Home » What It’s Like Driving The Cheapest Car In The World After Chain Saw-Ing Out Its Batteries And Letting It Sit For A Year

What It’s Like Driving The Cheapest Car In The World After Chain Saw-Ing Out Its Batteries And Letting It Sit For A Year

Changliback Top2
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It’s sort of appropriate to be telling you about this on Halloween, because this is a story of resurrection from the dead, a Frankenstinian journey of electricity and rebirth. You may recall that my Changli, the cheapest new sorta-car in the known world, suffered a failure last year that was later proven to be due to the death of the five lead-acid batteries that gave the life-force to the Changli — batteries that, in their death throes, swelled up and bloated themselves to such a degree that they trapped themselves in the battery compartment, forcing me to take the sublimely idiotic approach of getting them out with a chainsaw, because I’m stupid, often deeply so. The path to return to motility for the Changli hasn’t been an easy one, plagued mostly by the twin demons of chemistry and procrastination. But, I’m happy to say that in the end, there was victory, and the mighty 1.1 horsepower Changli now rides again!

Part of the reason this process took so long is because – and I tell you this in the strictest confidence – we were supposed to have a battery sponsor for the Changli. We had been talking to a battery maker that dazzled me with promises of lithium-ion power and then just some sort of effective lead-acid power, but the whole process just sort of fizzled out, leaving me and the Changli feeling jilted, alone, and unwanted.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

But there’s only so long you can wallow in self-pity! Lamenting what could have been isn’t getting 800 pounds of Chinese Old Man Happy Car moving again, and, besides, the last thing I want to do is prove all the haters right. Oh, there’s lots of people out there who’d love to see the me and Changli fail! And I’m not going to give them the satisfaction!

Sure, it stung when the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Council of Learned Societies  (ACLS) issued their first-ever joint press release to condemn my attempts to get the Changli running again, calling the project “a folly that doesn’t just waste time and resources, but fundamentally debases the human spirit,” and referring to me as a “delusional, unpleasant little troglodyte who looks like what a poorly-shaved chimpanzee would resemble if no one was willing to provide it with decent clothing” and then going on to speculate that, should I lose my life in this endeavor, “the cost to the overall worth of humanity would be less than negligible.

Those words hurt. But they also spurred me on.

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[Editor’s Note: Neither the ADA or the ACLS could be reached for comment to confirm the validity of the press release or associated quotes. These may have been made up. – JT]

Let’s recap the state of the Changli: I’d chainsawed out the batteries, reducing my lifespan considerably thanks to lead inhalation, but I got the swollen batteries out. Here’s what that looked like, if you need more horror in your Halloween:

The end result was a nice, clean battery box to work with, though:

Batterybox

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My, that looks fantastic! You could eat off that battery tray, but I sure as hell wouldn’t recommend it! While I’m here, I should inspect the condition of the main battery wiring, just to be safe:

Superbwiring

Just as I thought: it’s in superb condition. No notes! I re-spliced and added some new tape, but looks like I hardly needed to, right? Glad that’s all still top-notch.

So, now I just need to stuff that battery compartment with some electron-filled batteries. I wanted to do this quick and cheap, but I also did not want to get complete garbage. With that in mind, I went to Wal-Mart to see what was available. There were some small lawn equipment batteries that were tempting because they’d all have fit well in the battery box, but I’m not sure those would have had the endurance I wanted.

Really, conventional car batteries aren’t the best choice here, as they’re designed to kick out a burst of power when starting, then spend the rest of the time getting gently recharged by the alternator. I wanted something more suited to continual power delivery. Fortunately, even at a place like Wal-Mart, there’s a reasonable answer for this problem, even in the lower-tech lead-acid battery space: marine batteries.

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Batteriesinpao

The key difference in marine batteries versus car batteries is that marine batteries are designed for more continual power draw because boats will operate lights and pumps and stereos and harpoon gun targeting systems and other equipment directly from the battery in ways that cars just don’t. From Napa Auto Parts:

…their job continues after firing things up. These [Marine] batteries need to provide enough juice to keep the lights running, the gauges functioning and any pumps or other boat accessories fully operational. This means that they must offer a long draw-down on power before emptying out.

Marine batteries have thicker lead plates inside to facilitate this longer power delivery, and should be better about being depleted and recharged over and over. Also, the price wasn’t really any different than the car batteries, so I think we have a winner.

I found five roughly-matching marine batteries at my local store, so I grabbed them all. The marine batteries also had another significant advantage over car batteries: they had better terminals:

Terminals

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In addition to the usual soft-metal post that gets clamped like a regular battery (why are these the standard? They’re pretty crappy. We should look into that in another story) these also had threaded posts that were roughly the right size to fit the Changli’s original terminal wires, as you can see above. They also came with the proper nuts, stored on a plastic positive terminal cover that looked like a face, laughing maniacally:

Terminalface

The one drawback of these marine batteries is that they are significantly larger than the original batteries, so the battery box can only fit three:

3batts

As a result, I had to re-locate the remaining two to the rear floor, behind the battery box:

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All5

There’s still legroom, but these batteries do eat up a good chunk of floor space:

Legroom

Those are my kid Otto’s legs there. It works, but I think I can improve the experience if I make a little battery cover with drink holders or something, to make it all seem intentional and perhaps even add a touch of luxury to the humble Changli.

Battcover

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The batteries need to be wired up in series so the voltages of the batteries add up to the needed 60V; David wasn’t confident that this would all work, predicting the release of Magic Smoke:

Magicsmoke

What a dick, right? Thanks for the confidence, David! Jeez.

Anyway, I wired the batteries up, using wire from an old outdoor extension cord that’s probably too thin and I should change it out, but I really was being impatient.

Wiredup

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Well, joke’s on you, David! It worked! No magic smoke! Sure, Otto told me the wires got a bit hot while we were driving, but the damn thing is alive again! [Ed Note: I do think some thicker-gauge wire would go a long way for you, Torch. -DT].

I’m delighted. I realize this is hardly a heroic fix, it’s just swapping out batteries, but I’m thrilled all the sitting didn’t cause more things to go wrong, and this all just makes me more dazzled by the improbable fundamental non-crappiness of the Changli.

Unwashed

It was still filthy and leaf-covered, so I vacuumed out all the spiderwebs and washed off the accumulated pine needles and squirrel-stashed acorns and leaf litter, and behold, the Changli was looking as smart and together as the finest $1,200 Chinese semi-legal EV you can imagine.

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Washed

Otto and I took the Changli out into town to pick up some food as I evaluated the performance, which felt pretty much the same as I remembered, which makes sense: It’s the same voltage, and even if these batteries have more amps to give, they’ll only give what the motor demands, and since it’s the same motor, it’s about the same.

I did notice the battery charge indicator seems to vary a lot more than it used to. It drops precipitously under load, and then recovers when you’re off the go-pedal. The voltage reading seems right; it was about at 60 when I first tried it, before I recharged any of the batteries, and was around 65V after a full recharge, which is about what it usually was before.

Incity

I think where I may see an improvement is in range. These batteries are just physically bigger, with more materials and chemicals inside to convert to electrons, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nice bump in range. The original batteries gave the Changli a maximum tested range of about 27 miles. I need to perform a full range test with the new batteries, but I bet I can hit, oh, 35? I bet that’s possible! Is 40 too much to dream for? I need a whole afternoon to test this out, so I can drive around in a loop until I deplete the battery. Maybe we can do a livestream head-to-head range challenge with David’s $2,000 Nissan Leaf? We’ll keep you updated.

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Juno

The important thing is that the Changli is back, and I couldn’t be happier. Eventually, I’d still like to try to do some real upgrades to this beast, but for now, I’ll start the benchmarking and testing process for these common store-shelf batteries.

The Changli is back, bitches.

Relatedbar

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

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Jb996
Jb996
8 months ago

There seems to be a lot of negativity on some of your questionable actions, and shoddy work, on the Changli. I will try to be positive.

I love that you are working on it, and that you have it running again!! I really like it, and I would love to see more upgrades and analysis of how those upgrades and changes work out!

So, in order to stay positive, I will not mention the lack of battery straps, nor the highly questionable low-gauge wiring, nor will I mention the disturbing cuts and nicks in the insulation of the wire that is there. No, I will not.

Good luck!

WR250R
WR250R
8 months ago

Love reading the stories but, at risk of sounding ludditious, you’ve now spent thousands of dollars for a vehicle that can do AT BEST forty miles on a charge. I just do not understand this EV thing..

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
8 months ago
Reply to  WR250R

To be fair this is by no means a typical EV. This is explicitly for short-range around-town low-speed use. It’s a runabout. A shopping car. A go get a frozen pizza for dinner real quick car. It uses very little energy to do its thing and requires very little maintenance, battery replacement aside (to be fair these new ones should last MUCH longer than the originals). You could probably make a decent argument that David’s $2,000 Nissan Leaf is a better cheap electric runabout, but it does have less range than the Changli likely does at this point.

It’s okay to be an EV skeptic, but the difference here is that the Changli never pretended to be something that can be used for everything, but is good at the limited things it can do. It’s an inexpensive solution to around-town use cases, which is cheap to run and easy to maintain. A proper car can absolutely do more, but has to use more energy moving more mass to carry the same cargo the same distance, while putting the same wear and tear on more components.

The Changli makes an interesting and novel proposition for a multi-car household, where you can have a gas car for longer trips and fun activities, and use the Changli for any situation where you don’t need the full capabilities of your gas car.

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
8 months ago

Are you surprised that a battery manufacturer pulled out of a potential deal when they see you chain-saw lead acid batteries, ignore obviously melted wiring (from the original batteries no less), are fine with a lack of fusing, and then put on obviously way too small wiring yourself even after seeing and highlighting the state of the original wiring?

If I were trying to sell batteries, I’d want to distance myself from this rolling fire hazard as much as possible. Even if the wiring is what causes the fire, its still bad press if my batteries are in something that goes up in flames.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
8 months ago

You are off course only teasing us with your thin shoddy wiring…

I still think it would look cool with some thick orange cables, like in the 1:1 sized electric cars. And everybody knows they are fast 😉

Gary Lynch
Gary Lynch
8 months ago

Another post demonstrating that Otto is going to be psychologically damaged for life. If his legs don’t melt.

Dan Pritts
Dan Pritts
8 months ago
Reply to  Gary Lynch

I was thinking exactly this as I read the article. Our parents mess us up, universally, but Otto has a particular load to bear.

James Mason
James Mason
8 months ago
Reply to  Gary Lynch

He needs a fire extinguisher mount on the battery-top cup holder.

Felonious Thunk
Felonious Thunk
8 months ago

Sweet Mother of Jesus and the Holy Disciples!
LINE CORD?? You are fucking kidding, no? Please, no??
You write for a car report.

David is correct. Maybe you did not make magic smoke at the first time you fired this up but you will be cruising along some day and those line cords will just melt.
Measure the lengths you need. I have enough fat cable (yes FAT CABLE!) that I can spare a few to not let Torch get really torched.

Felonious Thunk
Felonious Thunk
8 months ago

Do some math. 11hp is 11x 746watts which is 8206 watts of power. Divided by 60 volts means you are running 132 amps at peak power through those threads of metal meant to carry 10-15 amps.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
8 months ago

Your math is right but your inputs are wrong. The Changli’s motor is a monstrous 1.1HP, not 11. The extension cord might be 16awg, which is pushing it but not super far off. 10AWG to minimize voltage drop would probably be better though, since that thing needs every watt of power it can manage.

Felonious Thunk
Felonious Thunk
8 months ago
Reply to  Defenestrator

Well, never mind! I missed the decimal!!
Still asking for mischief for any runtime over just moving in the yard. Just feel the “cables” to see if they are heating up. They will warm you up.

CEVette
CEVette
8 months ago

Way late here to comment, but this needs 10 gauge wire at least….8 would be even better. The voltmeter dropping so much shows the cables are too small.
That said, remember….for best life on flooded lead acid batteries, you don’t want to discharge below 50% very often. Even marine batteries are damaged by deep discharge.
50% on a lead acid battery is 11.9-12.0 volts under no load 12.6-12.7 volts is fully charged.
So 60 volts is 1/2 charge.
63-64 volts would be full charge.
Lead acid has no memory, so as long as your charger floats around 13.2-13.6 volts and will not over-charge…..charge early, charge often, leave connected when not in use.

And, LiFePO4 batteries would have been great here.
I/2 the weight for the same or more capacity. Less voltage drop under load, so somewhat better performance, and not much more $$$. Just make sure they have a good BMS as they can be damaged if charged in below freezing temps.

Wayne F Bailey
Wayne F Bailey
8 months ago

Wow! The wiring is maybe the safest part of this ride!

sentinelTk
sentinelTk
8 months ago

David goes all California on us so Torch decides to pick up the slack with questionable car repair choices. We’ll know he’s gone full DT when he’s sleeping in the Changli outside a Waffle House.

Jim Nutt
Jim Nutt
8 months ago

Definitely get some heavier gauge wire in there. Unless you like fire on Otto’s feet, in which case, carry on.

Amschroeder5
Amschroeder5
8 months ago

I’m not sure if my math is checking out, but it looks like most of the leadacid marine batteries hold at most 250-300Wh at high current, so combined capacity is probably in the neighborhood of 1200-1500Wh?

Reputable 1300Wh 52V Li battery (slightly lower, but I expect would work) for only 700 dollars. I assume each of those marine lead acids were around 150 or more, so this might even be cheaper…. and way safer… (than your series wiring)

https://www.electrifybike.com/collections/52v-batteries/products/52v-50-amp-25ah-mega-shark-e-bike-battery

Peter Andruskiewicz
Peter Andruskiewicz
8 months ago
Reply to  Amschroeder5

Unfortunately, that’s not even close. The batteries that Torch got are 135 A-hr, 12V lead acid that can discharge up to 1000A briefly, so each one of the 5 marine batteries he bought are ~1620 W-hr, for a total of 8100 W-hr. Walmart lists them for $75.

In comparison, some of the sketchiest 12V 100A-hr LFP batteries on amazon (with wonderful names like “Power Queen” and “GoldenMate”) are $150 – $250, and ones of the same group size 24 from Li Time are $310 each. So… about 4X the price to fit in the same space. These LFP batteries are also BMS-limited to 100 A peak output – probably not an issue here since the motor is 1.1 hp (0.8 kW), and 100 A at 60V is 6 kW, so that should be more than enough overhead to handle the starting current spike.

The big benefit is weight – each of these LFP batteries is ~21 lbs, vs 45 lbs for the lead acid batteries he bought. So… is 4X the price ($1500 vs $375) worth a bit under 50% of the weight (105 lbs vs 225 lbs)?

LFP is supposed to be more stable and last longer as well, which may help justify the higher cost premium. How much that’s true when considering that these are cheap LFP batteries though – I don’t know

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
8 months ago

Torch’s Changli is Musk’s fever dream nightmare for Halloween. It’s baaaack.

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
8 months ago

I don’t understand electricity, so I’m not qualified to comment on the terrible wiring or lack of insulated covers, but I am qualified to talk about how you should be fixing those batteries to something structural.

Even ignoring the danger of heavy stuff flailing around the cabin during a crash (I know you’ll be going slow, but the guy who hits you might not be) there is the risk of shorting out batteries when they’ve shuffled around enough to damage the wiring.

Wedging them in place with your kid’s feet is fine as long as you have enough spare kids.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
8 months ago

better than any Tesla LOL

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