it’d be a strike against you at the next concours.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

“Changli purists”
COTD, just for that.

Steven Kohler
Steven Kohler
5 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

Of course, if he changes the box he could have avoided showing us what a chainsaw does to a battery.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
5 months ago

Watching that video was like watching that old (and extremely awesome) VW ad where guys are throwing things at a tree and suddenly a Volkswagen falls out (“Next time, uh, let the clutch out slower.”) I kept expecting a sudden cut to Torch overlooking a smoldering pile of former Chang Li with Torch narrating “Poor decisions were made.”

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
5 months ago

My recommendation is to go LiFePo batteries, not Li-Ion. LiFePo weigh mor than Li-Ion, but less than led acid. The capacity of LiFePo is higher than led acid, and in most cases higher than Li-Ion, but also larger in size than Li-Ion. LiFePo are also currently a good bit cheaper than Li-Ion

SCJeff
SCJeff
5 months ago

And I believe LiFePo’s are much more tolerant to deep discharges and 100% charges.

Alan Christensen
Alan Christensen
5 months ago
Reply to  SCJeff

However, LiFePo4 batteries hate cold and hot weather. Battery Control Modules on most of these batteries have temperature sensors that cut off charging and discharging when the temperature exceeds parameters. Some LiFePo4 batteries now have built-in self-powered heating, adding about $50 to $100 to the price, and slightly reducing the power available to run other things.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
5 months ago

Desperate times call for desperate measures. At least the battery was dry so acid didn’t spill everywhere, or did it?
As for alternative power, the simplest path is new deep cycle lead acid batteries like golf cart or RV units. Lithium Ion may be expensive but there are drop in units that replace lead acid an have built in battery management systems so you may only need a charger rather than a controller swap. In the spirit of crazy you could try hooking up some Harbor Freight jump packs in the EV version of a Predator swap

Máté Petrány
Máté Petrány
5 months ago

The more time I spend on car sites and channels, the more I realize that what you need the most is a vacuum that can take it all. Toxic, wet, big, small, a whole lot of mess, you just need the vacuum champ. Well done Jason, I’m glad you are fine for the most. Great hammering too.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
5 months ago

The staff here need one of those vacuum trucks that are used for excavating. Could probably suck up an entire rusty Jeep in a couple minutes.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
5 months ago

Are those 12V batteries? Just get some cheap lead acid replacement batteries. Keep the cheap EV cheap 😀

If you want to get fancy, use AGM lol

Harmanx
Harmanx
5 months ago

A Prius battery weighs about 110 pounds according to Google — less than five lead acid batteries, even the lighter ones, if I understand correctly. I once changed out the battery on my 2004 Prius — thinking the third-party battery that Pep Boys sold me was a bargain. I didn’t then understand that any non-OEM Prius battery is a refurb — meaning that the company had replaced the most problematic cells out of the 170ish that it contains. This then means that there are likely a lot of cells that weren’t yet quite within their threshold of unhealthiness — which further means, that the non-OEM battery is likely about to have a fair number of unhealthy cells again fairly soon. The original OEM battery lasted about a dozen years and the refurb lasted just over three years (and three years was the term of the warranty — alas). I haven’t done the math, but I suspect a Prius battery will pack a fair bit more punch than five lead acid ones (perhaps even a dying refurb Prius battery, for what its worth — but who knows for how long).

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
5 months ago
Reply to  Harmanx

Yeah, BTDT. The first Dorman battery lasted one day in my 2006. The second 6000 miles. Returned, found a year old Toyota battery. Better performance, still going strong a few years later after transferring into a 2007.

Harmanx
Harmanx
5 months ago
Reply to  Knowonelse

Right — it was a Dorman battery. Good that you were able to return yours and find a newish Toyota battery. My 2004 was starting to have other issues beyond the battery after 15 years (225ish miles), so the timing wasn’t too terrible for the Dorman battery failing. (I traded in when buying a used Bolt.) But I got less than half the use out of the battery than I had anticipated.

Trenton Abernathy
Trenton Abernathy
5 months ago

This is the origin story of TorChangli. The damaged finger must be replaced with a stronger, more durable robotic prosthetic.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
5 months ago

“We can rebuild him, but I don’t want to spend a lot of money.”

World24
World24
5 months ago

A chainsaw was used to help get stuck batteries out of one hellva jam.
There’s not much else in the world that makes me wince as much as that did.
Phew. At least they’re out now!
10/10 on the cat as well. Biased, but black cats are hella awesome.

Toecutter
Toecutter
5 months ago

If you replace the lead acid batteries with a new chemistry, and/or change the operating voltage while going back to lead acid, you will need a new charger for certain and probably a new controller.

I’d recommend replacing the lead acids with lithium-iron phosphate. Batteryhookup.com often has great deals, but you must be patient and know what you are looking at. You will definitely need to replace the charger if you do this.

If you configure a single series string of high AH batteries, a bottom balance before use to within 0.001V per battery cell and periodic voltage checks of them should keep everything operational without the need for a BMS. DO NOT do this with any other lithium chemistry, or if you’re using small format LiFePO4 in parallel groups. Operating without a BMS is only viable with a single series string of LiFePO4 that has all of its interconnects secure(so as not to vary any resistance figures between batteries), and in fact can be a stupidly reliable battery pack. Again, DO NOT do this with any other type of lithium battery and DO NOT do this with a configuration exceeding 1 series string of LiFePO4.

Unless you can get them for cheap along with an appropriate charger, I’d stay away from used hybrid batteries. If the price is right and the battery’s operating parameters match your controller, it wouldn’t be a bad choice.

What are your controller’s specs? It would be interesting to upgrade the Changli’s performance, and the controller’s operating parameters will be the bottleneck regarding what you can do.

Last edited 5 months ago by Toecutter
Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
5 months ago

So pumped up right now!!!!!!!

DDayJ
DDayJ
5 months ago

You sir, are much bolder than I am. Good work? Tomato looks like a very good cat. Give him treats for us.

90sBuicksAreUnderrated
90sBuicksAreUnderrated
5 months ago

Dude, were you wearing face protection or a respirator? I’m not saying I’m above doing this exact thing; I inherited my Paternal Grandfather’s tendency to resort to ham fistedly smashing, hammering, sawing or prying anything in my way out of impatience. I’d totally do this. But like… it’s a lead acid battery man, at least wear a face shield and respirator lol. Ah well, your craziness is part of what makes this site worth reading. Guess we can expect it to continue!

Last edited 5 months ago by 90sBuicksAreUnderrated
90sBuicksAreUnderrated
90sBuicksAreUnderrated
5 months ago

My mistake, sir. Carry on, and please never change.

James Mitchell
James Mitchell
5 months ago

I feel kinda sick. I’ve done some stupid shit before but… no. Hell. No. Fuck. No. Christ. No.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
5 months ago

..And now your beard will fall out all by itself in the next 2-3 days!
So no more shaving for JT, because it’s never, ever going to grow back! ヽ(͡◕ ͜ʖ ͡◕)ノ

Gubbin
Gubbin
5 months ago

Good going. I usually use safety-squints for the first pass, feel stuff hit my face and then go get the glasses.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
5 months ago

Your garage is now a Superfund site. The EPA will arrive shortly. Gonna look like Elliot’s house in ET.

Fe2 O3
Fe2 O3
5 months ago

The snorting-a-fat-rail-of-battery-dust had me laughing out loud. Love it Torch. Never change(li). Also appreciated the courtesy video double-post and the Tomato picture.

John Gustin
John Gustin
5 months ago

And respiratory too…

A. Barth
A. Barth
5 months ago

collectively, I named them for the famous First Triumvirate of ancient Rome

As one does.

“My name is Jasonus Maximus Torchinius…”

You may need to release the pressure under the nail if you want the finger to stop hurting. I would recommend going to an urgent care facility to have a medical person do this. Or since you already have the chainsaw out…

No, no, no – not that. Go to a medical person, please.

Jblues
Jblues
5 months ago

This is literally why I subscribed. Sites where skilled wrenchers reside are a dime-a-dozen. I want to read about removing batteries with a chainsaw, damn it.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
5 months ago

Tomato is a good cat, 10/10 would pet

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
5 months ago

Did you throw them into the ocean yet? The eels must be recharged!

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
5 months ago

I can never tell if electric eels being freshwater fish is part of this joke, or the joke exists in spite of it.

CSRoad
CSRoad
5 months ago
Reply to  Frankencamry

Ah the electric knife fish.
Don’t over think it, the joke is good.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
5 months ago

I hate that I got this joke.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
5 months ago

Are you spending to much time with David and learning dangerous habits?

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