When I moved to Los Angeles, my plan was to daily-drive a 1959 Nash Metropolitan that a gentleman had kindly gifted me for free. Then I started driving on the 101 and 405, and realized that they are essentially death-rivers that could easily crumple old American iron like it’s a cheap canoe. That, plus the fact that my apartment’s parking garage contains EV chargers, and the fact that I’d like to own something from this millennium now that I have responsibilities running a company, plus my interest in “walking the walk” (so to speak) when it comes to driving EVs as a car journalist — it all played into me purchasing The Cheapest BMW i3 In America. The downside of the purchase is that the car has lots of miles on it and the battery is toast. The upside? The state of California has me covered.
It’s possible that you read the article “I Bought A High-Mileage Electric Car With A Bad Battery. Here’s Why That Was Actually A Stroke of Genius.” If so, you learned that I took a big risk buying the cheapest used BMW i3 Range Extender sold by a dealership in the U.S.. It was only $10,500 (plus taxes and fees), but it has 134,000 miles on the original battery, and upon getting in the fully-charged car, I saw this screen:
While you can’t really take the range estimate as gospel, 49 miles ain’t great. And after asking the dealership to test my battery’s health, a representative called me and said “We checked your battery. You’re only likely to get 30 miles of range from it.” I was confused by how the dealership came up with a range figure like that, but mostly concerned that I just dropped over 10 large on a carbon fiber paperweight. So I did a bit of digging; I learned that BMW has an eight year, 100,000 mile warranty on the battery. The dealership initially told me that, since this time/distance has passed, my i3 was not eligible for any warranty on the battery. But then I looked through the owner’s manual and found out about the California Emissions Control System Limited Warranty for Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles:
See that little dot in the second column from the right of that bottom table? It clearly shows that my range extender-equipped i3 is eligible for a 10 year, 150,000 mile battery warranty! I notified the dealer, who agreed to replace my battery. I was thrilled to hear this.
I asked my sales rep, Alex, how long it would take, and he responded with this:
A “‘very rough’ estimate of 6-8 weeks”! That’s a long time!
Here’s a look at what I presume the dealership is importing — eight of these modules (or possibly fewer, depending upon how many need to be replaced. It’s not clear yet):
If the dealer does replace all eight, that’s $25,000 in batteries in my $10,500 car.
I am, of course, thrilled, though I have a feeling it’ll be at least two months before I get to drive my i3. I’m also curious about how battery supply works for an older car like this. Does BMW continue manufacturing old battery packs with old battery technology? Like, is it even possible to get these exact Samsung pouch cells or will my modules have updated tech, but with similar voltage/energy content?
Anyway, in the meantime, I’m going to see about getting that Nash up and running. It needs some significant engine work (a new crankshaft); will I be able to get it done by the time my i3 arrives? Place your bets in the comments below.
- I Bought A High-Mileage Electric Car With A Bad Battery. Here’s Why That Was Actually A Stroke of Genius
- My BMW i3 Depreciated $43,000 In Just Nine Years. The Luxury Features I Got For $10,500 Are Incredible
Every Car Dealer Selling Used EVs Should Provide Information On Battery Health
I Rented A BMW i3 For A Weekend And Now I’m Sitting In A Cheap Motel Two Hours From Home Contemplating Buying The Cheapest One I Could Find
Can David do it? Yes, yes he can.
The real question is whether he’ll have enough time and motivation to do so *now.* The odds of that seem better now that the fleet has been culled.
But whenever he does find the time, it’s a safe bet he can get it back on the road.
Some electric Nash Metropolitan conversions to look at in case you’re considering converting yours to electric:
For about $15k invested with all new parts, one could turn a Nash Metropolitan into a 60-80 mile range conversion at highway speeds, that will readily outperform the original. Considering that, the i3 David snagged was a bargain, if only because the battery is being replaced under warranty. The i3 is a more efficient platform, overall, than the Metropolitan, in spite of the Metro being significantly lighter in mass.
Put some Elvis and Buffet on the stereo and channel your inner Paul Newman and Steve Jobs and you can get the Nash rolling before the I3. They all own(ed) Metropolitans so you’ll be in elite company.
Great time to drop in a newer engine rather find a crank. Drop in a 4 cylinder from a Ranger or S10. If you can find a 22r that would work too. oooh or a Hayabusa
Hope the payments don’t start til you get the car back with the replaced battery! I bet you can get the Metro running. Just imagine you’re working on a fine BMC product!
“walking the walk” is exactly how I would describe owning a cheap BMW.
Heck yeah! Go for it!
I also love that you bought an i3. The interior of those things is freaking brilliant!
The Nash and BMW seem like polar opposite city cars. Oddly the Austin version was considered large, at least in comparison to an A35. Wrenching a mostly rust free California car will be a new and different experience.
Given your mechanical aptitude, I’m confident you can get the Nash engine up and running within that timeframe. The major issue I can forsee is getting replacement parts or getting components custom fabricated if need be. Since LA freeways are river of death, I recommend tuning the engine for more power so the car can at least get out of trouble quickly if need be. If it had about 80-90 bhp in it, it would scoot very nicely.
If you can’t get it up and running as an ICE quickly, it would potentially be quicker to convert the car into an EV, but since you’d be new to that, in practice that may not be the case.
I was also thinking that an EV conversion might be a good/stupid/expensive idea. Maybe David could talk the BMW dealer into giving him the old i3 batteries. The fact that there are eight separate packs would allow for flexibility in mounting them in the Nash.
Those batteries are shot. He’d be lucky to get 30 miles range, using all of them. Given the cost of the rest of the components, he’d be better off spending $5k for a better conditioned pack.
Fortunately the modules are only back-ordered and not NLA (No Longer Available).
You have to be pretty brave to bet against the Tracy when there is a hard deadline. This deadline seems more like a soft deadline. Can I suggest a title? “I have to get my Nash going for the Autopian First Year Anniversary in Las Vegas!”
Needs too shoot some B-roll of Dave throwing a wrench at Jason and storming out of the shop because they can’t get the car ready in time, then do a star wipe to a couple days later with the car miraculously finished just hours before the truck comes to pick it up.
Also, sparks, someone needs to be grinding something in the background to make sparks, because otherwise, viewers won’t understand that work is being done
So how much actual wrenching time are you going to give the Nash? Are you going to do a wrenchfest in a weekend or a couple days a week? The hardest part is the crankshaft. If it can’t be turned and needs a new/refurb, that might take awhile to source. I suggest you work on that first, to find out where it leads you. Then worry about everything else. I look forward to your write-ups about it
Might as well. A blown head gasket in my late-and very missed- 1973 Mini resulted in the complete removal of the front subframe. The engine room got a respray, and the suspension bits were powder coated while waited on the machine shop. My friends who help/enabled/conspired in the process adopted a Latin-ish phrase, Ut Etiam, which to us was close enough to might as well.
Go with it – you won’t regret it.
In the unlikely event of a breakdown on the 405, I think the Metropolitan needs its own range extender in the form of some pedals and a chain drive.
It can be the Nashosaurus REX. 🙂
On a more serious note about the engine removal: even if you could simply grab the engine and yoink it out of there, it would be safer to have help. Years ago when working alone on the old garage, I nearly got trapped under a fat stack of 4’x8’x5/8″ MDF that had fallen over. (That stuff is *heavy*.) Now I try to do things in a safe-ish manner and ensure that there is some means of communication handy, just in case.
Looking forward to reading about the project!
The Nash is too heavy for the pedal drive to amount for much.
I built a 91 lb microcar/velomobile for which the pedal drive is functional, and I can turn the motor off and sprint to 35 mph using just my own two feet, but with the motor on, it does 50 mph and has no problem doing donuts, with all of 4 horsepower. 0-30 mph acceleration is 6 seconds.
It gets 150-200 miles range at 30-35 mph with a 1.5 kWh pack and light pedaling.
It is being upgraded to 13 horsepower and a high voltage 2.5 kWh battery pack, with the goal of being able to top out at over 100 mph, and do 0-60 mph around 8 seconds. Target weight, complete, is 100 lbs. With this upgrade comes a new body shell with better aerodynamics, a roll cage, DOT rims, hydraulic disc brakes, and solar car tires rated for highway speeds.
Because of the fully functioning pedal drivetrain, even after the upgrade, in my state this vehicle will legally remain a “bicycle”, thus allowing me to get around without a license, registration, title, tags, insurance, taxes, or any of that BS. And the operating cost is greatly cheaper than taking the bus. I will have a sufficiently large gearing range that I will be able to turn the motor off and climb a steep hill at below walking speed with a 60 rpm cadence, or using the motor, careen down the highway at 100+ mph with my pedaling still contributing to the vehicle’s thrust. If I get the aerodynamics right, 100 mph will only require 4 horsepower on flat ground, and I’ll be able to turn the motor completely off and sprint to 45+ mph for a short duration with nothing but my own two feet.
The total cost of the 1.5 kWh battery pack that I used was only $200, and I put more than 20,000 miles on that battery, so less than a penny per mile in battery costs. The vehicle itself in total so far is passed the 70,000 mile mark.
If this upgrade works out well, I’m going to build a version with 3 motors for AWD, 30+ horsepower, 300+ lb-ft of torque, and roughly 120-ish lbs unladen weight ready to ride, so that I can fuck around with Dodge Charger Hellcats. It will be quite a fun “bicycle” to hoon about the neighborhood with.
Dude. You wrote several paragraphs to counter a dumb joke about a pedal car on the 405.
I get that you like talking about your project, but damn. 😐
Something like this can actually be a very practical vehicle. There’s a company building pedal-electric Messerschmitts.
Reducing weight is key. A normal Messerschmitt is nearly 500 lbs, which is very much unpedalable. Getting rid of the gasoline engine eliminates all of the weight of the engine plus the weight of the chassis reinforcements required to accommodate it.
The Nash has a small enough vehicle footprint that something similar could be done for it. Maybe even scale it down into a 1-seater vehicle.
David, please ask this guy to write a velomobile article (or several). This is the sort of enthusiast culture that this site exists to promote. The more of this stuff we get, the better off the Autopian community will be.
The other site used to cover bicycles from time to time, so it would make sense.
I second campfire. This site is for enthusiasts, and Toecutter is a driven man. Publish him, already!
The Nash repair seems straightforward — note I didn’t say it would be easy.
My prediction: Our protagonist will run across a fubar’ed part that’s not available in its original form. But, our protagonist will find it at Thingiverse or another 3D parts library, and we’ll enjoy his trip down the 3D printer rabbit hole with sidebars on the characteristics of PLA, PETG and nylon filaments.
If they don’t replace all of the cells you should complain. All of them are old and tired and if they only replace a few of the worst ones you’ll be left with a bunch of ticking time bombs. Also, generally speaking I believe battery cells need to be balanced. If you mix old with new it will be bad for the longevity of the battery.
This is a common debate in the Prius community. When your battery starts throwing codes you can generally get it working again by replacing a module or two. However, this is known as “whack-a-mole” because in six months another module will be weak and need replacing. If you play that game you need to understand that you’ll be constantly chasing battery problems.
Given that BMW probably doesn’t like the extended California warranty and your dealership doesn’t sound like the most upstanding one ever, it wouldn’t shock me if they tried to just replace enough to meet the warranty requirements. Keep an eye on them.
Thissss…. when you replace a module, it will mess with the balance of the battery and you will have issues later on. Based just in liability, its a warranty claim and the dealership hasn’t give you a detailed diagnosis, I bet they are going to change the whole pack, pretty much like a Chevy Bolt battery recall was handled, if there is an updated pack, you will get that 🙂 2017-2019 owners got the +2020 pack.
Forgot to add, if there is an app to check the balance of the battery after installation, get it. I have one for my Volt called MyVoltControl, you only need an OBD adapter and a phone
Oh, that’s handy advice… thanks mrbrown89!
Congrats David on your i3! I’m pretty jealous since I’ve lusted for one since they came out (and have helped others buy used ones). I spent a fair bit of time during the pandemic searching for a suitable cheap-as-possible one (within SoCal only) and made a few $12Kish offers to dealers w/cars listed at $15-16K, but no takers.
Despite the fact that I already have three cars and work at home, I made offers on a ’66 2CV Fourgonnette and a ’92 Previa this week. I’d STILL love to get an i3 (my fave recent BMW product, by far) but in the meantime, I eagerly look forward to fascinating i3 content from you! 🙂
Happy EVing! 😀
Wrong approach. A piecemeal ‘this cell or that cell’ approach means way more labor cost and an occupied lift for months.
The work flow of a cell-by-cell is:
1) drop battery (which is not fast);
2) Make battery case safe to OPEN;
3) Open battery case;
4) test cell-by-cell to determine which have failed (meaning however many cells that are in the pack must be tested individually);
5) Order the failed cells from Germany;
6) wait 6-8 weeks where either you put the car back together enough to store it elsewhere, meaning you have to assemble/disassemble the car twice, or you leave a dissassembled car and battery pack on one of the EV certified (read: Master/Senior) technician’s lifts for months;
7) When new cells arrive, either take car apart again or just rebuild battery case;
8) Re-seal battery case.
9) test rebuilt battery and hope all bad cells were found the first time
10) install battery case.
Whereas swapping the whole unit is:
1) Order new battery from Germany;
2) Park car out back until new battery arrives;
3) Once battery unit arrives, Disassemble car to drop battery case;
4) Install new battery case;
5) Test new battery in car;
6) Ship bad battery back to Germany so they can refurbish or dispose of it.
And the dealer is getting paid for the work.
Well, now that you have asked the question, you have undoubtedly jinxed yourself. So I’ll take the over and say that the batteries in the i3 will be done before you get that awesome little Metropolitan back in running order.
However, I wish you the best of luck getting it going again and look forward to hearing how it all goes!
No doubt in my mind you can get that Nash running before the BMW shows up. The question is, can you off road it in Moab by then?
Interesting that they seem to be doing the battery piecemeal – I’d think they would pull the whole thing, send the whole thing off to be refurbished, and put a refurbished one back in the car. But, I know very little about this stuff.
The Metropolitan is cool, I think you can do it. I know those things are tiny – is the engine tiny enough to be lifted by hand? Or still going to need to break out the engine hoist?
That’s got to make a huge difference as far as time goes.
It’s the position of the engine that makes it so unwieldy. I can’t lean over and grab it; I’m definitely gonna need a hoist.
Given how light the car is, why not just put it on stands (PROPERLY!!) and drop the crank out the bottom? You’ve got to do all the bearings anyway.
That’s just the parts chart.
I would be surprised if they *didn’t* swap the whole unit – piecemeal would be 3x as much labor and would mean having a car in pieces on a lift somewhere after you dropped the battery, cracked it, and determined which cells were bad, and then had to wait for them to ship just the cells before you could put it back together. Not to mention the danger factor for the mechanic.
With the swap you park the car until the good unit shows up, swap battery boxes, and send the bad one back to be diagnosed and (possibly) refurbished.
No service manager worth their salt would want a life-size exploded battery diagram wasting space on one of the EV certified (read: Master/Senior) technician’s lift for 3 months when they could have the car parked out back while it waits for a big metal box to ship.
Batteries cannot be ‘refurbished.’ Anyone selling ‘rebalancing’ as a cure is selling a snake oil scam. As the battery cycles, the chemicals are quite literally burned away over time. You can replace individual cells, but this is using a band-aid for a sucking chest wound. If you have a functioning balancer, you never have ‘a worn out cell.’ They should all be generally within +-5-10% of each other. (Depending; in serious competition, 6 cell packs were discard at +-1-2.5%, some very large cell count packs might allow 15%, or might require it far less.)
What this means is that legitimate ‘refurbished’ battery packs from major OEs aren’t really. The non-battery electronics and housing get cleaned up, all the cells go straight in the trash, and new cells go in. Which to be clear, is perfectly fine. The batteries (and gaskets where applicable) are the wear component.
So what BMW will be delivering to the dealership (by freight; can’t fly these batteries – which contributes to delays) isn’t actually a “new” battery pack. It’s a reconditioned housing with new cells.
Shipping the new part and then requiring return of the old (core) is SOP for pretty much all repairs though. Nobody takes the part out and sends it out to wait for ‘refurbishment’ except as an absolute last resort. That leaves a car taking up a lift or space for days or even weeks.
And because of COVID and shipping in general, we do need to touch on that being a big part of the delay. It’s a federal crime (no, seriously!) to ship or mail nearly any type of battery – rechargeable and otherwise! – by anything but ground. It’s hazmat. Lithium batteries are ESPECIALLY verboten and those rules are literally written in blood – UPS Airlines Flight 6 crashed as a direct result of thermal runaway in a relatively small lithium pack. (They can basically go ‘pop’ and full on exothermic instantly in unpressurized cargo planes.)
So don’t ship your batteries undeclared or air. And yes, sealed lead acid is also hazmat. What happens when the contents get damaged? Exactly.
So what that means is to keep everyone safe and alive, batteries go surface transport. (And declare your goddamn hazmat. Do that and your shipper will keep you legal. It’s that simple.)
That means it takes, at minimum, 7 days from port to port. Especially since BMW isn’t going to ship it across the ocean separately from other parts for cost reasons. So it’ll have to wait till they have a container with room or a full container. So that could add no time at all, or it could add weeks. And that’s not counting customs processing times. Or container shortages.
6-8 weeks for a backordered part in other words, is pretty darn quick.
My bet is on a 24/7 wrenchathon that begins seven weeks from now so DT can drive the Nash to pick up the i3. It’ll wrap the morning of the scheduled pickup.
Well, in Michigan he had friends who would show up to wrench. In Australia, similar story, though they were Laurence’s friends. In CA, maybe not? So leaving it another seven weeks would be unwise, even for a man with DT’s history of decision making.
So, I’m gonna call it. New DT, or DT 2.0 if you will, the type of guy who buys a modern car, will turn his attention to the Nash next week.
Don’t forget, this is partly a British car, so it’s not really ever fixed, there are just variable gaps between breakdowns.
True about the friends thing. They were clutch on every project, though Project POStal was 90% my work. Though there’s no chance my body and mind can go through that again.
David, just hang out with the guys/gals in the GAS garage and buy a couple of rounds of Coronaritas a few Friday evenings. You’re bound to make friends with at least a couple of them.
Wouldn’t have got my truck engine swapped without my friends.
He’s also got Galpin in his back yard now. Doubt they would want to dedicate a full bay to the Nash for an extended length of time, but for some quick stuff? Who knows.
I feel like someone around LA will come help him wrench. I’d come down but it’s somewhere like 18 hours from my house to la la land.
Every time I read a DT article about time crunch and think he’ll never make it, he always does; except for the time with the Tracker. He got that house of mouse FC running for crying out loud. He (and a small army of help) combined two Chryslers most people wouldn’t consider parts cars into a running example. I wouldn’t bet against Mr. Tracy.
Fuck yeah. I’ve been waiting for this little thing to show up on the pages as a legitimate DT wrenching article and not just the history of it
I too am excited for the Nash to live once again. You might say that I am gnashing my teeth while I wait.
Mild grammar pedant here. I just noticed that there was one comment here, and the comment counter said “one” and not “1”.
Keep up the battle, you’re winning!
1959 Anglo-American economy car with engineering that wasn’t totally current when it was new and came with a stockpile of parts from it’s expert former owner, vs modern German techno-mobile EV with a 2 month parts backorder? I’m not betting man, but, yeah, I’d put money on you getting the Metropolitan moving under it’s own power before the dealer wraps up work on the i3
Now you just need Richard Rawlins yammering on about, “This week on AutopianMonkey garage David’s going to fix up this 1959 Nash Metropolitan and have it doing smokey burnouts before ze germans can repair their fancy little Elektrowagen with over-month parts from ze Vaterland. BEER!”
God I hate him. And I don’t throw that word around lightly. He seems like he was an actual car guy but lost his way on becoming a business bro/ professional douche. The Count really seems to be someone who still genuinely loves cars and bikes.