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:
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:
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:
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 Caesar, Gnaeus 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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?
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.