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

How Wildly Swollen Batteries Have Derailed My Plans To Resurrect The Cheapest Car In The World

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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Kevin Cheung
Kevin Cheung
5 months ago

Those are Chilwee 52Ah lead acids; normal two-wheeled ebikes (or e-mopeds) in China come with 4, 5 or 6 of these lead acid batteries to form 48V, 60V or 72V packs, albeit with much smaller capacity (20Ah or 32Ah are common choices). I don’t think battery quality/ branding played a major part in your catastrophic failure, Xiaomi/ Segway/ Ninebot and NIU use Chilwee and Tianneng lead acids in their bikes too. Even the worst unbranded lead acid batteries in China would last at least 100 cycles (with proper care and charging). As for the cause of your Superfund site, I would put my money on either overcharging or over-discharging.

Last edited 5 months ago by Kevin Cheung
MrLM002
MrLM002
5 months ago

Having blackened a nail pretty good definitely put a hole in it to let the blood out before it solidifies, without it the pain is awful.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
5 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

A small drill is easy. So is heating a paper clip witha lighter, and burning a hole through.

David Smith
David Smith
5 months ago
Reply to  MrLM002

Unless it’s not as sterilized as you thought and then the black can turn green. That pain is pretty bad as well.

Greg R
Greg R
5 months ago

Jason, To stop the pain use a small drill bit or some other sharp pointed utensil and drill a hole in your nail over the dark bit. It sounds horrible, but doesn’t hurt if your are careful, don’t go to far in, just enough for the welled blood to start seeping out. The relief is pretty well instantaneous, I have done this many times with no problems.

Mark
Mark
5 months ago
Reply to  Greg R

I did worse to my big toe playing soccer in high school. My doctor used the probe used in the 90s to do vasectomies to burn a pin-sized hole in my toe nail to release the pressure

Ron888
Ron888
5 months ago

Expert level trolling Jason! Nearly everyone thinks you didnt use a mask XD

er..you did use a mask right?

Jb996
Jb996
5 months ago

Well, you aerosolized the lead, and sat there breathing alot of it in. You know it causes brain damage, yes? A simple blood test can detect lead poisoning, and there is treatment for acutely high levels.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354717

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Jb996

The article suggests brain damage is a preexisting condition.

chad Face
chad Face
5 months ago

I would get some used Lithium batteries and charger. Lithium batteries discharge quicker so it will likely be faster. Cost won’t be that bad if you go used. 36v is super common so bms and chargers are readily available.

Or just run three 18v drill batteries in series, just to say you did it.

Kolby Knapp
Kolby Knapp
5 months ago

looks like you need to talk to Robert Dunn of aging wheels

CopperFireMist
CopperFireMist
5 months ago

You need to think outside the box next time Torch! Wouldn’t have wanted to cut the front of it off and slide the batteries out.

Andrea Petersen
Andrea Petersen
5 months ago

I caught myself holding my breath to avoid inhaling that shit just while watching the video. Torch, honey, your brain cells don’t deserve that kind of abuse!

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
5 months ago

I did the exact same thing, realized I was doing it unnecessarily since it was just a video, and then kept doing it hoping it would somehow alter the past and make Jason rethink his decision.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
5 months ago

I find myself instinctively doing that during underwater / drowning scenes in movies. Also here. Ye gods, also here.

B3n
B3n
5 months ago

Is a gas or diesel conversion totally out of the picture?
I think this would be fun with a cheap Predator engine.
Or even one of those cheap eBay diesels. I bet you could get around 100 MPGs with that and it’s probably cheaper than a bunch of new batteries.

CopperFireMist
CopperFireMist
5 months ago
Reply to  B3n

ICE SWAP!

Jeff Diamond
Jeff Diamond
5 months ago

Jason: How about a reciprocating saw (sawzall)? FFS you just took 5 years off your life, that chainsaw must have spewed toxic crap everywhere. Don’t let you kid within 20 feet of this thing!

Calvin Banman
Calvin Banman
5 months ago

May be a bit late now, but in a past life working in construction and renovation I have been known to do similar damage to a nail with a hammer. My fix was to drill a vent hole in the nail using a 1/8″ drill bit. Once the pressure from the blood has somewhere to go the pain decreases rapidly.

Matthew Humphrey
Matthew Humphrey
5 months ago

For those of you suggesting that he drop weight from the batteries to… gain range? make it quicker? Is Torch trying to take this wee beast across the country?
Keep in mind the more weight in the floor, the less likely it is to end up upside-down.

Ian McClure
Ian McClure
5 months ago

Interestingly, I am reliably informed (by videos of boatbuilders hacking up old boat keels) that the proper tool for chopping up bulk lead is, in fact, an ordinary chainsaw.

Re: battery choices, if you stick with lead-acid you’ll absolutely need the marine deep-cycle batteries. I understand old Nissan Leaf packs are the way to go for salvaging old EV batteries, but I think for your application LiFePO4 batteries would be the dream choice. You get the tasty lithium power density but they are much more stable compared to other lithium chemistries.

Drive By Commenter
Drive By Commenter
5 months ago

If sticking with lead-acid then deep cycle batteries are the answer. But even deep cycle batteries don’t like being discharged more than 50% of capacity. The charger should be updated to something that actually floats batteries when done charging like a NOCO Genius or a Battery Tender.

To keep it authentically Chinese and do what someone in China has probably already done, swap in a lithium iron phosphate battery. Less weight and not minding a deeper discharge are always good.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
5 months ago

Swap Cato with CATL!

Doug Haynes
Doug Haynes
5 months ago

What’s the voltage and AH requirements for the batteries on that?
Does the motor controller have a range it will accept or will changing voltage mean changing the control system?

Keep it cheap and just get a few of GC6, GC8, or GC12 to get to the right voltage and never look back.

I would definitely look into getting a better charger and staying on top of keeping the batteries serviced and properly charging it.

Mark Salisbury
Mark Salisbury
5 months ago

buy a shit ton of RC car battery packs and an old Leaf motor out of the boneyard

seriously, we NEEEED the LamboChangli!

also -run, don’t walk to your local gun shop and get lead removal soap.

elevated lead levels will fuck you up.

Last edited 5 months ago by Mark Salisbury
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
5 months ago

Ooff, looks like you might lose that nail

RataTejas
RataTejas
5 months ago

I hear David has a spare BMW engine now that he’s gonna get all fancy new batteries…

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
5 months ago

Et tu, Brutus?

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
5 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Brute*

Stronk
Stronk
5 months ago

Huffing in that much lead can’t be good for your brain.

ńÑ
ńÑ
5 months ago

Lithiums are comically cheap now. Get a cheap chinese battery set like a Chins, LITIME, or PowerQueen. They’ll save you many pounds of weight, and provide way more capacity, giving you a double range bonus.

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
5 months ago

NASA wants their T-shirt back. That battery box looks like it could hold a 125CC Honda engine. Gasoline is available at several stores. Thanks for the grins!

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago

Hold it Beau owns a car lot. Help yourself to some batteries from cars along the back row.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
5 months ago

Im guessing Chinese junk made by the cheapest supplier. To avoid make that battery box a bit wider/longer and insert some styrofoam or some easily worked with material stuffed between the batteries. I would inspect them regularly before the next MT VESUVIUS type event. But next time remember to videotape the moments of pain. We watch videos to see the guy get hit in the groin not to see Junior keep missing.

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