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

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

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If I seem a little, I don’t know, incomplete to you, I think I know why. It’s because my Changli, the cheapest new car in the world, has been out of commission for a number of months. Well, it seems to have been a lot of months, because time is cruel and so very fast and winter was long and look, I just kept putting it off. I do that with so many things in my life, I realize. It’s not good. The sheer number of unfinished cars and projects sometimes makes me feel overwhelmed, like I’m sliding into an oil-soaked black hole of regret. But that’s not productive! I must crawl out, via action! And the first action means finally taking care of the battery situation of the Changli. I attempted to start that yesterday, but was stymied by a problem I probably should have expected, but didn’t. A problem that sounds almost medical, because it involves swelling.

My $930 2020 Changli Freeman ($1200 with batteries) had been an incredibly reliable little ridiculous EV for me since I got it, and I used it lots and lots. Then, last May, I encountered the problem that put it out of commission, which seemed to be due to wear in one or more of the five lead-acid 12V batteries that give the Changli its lifeforce.

Vidframe Min Top
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When I tried to start the Changli, the in-dash voltmeter showed the expected amount, 63V, but the motor just pulsed rapidly when trying to run, sort of like how modern cars will click and pulse their dash lights when trying to start with a weak 12V battery. You can see it here:

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At the time, I checked the batteries with a voltmeter and did find that at least two of them were a bit low. The batteries read 12.8, 11.7, 8, 10.6, and 15.5 volts, at least based on what I’d written on them months ago, when I checked. One of those is weirdly high, one weirdly low. All together, it comes to 58.6, just a bit below what the expected capacity would be, though I’d think it could still get things moving, but I could be wrong. I’m sure even the crude electrical management system here has some sort of checks on the voltage coming in.

Clearly, there’s something up with these batteries. I want to take them out so I can evaluate them individually, perhaps see if they’re worth trying to salvage, but more likely I’ll be replacing them entirely, hopefully with something more interesting and better than lead acid batteries, like a lithium battery pack or maybe a salvaged NiCad battery from a hybrid car like a Prius. That’s if I can’t order a small fusion reactor off Alibaba, of course.

To do any of this, I have to first remove the batteries, of course. And that’s where I hit my snag. After disconnecting the wires, I found I was unable to remove any of the batteries, which should be pretty obvious if you look at their condition:

Swolebatts

Have these guys been hitting the gym when I haven’t been looking? Because they are swole. Oh man, every battery in here is severely bulging, to the point where they’ve deformed one another’s cases and have managed to lock themselves together into one immobile mass of plastic and nasty chemicals.

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Here it is, in moving pictures:

Compare this to a photo of the battery box from October 2021:

Oct2021 Batts

It’s not a full shot, but it’s the best I had here; look at the two batteries on the side there. See that little styrofoam panel in between them? It’s gone now! What happened to it? Was it just crushed between the swelling batteries? Did some chemical process dissolve it? Did it escape?

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Styrofoam

So, what causes lead acid batteries like these to bloat and swell, anyway? It seems the most common culprit is overcharging. The chemical process inside the battery creates hydrogen and oxygen, and if that is being produced in quantities that prevent adequate venting or go beyond the battery’s ability to re-absorb the chemicals (if it is in fact a recombinant battery), then pressure builds up enough to deform the plastic battery housing as it expands, like a heavy, joyless balloon.

The cell plates inside the battery could be swelling as well; without tearing the batteries open, I’m not really certain, but it barely matters because they’re all very clearly swollen as hell.

I’ve only ever used the Changli-supplied charger to charge the batteries, so I’d hope that would be putting out the proper voltage to charge them up without overcharging. Generally, I plugged the Changli back in after use, and left it plugged in. I’ve checked golf cart sites to see what the preferred procedure was for lead-acid battery-powered carts, and there’s some controversy, it seems. According to the Golf Cart Maven, whose name suggests confidence, even the major manufacturers of golf carts differ on this:

  • Club Car recommends that electric golf car chargers be left plugged in to the golf car during prolonged storage.

  • E-Z-GO recommends that electric golf car chargers remain unplugged from the golf car during prolonged storage.

  • Yamaha recommends completely removing the golf car batteries and storing them externally from the golf car.

So, did I cause this by leaving it plugged in? Maybe? I suppose if my charger is dumb – which it very likely is – it didn’t sense when the batteries were fully charged and just kept on going, which may have led to an overcharging situation and, as a result, these bulging batteries?

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But at the same time, everything says you should charge a lead-acid EV back up after each use.

Maybe the only real answer here is that lead-acid batteries kinda suck.

So, now I need to figure out how to extract these wedged-in, stuck batteries. I’m neither tall enough nor strong enough to pick up the whole car, turn it upside down, and smack it until the batteries are free, but if I’m lucky a passing Sasquatch might be willing to help me try that. Barring that, I really don’t want to puncture the plastic cases, because then acids and gases and other unpleasantness can escape and cause all kinds of havoc.

That said, I’m not exactly sure how I can avoid it, at least for one battery? If I crowbar a battery unstuck, there’s a good chance I’ll be cracking that plastic, but once I get one out, the others should have more room, and I can likely extract the rest without harm.

Once out, I want to research some replacement options. Lithium-ion would be the dream, but they’re not cheap. Here’s a 60V lithium ion pack, but at $800, that’s almost as much as the whole car was. More affordable are these NiCad battery modules from a Prius; they’re $35 each, and each makes about 7 volts, so can I connect nine of these in series for a 63V battery pack? That should work, right?

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But first, I need to get the damn things out. I suppose the next post about this will either be written with the intoxication of victory, or from a hospital bed after I manage to cause an explosion that merges human and Changli, making me the shittiest cyborg ever imagined. Wish me luck.

 

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Studdley
Studdley
1 year ago

I’ve heard a certain some one will give you 10 dollars in-store credit…

Mike DeSimone
Mike DeSimone
1 year ago

If you can’t remove the battery box from the car, one potential strategy would be to cut the box. You could probably cut vertically to split the box near the center and avoid that center battery, and the cut would alleviate the pressure from the swollen cells. If you’re getting a new battery(ies), you might need a new box anyway depending on the size and shape of the new cells. Seems like it’s just a box with the seat as it’s lid, could be easy to carpent up a new one.

Jesus Helicoptering Christ
Jesus Helicoptering Christ
1 year ago

Can the whole battery box be unbolted and removed?

Also, I’d recommend contacting your local authority on what sort of battery recycling / disposal services they have. Maybe ask them to come over and help?

Greg
Greg
1 year ago

I have a club car, that reccomends being plugged in. The charger is a big 12×12 chunk of metal and seems to be very smart. I am guessing it costs half of what you paid for your sweet ass Changli. I’d get better batteries, and a smart charger off amazon and see if that doesn’t fix all your problems.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
1 year ago

There is a process for this. First turn the steering wheel full lock to either left or right. Then reach under all the batteries and grasp as firmly as you can (it’s best done with very cold hands) and then have the Changli cough twice.

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
1 year ago

Aside from the obvious full safety gear, I’d recommend trying to the the super stuck middle one out using a lubricant along the sides and a couple thin metal somethings with a 90° angle to get underneath the battery and enable you to wiggle it up.

Jb996
Jb996
1 year ago

There is nothing wrong with Lead Acid batteries, in general. However, given that this was dirt cheap from China:
1) They were probably not similar/balanced to begin with. So, when charging in series, if the internal resistance isn’t similar, some will charge more than others. Hence, some at 15.5V and some at 8V.
2) They were definitely overcharged. The charger was probably a dirt-cheap charger, only capable of a rapid recharge voltage, and not setup to switch to a lower voltage trickle charge.
3) These were very likely not deep-cycle batteries (more expensive), so even if you didn’t have overcharging problems, they would have lost capacity very quickly.

Quality sealed AGM deep-cycle lead acid batteries could work in this application; especially when used with a quality smart charger. They can support high current discharge.

But, as has been said by others, check the current draw of the motor! You need the voltage, AND the current draw, to specify any type of replacement batteries.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jb996
Greg
Greg
1 year ago
Reply to  Jb996

I’d wonder if he ever added water to them over the last couple years. I’ve had battery issues on unsealed batteries before forgetting to water them.

KennyB
KennyB
1 year ago
Reply to  Greg

You don’t add water to AGM batteries. Acid goes in wet, gets absorbed into a fiberglass matrix between the plates, and becomes in essence a dry cell battery. This is how Optima does it too, but they spiral wind their plates instead of having them flat.

Marlin May
Marlin May
1 year ago

For ghod’s sake get some chemical safety gear (remember what happened to the baddies at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark) and get rid of those things. Replace them with some LFP batteries like KiloVaults or BattleBorns or whatever will fit. They’re lighter. They last far longer. They’re little to no maintenance. You can regularly discharge them without harming the battery. Just make sure that the charging specs of the charger you get matches the charging specs of the batteries. Some chargers supposedly for LFP batteries have charge at too high a voltage.

Yes, you’ll pay more up front, but over the 10+ year lifetime of the batteries you’ll have replaced lead acids several times

Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
Paint-Drinking Thundercock Harvey Park
1 year ago
Reply to  Marlin May

I doubt the changli will last that long.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago

Those batteries represent like 85% of the Changli…

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 year ago
Reply to  Marlin May

The concentration sulfuric acid in lead acid batteries is only 35% so its not that bad. You wouldn’t want to get it in your eyes but on your skin it will take a few minutes and then you’ll feel a tingle. Washes right off.

CSRoad
CSRoad
1 year ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

Or your jeans disintegrate at a social gathering.
“What’s that white stuff on your pants?”
Idiot attempts to brush it off.
Laughter.
Idiot was me.

AC2DE
AC2DE
1 year ago
Reply to  CSRoad

Oof. A buddy of mine unknowingly got acid all over his uniform while changing batteries in Iraq. He was rather displeased when that uniform came back from the laundry with extra ventilation. (We were all issued only 4 uniforms; he was now down to 3 with no way to replace the ruined one. This was 2003, so we didn’t have good supply support yet.)

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
1 year ago

Look into the charging needs of each type of battery before making a decision on replacement! NiCad (and NiMH) are much more fickle about charging than lead acid or Li+. They also have a much higher self discharge rate, so not only will you lose that store energy faster it not plugged in, but the groups in series will come out of balance much more quickly too. Their voltage vs SOC curve is Plus, v ofand having 9

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
1 year ago

Ugh, didn’t realize this posted before I had come back and finished it …

Look into the charging needs of each type of battery before making a decision on replacement! NiCad (and NiMH) are much more fickle about charging than lead acid or Li+. They also have a much higher self discharge rate, so not only will you lose that store energy faster it not plugged in, but the groups in series will come out of balance much more quickly too. Plus, with 9 of these modules in series, how are you going to charge them? If each module is 7V, then that sounds like it’s 5 cell groups in series, so you’d have a total pack series count of 45. Can you get a 45S charger for that chemistry, or will you need to disconnect them and charge each module separately (assuming you can get a bunch of 5S chargers) each time?

Additionally, NiCad voltage vs SOC curve is not monotonic (it drops from 80% SOC up), and even below that it is nowhere near as linear over most of the range as lead acid or Li+. This will make range and SOC estimation more difficult (you definitely won’t be using stock instruments), and contributes to the charging problems above.

I’d say that the sweet spot is 12v LiFP batteries for their low cost and low likelihood of thermal runaway compared to other Li+, and much greater energy density vs lead acid or NiCad. You’ll still need a smart charger for them, but it’ll be a lot more standard since many ebikes and other equipment use 60v LiFP packs too. The SOC estimates will still be off a bit due to the flatter open circuit voltage vs SOC of LiFP vs lead acid, but it won’t be as wonky as NiCad

Just, please don’t use the charger that came with the changli, and size your cables to account for the current that the new batteries can deliver!

Tristan Hixon
Tristan Hixon
1 year ago

You know that you can edit posts now, right?

Dr Buford
Dr Buford
1 year ago

If you do stick a crowbar, screwdriver, claw
-hammer, sawzall, etc. in there for The Love of All Things Holy wear chemical splash goggles and have 30 or 40 boxes of baking soda on hand. I’m not kidding, even a little. As a PhD chemist I have Fucked Around and Found Out with conc H2SO4 more times than I’m proud of and I always lost. Baking soda, a hose, disposable clothes (better yet a Tyvek™️ gown to prevent the sulfuric acid from getting onto your skin).

But yeah, totally do-able. Yank em out, recycle/salvage ‘em, and buy some decent LiFePi4 power sport batteries and the appropriate charger.

Wheeee!

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 year ago
Reply to  Dr Buford

“for The Love of All Things Holy wear chemical splash goggles and have 30 or 40 boxes of baking soda on hand.”

Saturated solution of baking soda in water but yeah, he’s gonna want a jug or five of that on hand. I don’t think you’d want to use straight baking soda as the water in a saturated solution keeps the heat of the reaction from adding thermal burns to the injury.

-another PhD chemist who’s tangled with 18M H2SO4

A. Barth
A. Barth
1 year ago
Reply to  Dr Buford

Johnny was a chemist

But Johnny is no more

For what he thought was H2O

Was H2SO4

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 year ago

Oof. Ya got DANGER PILLOWS. Reminds me of what I pulled out of my laptop, but worse. Bigger. Chonkier.

What happened to the bull bar out front, too?

chad Face
chad Face
1 year ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Spicy pillows are no joke. But that’s more with Lithium batteries like the one from your laptop. The lead batteries are not near as violent as swollen Lithium batteries.

James Davidson
James Davidson
1 year ago

We had a similar situation with an electric Ryobi lawn tractor that came with lead acid batteries. We replaced the original batteries with LiFePo4 batteries for about the same price as lead acid would have cost. We dropped about 200 pounds and the tractor works better and runs about two to three times as long as it did when it was new. It also has constant power as the battery voltage does not drop off the way lead acid batteries do as they lose their charge. LiFePo4 batteries would be a huge improvement.

Doctor Nine
Doctor Nine
1 year ago

Find a lead acid battery recycler, then just pull them out with a hoist while the frame is grounded to the ground. Place the deformed and torn apart batteries in a plastic storage tub, because of the leaking acid, and take them to the recycler.

After you are done with the toxic batteries, cut out the battery box with a welding torch, and rebuild a new one. You should coat it with some form of acid resistant epoxy and fiberglass (like Belzona 4341) to protect against new leaking batteries.

The last step is to buy new batteries for your new box, and start playing with your freshly refurbished toy.

Studdley
Studdley
1 year ago
Reply to  Doctor Nine

Sounds easy when you put it like that.

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
1 year ago

I suspect that when included in the purchase of a new ChangLi, the manufacturer supplied charger is probably the dumbest charger on the market. Far from a smart charger n

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
1 year ago

also, you should be able to drill some holes in a board and bolt the board to the positive and negative terminals to make a handle to pull out the center battery. maybe borrow an engine lift to increase your pulling power.

JumboG
JumboG
1 year ago
Reply to  Toobs-N-Stuff

I’m guessing the weight of the Changli isn’t going to be enough to break the battery free – the hoist will just lift the whole car.

Toobs-N-Stuff
Toobs-N-Stuff
1 year ago

it is finally time for you to do the long promised hot rodding of the changli.

drop in the motor from a wrecked Leaf, buy an assload of RC car battery packs.

do 120 mph wheelies all over town.

you promised you were going to hop it up. now do it!

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 year ago
Reply to  Toobs-N-Stuff

Pretty sure the torque on a Leaf motor would just twist the whole frame up into a pretzel.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
1 year ago

First, contact local scrap metal dealers to find one that will take lead acid batteries with broken cases. If you need to, cracking that center battery case shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Once you do that, the others should come out easily. It seems likely to be necessary.

Wear old clothes, safety gloves, goggles and a face shield, and keep baking soda and a water hose nearby in case you need to neutralize and rinse off.

If you can’t find a place to take a broken case battery, then cut the battery box around them with a cutting wheel mounted in an angle grinder. If you can’t weld it back yourself, invite David over. Otherwise, you should have no trouble at all finding someone to weld that back together for under $50.

Last edited 1 year ago by PaysOutAllNight
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
1 year ago

The Changli batteries are like one giant unit. LOL COTD.
In my experience golf course maintainence tech for 1 summer. If you do quick charge unplug after charge. If you trickle charge because long time of unuse leave plugged in. The batteries do swell with over charging. I lost the video half way through was there any thing else in there that could be removed, or can you pry the battery box open? Because breaking a battery open is bad. Caustic acid pollution climate change you name it. Put something under it before doing it because a EPA FINE is likely with the leak.
BTW should we start calling you David Tracy or Junior? Seems like you guys have switched places. Hollywood Dave and Jason Torchtracy.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mr Sarcastic
Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 year ago

To remove them, place a board with a small hole(s) over the top of the case, then drive a large screw or lag bolt through the hole(s) into the top of the battery and then pry the batts up. If the screw/bolt strips out, use more or bigger screws/bolts.

You don’t have much to worry about with the chemicals. Have a hose and some baking soda handy if you need them. Those batteries don’t have enough life left in them to do much of anything. Wear some gloves and goggles…

Also, those old batts have a core value, so make sure to trade them in. Pretty sure they are standard AGMs.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 year ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

But please make sure you disconnect all the battery leads first.

Rollin Hand
Rollin Hand
1 year ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

I was going to suggest epoxying new handles to the batteries.

And he just needs to get one of them put that way. The others should be easier after one is gone.

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
1 year ago
Reply to  Rollin Hand

Yeah, once one is out, the rest should be easy. Well, comparatively easy.

I love epoxy, but I’m not sure it sticks to battery plastic that well.

RCAddiction
RCAddiction
1 year ago

Having been involved with development (or more correctly, “re-development”) of a hybrid riding mower, which used lead acid batteries for propulsion, I can say that those were overcharged. When overcharged by a dumb charger, the battery packs heat up, and the plastic case deforms. If it were me, I’d focus on the center battery. I’d use a wedge of wood placed in the air gap on the non-terminal side, while using a battery lifting strap on the terminals to lift the opposite end. If it can be worked out gradually, that should free up the other 4 batteries that are wedged in place.

Most importantly, in addition to thick black, acid-resistant rubber gloves, you MUST use eye protection with side shields. The acid that has leaked out, and that might further burst out, is not your friend.

It will be interesting to see which way you go for replacement packs.

Last edited 1 year ago by RCAddiction
Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
1 year ago

Clearly the only correct solution is to replace the batteries with an appropriate number of tool batteries from Harbor Freight.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 year ago

Or a Predator engine

CUlater
CUlater
1 year ago

… or 42 Thunderbolt D cells seems appropriate, given it’s a Changli.

CSRoad
CSRoad
1 year ago

Wear protective gear.
I would not bother salvaging them, just take them for recycling.
Lead Acid batteries can freeze at 32 degrees Fahrenheit when they are fully discharged that could explain the swelling of the cases if it it gets that cold in Torchville. The cases are probably cracked, expect acid.
I would work around them with a sharpened spatula like a giant butter knife to free them from the crud using WD40 as I go. For pulling the first will be the worst, I’d use the terminals to try to lift. You might get lucky. If not you are going to have to rig something up like expanding anchors or hooks. The main metal battery holder/case will likely be rusty and need work.
Good luck.

Last edited 1 year ago by CSRoad
Robot Turds
Robot Turds
1 year ago

Those batteries are fucked. Look to buys some quality replacements.

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
1 year ago

I, for one, welcome our new Torch-Li cyborg overlord.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
1 year ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

You might, but I have to work for it.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
1 year ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

Torchangski?

SLM
SLM
1 year ago
Reply to  sentinelTk

“The Six Hundred Dollar Man”

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
1 year ago

When you start on this can I watch?

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