Owning a classic car comes with challenges new car owners might not have to worry about. You might have some trouble finding someone to work on it and if you do find a good mechanic, sometimes the parts you need either no longer exist or are absurdly expensive. Your favorite writers at the Autopian have been thinking about how this might apply to an electric car. We focused on batteries but if you think about it, there’s more to consider as these cars age.
Earlier today, Jason Torchinsky discussed the topic of classic EVs. As Jason notes, gasoline cars can age gracefully. You can abandon a car in a shed then 50 years later, a guy like Derek from Vice Grip Garage may come by, revive that car, then take it on a grand road trip. Not all of Derek’s rescues are successful; the ravages of time will kill a beautiful machine, but his videos are proof that even a car sitting in a forest can be brought back to life with some wrenches and maybe a cold snack.
Will this happen with EVs? Will an older, more weathered version of me rescue a 2013 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive from a deep slumber? Well, as Jason explained, batteries do degrade over time. And even if the batteries manage to be ok, maybe the car’s systems will not.
Reader Data thinks that we’re focusing too much on batteries. Remember the Cadillac taillight that’s crazy expensive because they’re not made anymore?
Everyone is talking batteries, but it’s going to be the other electronics and SCREENS. A mechanical speedometer in a class Mustang can be repaired. The screen acting as your speedometer/gas gage/temp gage etc. will likely be harder to source a replacement, much less the other chips and software that runs everything. Look no further than Cadillac and their unobtainium taillights. Mechanical can be repaired, replaced, or a replacement “easily” machined. It is the sheer amount of electrical components that will be the issue.
That’s another thing to consider. Not every automaker will keep producing parts for decades-old vehicles. What happens when those screens conk out years down the road?
Using the aforementioned Smart as an example, after a few weeks of no power from the 12V battery, the high voltage battery’s management system will trigger a P18051C code, something Smart enthusiasts call “Junkyard Mode.”
When P18051C is triggered, the BMS assumes that the 12V battery is gone and thus, the car must be getting ready to be scrapped. The BMS will then completely drain the HV battery to make scrapping the car a safer task. Yep, the car will brick itself. This is an unfortunate issue in the States, where a number of Smart ED owners put their cars away for the winter just to come back to a bricked car.
The price to replace the bricked battery? Mercedes-Benz USA charged $32,000 for a while before the inventory of batteries ran out. Yes, $32,000 is more than the cars were new.
There will almost certainly be aftermarket suppliers of parts for some vehicles. A good example of this today is the community around the first-generation Insight. Despite the oldest Insights being older than 20 years old, you can still buy battery packs for them. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, you can even upgrade to lithium packs. Some cars won’t be as lucky. I’m afraid my beloved Smarts will be left behind as time marches forward.
Have a great evening, everyone!
In Europe, the most coveted parts are T84/T85 export headlamps fitted to the GM North American-built vehicles exported to Europe. The T84/T85 headlamps have glass lens, superior optics, and positioning lamps along with the electrically adjustable vertical aim mechanism that the driver can adjust from the dashboard for the load in the rear.
Bosch and Guide no longer make the OEM T84/T85 replacements for at least twenty years. The remaining supply has been long depleted by the “hoarders” who sat on them for a while before selling a few at a time at the exorbitant price.
Due to their horrendous output performance, some European countries don’t allow the US headlamps or the owners can’t see the fuck out there with them. So, the owners have to:
source the expensive replacementssend theirs to the headlamp restorerstry their luck with the aftermarket headlamps (that might not have ECE approval)come up with the “homemade” modification using the headlamp capsules
1991–1996 Chevrolet Impala has been very popular in Europe. The owners are getting more and more desperate in locating the T84/T85 replacements. The headlamps themselves are more valuable than the Impala they are attached to. I have seen the princely sum of €2,000 to €3,000 each. Sometimes, the people would just buy the Impala that had seen the better days, extract the headlamps, and part out the rest.
Doesn’t even have to be that old. If you happen to own a C-Max in the US, don’t break the headlights. $2,900 a piece. No aftermarket options available, only OEM unobtanium full units from Ford. Caused a fender-bender to be a full write off.
There really needs to be a database listing vehicles and the parts which are particularly difficult or expensive to replace. Such a database would help those intending to buy used cars make more informed decisions.
The thing with old cars is that the parts they use are mostly designed to be rebuilt, and they’re mostly mechanical. Worst case you can have new parts custom machined.
With Modern cars they’re so heavily dependent on parts that are not able to be rebuilt once the NOS parts supply runs out people will be screwed as the cost of putting those parts back in production is too much, and that’s without having to worry about whether the software in your car will recognize the new parts (like sensors and such).
Honestly I think the future of enthusiast cars will be old ICE cars with BEV conversions and to a much smaller degree kit cars and low production volume cars that are as simple as legally possible so you can actually keep them running long term. As self driving cars become the new norm cars will become even more disposable and with less human drivers on the road you’ll see insurance rates go through the roof for people who drive their own cars. Once that happens we’re all screwed.
Motorcycles will stay around for a while though.
Honestly, with all of the “oh, wait, um…hmm” surrounding autonomous cars lately, I’m beginning to feel like fully self-driving cars are the same as the cashless or paperless society; while a lot of people might like it to happen, it’s probably not going to for a number of reasons.
I’m trying to not be a ‘no EVs’ knuckle dragger here, but as a biiiiig DIY-er, EVs scare me. I’ve got a PHEV, not opposed to the tech at all, but if you task me with swapping a battery pack, I’m telling you no. There’s not many things that can go wrong, but the few issues that can crop up have large liabilities. I’ve blown up motors and transmissions and it’s not too dramatic. At least, the fire department wasn’t called and no electrons bounced through humans. The batteries are not only pricey, but I couldn’t afford to screw one up or cause a short.
Yes, there’s procedures provided by OEMs and some of these aftermarket outfits and people do it all the time without issue, but speaking to the wrench turning weekend warrior, the aftermarket for EVs dies at me.
Unless you’re working inside the battery pack, the risk of electrical dangers is fairly low. The most dangerous part will be raising the lowering the 1000+lbs pack.
For rarer cars this will be a problem, for others I think the aftermarket will be a saviour. I worked in the restoration business in the late 80s, mid 90s and the amount of parts you can get now is staggering. The thought of getting new e-type body panels or 911 engine cases was foreign then but not now.
Ugh, what about those of us who don’t want the same car that everyone else has? I go to meetups and it’s always the same ten cars, over and over again. Have been trying to find replacement door rubbers for a ’93 Honda Today Associe for three years by now…
I don’t think it’ll be a problem. We have 3D printing. In the future, we’ll be able to print just about anything, and those with the best printers will also be able to churn out parts for those who don’t have one.
I’m really interested in this 3d printing tech which can print an infotainment system that you seem to know about. 😉
People are already 3d printing physical parts for their cars, it’s the electronics that are the problem.
well we’re not there yet, but 3D printed circuit boards and electrical components is a thing. it’s emerging tech, so incredibly expensive, but so was 3D printing mechanical parts a decade ago. i would not at all be surprised at the ability to 3D print sensors and such by 2050. screens won’t be made that way, but you might be able to buy a specific size generic screen easily enough.
I’ve been tempted by older, non-collector, cars on Craigslist a few times. The first question I ask myself when considering taking on a project is parts availability. Sure, a 1980’s Renault or Merkur may have a few easy to replace parts to get them on the road again, but can you get those parts on this side of the pond? Could you even fill a suitcase of parts if you spent a week in whatever country the car best sold in? Sounds like too much effort and cost for an old shitbox.
I’ve owned 4 Renault Le Cars here in America and I always found parts for them here. It would take some effort sometimes, but if the car was sold here, the parts are here somewhere. Or a parts car. Or someone willing to make something for you.
that seems like a less than smart car. if hooking up a 12V to “wake” up the systems so the big battery can then take a charge, then this is the definition of “No Woke, Go Broke”
Classics will only exist as restomods in the future. Or something like that plywood cybertruck.
The cyberpunk scifi future awaits, where cars are covered in oddly shaped bolted-on equipment boxes and conduits like Doc’s DeLorean, because the entire control system, electric system, etc. had to be replaced by hacked-together aftermarket parts.
But at least you won’t have to worry about an emissions test for your “Frankenstein”, that should make for some flexibility.
This is what’s happening to some of the early Lexus LSs. The car itself is a mechanical masterpiece that will last forever, but the chips and circuits scattered throughout are no better than those inside a Game Boy. Many of the modules necessary to make the car go have become unobtainium. So, just like phones, modern cars can become “bricked”. Thanks, CAN-bus.
EVs are already disposable.
and they should not be if the environment is truly the Raison D’Etre for these piles.
As someone who never stopped enjoying steampunk, I love the idea of lots of little individual mechanical gauges replacing a dead touchscreen. Would it be stupid? Yes. Would I love the hell out of it? Verily, I daresay, old chap, wot wot.
Three things I hate.
Steampunk, Pirates and Tabbouleh.
Well shiver me timbers! Looks like we got a landlubber, ‘ere! You’ll be a walking the plank on the way to Davy Jones’ locker!!! Arrrrgh, Matey!
This works great if the pirate is Metalbeard from The Lego Movie.
100% with you on the Tabbouleh.
Eh, more for me.
I think DT was a little too optimistic and not looking at it from a non-original owner point of view his editor’s note.
The original owner is covered by warranty for 8 years, if it degrades worse than 10% over 10 years, no big deal, you got 10 years out of it. What about the next potential owner? Maybe it’s only 10% down, but maybe it’s worthless. It’s the same problem that DT was lucky with his i3. Fail a few months earlier than the warranty ends? Great! Fail a few days after the warranty ends? You’re SOL.
Everyone here probably remembers the Tesla Model S that was blown up because the battery was done and too expensive to replace. That and other examples show that a severely degraded battery isn’t really usable, even for short trips. Here’s JT article on that: Watch A Finn Blow Up His Tesla Model S With Dynamite (jalopnik.com)
On the teslamotorsclub, there were two separate threads in 2021 of two people with Model Ss where the battery pack died two weeks after the 8-year warranty. It happens. How common is it? I don’t know, but it’s not something that a used car shopper wants to risk.
Dead Battery – 2 weeks out of warranty | Tesla Motors Club
Help! HV battery died 2 weeks after warranty expired. | Tesla Motors Club
Beyond just electrical components failing, you have the right to repair issue with newer cars and especially EVs. Diagnosis of problems is difficult because the details are manufacturer intellectual property. A Subaru performance shop owner said it well in a post on Ultimate Subaru. He’s on record of not wanting to owner anything newer than 2005 for this reason (post-CANBUS on Subarus).
The right to repair issue is exactly what I was thinking about while I was reading the articles yesterday. Batteries aren’t just a battery, they need to communicate with many other modules on the vehicle. So it’s not just a matter of can I get a battery, it’s can I get a battery that actually communicates with the rest of the car.
In some cases you might be able to salvage the module in the battery that does the communication but if that’s not an option or if the module is dead too, then you’re out of luck unless someone in the aftermarket has gone through the effort of developing a compact aftermarket module and just like in your Subaru example, the demand almost certainly won’t be there for anything except for the most popular models.
I’m starting to wonder if David sniffed some lead battery fumes too. Between calling his i3 the “deal of the century” and claiming that EVs will still be running their stock batteries 50 years from now I’m questioning his sanity almost as much as when he took on some of his crazier Moab projects. 😉
“You can abandon a car in a shed then 50 years later, a guy like Derek from Vice Grip Garage may come by, revive that car, then take it on a grand road trip.”
Around 2016 some intrepid souls rescued an abandoned 1955 VW bus in the French Alps by simply resurrecting it with parts they carried into the woods & driving it out of said woods (that way they didn’t have to cut down many, if indeed any, trees unlike if they’d used a tow truck or other salvage equipment) as shown in this lovely video:
It’s so sad that it was abandoned like that.
So glad it found a good home.
Can I get a Cleanex?
This is not a recent problem. Go look for a Bosch ECU for a ’74 Volvo 164.
Yeah, electronics are always an issue. But the 164 could probably be swapped to carbs, some kind of aftermarket system, or some intrepid young person could make something from scratch with Raspberry Pi.
I remember decades ago seeing a recent sports car with a big square hole cut out of the hood. I asked about it and the chip in that care was very specific as to the exact trim level, accessories, and options on the car. It was unobtainium 30 years ago, and I can see other similarly specific parts not being available in a not so near future near your car too. The metal in the hood was of more value to repair other cars that the whole car as a car that was missing one small part.
It will take a youtuber like Tech Tangents or Adrian’s Digital Basement to resuscitate a classic EV.
AgingWheels is currently converting a Ford Escape to EV. That’s going to be EPIC when it’s done.
But it’s still a Ford Escape.
yeah, and a rusty one at that!
and it’s going to have 900hp of tire-roasting power, isn’t that awesome?
That sucks about the Smart Cars. I’m guessing that’s what happened to a guy who works in the same building as myself. He had an electric Smart, and paid to have an outlet installed in the parking lot for charging it ( which he let me use to plug my Volt in if he wasn’t there). After COVID he told me his Smart car had died while he was working from home as he didn’t drive it for several months, it would no longer take a charge, and MB wanted more than it was worth to replace the battery. Boooo.
Those are the exact symptoms of junkyard mode! The code stored in the BMS is technically permanent, not even the dealership can remove it. Apparently, if you charge each cell and use a special tool, you can convince the car to come back to life, but there’s probably just a few people in the world who know how to do it.
To Smart for it’s own good.
For long-term support you tend to either want a car that was made in big enoug numbers and was well-regarded, or a car with a die-hard fan base. If not both.
Electronics are repairable and entirely new things can be made to make old stuff work — heck, there’s people literally making new 3dfx Voodoo 5 6000s available, and those were never even sold to the public. You just need people willing to put in the effort because they’re fanatical about it, and there’s enough fanatics to buy them.
Something like the Honda e? If it sells in enough numbers, it’ll likely survive the long-term. People at least seem to enjoy them for what they are good at. VW eGolf? Same. A fair number of Teslas? Of course. Ford Mach E? Very likely. There may be spots where things aren’t easy, but vehicles like those will likely have enough long-term community and aftermarket support for decades
Something like a Mitsubishi iMiev? Probably not the best hill to die on.