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 I Used A Chainsaw To Remove Batteries From The Cheapest EV In The World

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

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Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
3 months ago

How does a writer on a sort-of-well known car site not have better wires laying around!? Every car guy I know has a drawer full of random wires and auto electrical crap.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
3 months ago
Reply to  Unclewolverine

Have you seen Torch’s fixes before? 😀

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
3 months ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

I should of known we weren’t talking about the average car guy when I remembered how the old batteries came out. Although most shadetree mechanics DO have a cavalier attitude towards safety, myself more than most, even I would draw the line at chainsawing out lead acid batteries….

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago
Reply to  Unclewolverine

True, that was more of a situation crying out for a Sawzall.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago
Reply to  Unclewolverine

I would offer to send Jason the cables I saved from my Zap! Xebra when I cut it apart but I may need them some day.

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Spoken like a true car guy! I have SA Rx-7 parts laying around for 15 years because I may need them someday! (Even though I’ll probably never own one again.)

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
3 months ago
Reply to  Unclewolverine

I got my MGB from a guy who was moving out of the country so he threw in some Spitfire parts which he had even though he had never owned a Spitfire. A few years later I traded away the MGB for an HMV Freeway but I still have the Spitfire parts. I have never owned a Spitfire.

Unclewolverine
Unclewolverine
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Damn, I’ve owned 5 spitfires and 1 MG midget and don’t have any parts le—, scratch that. I just remembered there is a spitfire convertible top in the shed. Although the chances of me owning another Spitfire are higher than an rx7. (Ultimate fantasy is a bridgeport 13b in a mark 1 or 2 spitfire though.)

John E
John E
3 months ago

I’d forgotten the Changli. Good to see you’ve got it back on the, uh, road(?).

Nycbjr
Nycbjr
3 months ago

up vote for the chanli vs leaf contest!

3WiperB
3WiperB
3 months ago

Buy another Changli or something similar for the West Coast fleet. Then you don’t have to ship the Changli across the country twice for the head to head. Get a mini-truck version this time with a dump bed. See if the hatchback or the mini dump bed can hold more payload. Compare the models to see what has been improved. And then do the range head to head test.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
3 months ago
Reply to  3WiperB

This is a post-COVID world we live in: they can do the head-to-head on Zoom or Teams or WhatsApp or Messenger or Facetime or Line or WeChat or Skype or VooV or Messages or Chatwork or Slack or…

Brian Ash
Brian Ash
3 months ago

It’s been so long, great that the resurrection is successful, but also kinda surprised no drama, mayhem, or magic smoke. Geez DT throwing shade on ya, he’s just jealous his Leaf is a dead end, and he could not fly under the radar creating a superfund site at his new CA home like back in MI.

These type of articles are becoming too rare on the site. Roar up the chainsaw for the next project Jason!

Jmfecon
Jmfecon
3 months ago

Wow, great job, specially because you are still alive!

Seriously, you need to consider the electric shock risk in addition to fire hazard. Go fix that wiring, and review your life insurance policy.

Maybe you could add more batteries and make the floor a bit higher. You know, like the fancy EVs that use batteries in the floor as structural element.

Really curious if they will give more range without sacrificing the perfomance, given the extra weight.

Space
Space
3 months ago
Reply to  Jmfecon

It’s 60v, the shock risk is low, the risk here is dropping some metal on an exposed wire and causing a fire. Or just melting the thin wire and causing a fire.

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
3 months ago

It make me nervous getting my kids in the Super Beetle having the battery under the floor + the engine on the back that is so prone to fires. And you have 5 batteries from Walmart just hanging there omg lol

Cant wait to see who gets the most miles from their EV. David or Jason?

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
3 months ago
Reply to  Mrbrown89

The batteries aren’t just hanging there. Otto is there to hold them in place!

Elhigh
Elhigh
3 months ago
Reply to  Thomas Metcalf

It’s a function he performs ottomatically.

I’ll see myself out

Larry B
Larry B
3 months ago

Just in case – does the dog know the number for 911?

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
3 months ago

I learned recently that you can make professional grade battery cables with bulk cable and terminal ends, using a propane torch and plumbing flux+solder to put it all together. I rewired my dual battery diesel truck with 00 gauge cable and the cranking RPM increase was breathtaking. Might really wake up the Changli.

And JT, did you ever get tested for lead? I still can’t believe you chainsawed lead acid batteries.

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
3 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

He’s fine, the lead tasted sweet so it was still safe to eat.

Jb996
Jb996
3 months ago
Reply to  Angry Bob

Add some heat-shrink tubing to go over the soldered terminal ends, and it will look really professional!

It doesn’t have to be that expensive to be safely wired.

The Mark
The Mark
3 months ago

You people are all crazy, and I am here for it!

Paul Brogger
Paul Brogger
3 months ago

How about the charging pricess? (Do you utilize the Changli’s electronics, or charge ’em individually?)

Last edited 3 months ago by Paul Brogger
Jb996
Jb996
3 months ago
Reply to  Paul Brogger

I think there is reason to suspect that the Changli charger fried the previous batteries. Of course they were cheap batteries too, so who knows…
But it did seem that they were overchanged, and so likely, the original Changli charger is a rapid charger, and it perhaps never switches to float voltage.

Fix It Again Tony
Fix It Again Tony
3 months ago

Can’t wait to see this beat DT’s Leaf on range.

Data
Data
3 months ago

Came for this, was not disappointed.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

Darn it! That new battery configuration means there probably won’t be a “Torch’s Chainsaw Massacre 2.”

Slower Louder
Slower Louder
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

The movie will be “Towering Inferno 2” if no wiring upgrades as suggested by other commenters.

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
3 months ago

Seeing Otto made me realize how long I’ve been following you. Who remembers “Will it baby”?

Stryker_T
Stryker_T
3 months ago

my god, now I feel like I just took a drink from the false grail.

Brockstar
Brockstar
3 months ago

Just in time for trick-or-treating! Does it have a costume? I think it needs a costume. After about 3 spray cans of orange plastidip, it can be a Chang-o-lantern! Go! You have time. Maybe that would open even up a new sponsorship opportunity.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
3 months ago

Proper wire is a must immediately or there will eventually be magic smoke.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

That’ll be tragic smoke, not magic.

seriously, Jason; please listen to us! We want to keep on peeking into your world

Jb996
Jb996
3 months ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

Advice to Jason.
When at Walmart buying batteries, they also sell wire.
Or, worst case, if they don’t have bulk 10AWG, they usually have at least some cheap jumper cables or even appliance power cords which can be found for 10AWG or better. These could be cut to make battery cables. I think they even sell battery terminals.
Of course a hardware store trip will get you more options.

Harmanx
Harmanx
3 months ago

I’ve really missed articles about this car — they’re always awesome! One upgrade to consider — I’m sure it will be an easy one, and will further improve range — regenerative braking.

A. Barth
A. Barth
3 months ago

Woohoo!!

Agreed on getting some heavier-gauge wire in there. Please do that ASAP.

Could you stack the batteries in the back when you make the console? Yes, the top one could have an exciting amount of potential energy, but at the same time the console would be a bit higher and there would be more footroom.

El Jefe de Barbacoa
El Jefe de Barbacoa
3 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

What he really needs to do is build a battery sidecar.

Matt Sexton
Matt Sexton
3 months ago

It’s a minor point, but NAPA is properly (legally) written in all caps, as it stands for National Automotive Parts Association.

As a NAPA jobber, I’m a bit hurt that you sourced your info from us and then went with the NeverStarts. But I’ll forgive your slight indiscretion in exchange for a Changli keychain.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sexton

Either East Penn or Johnson Controls make Everstart branded batteries, depending on which Internet source one believes. My guess is Walmart sources batteries from both.

NAPA batteries are manufactured by East Penn.

My point is Jason’s batteries may be identical to NAPA batteries. If only he had a way of opening them to compare…

KennyB
KennyB
3 months ago

Pretty sure the Walmart Everstart are all Johnson controls, and most of the Sams Club Duracell batteries are East Penn – if you know what you’re looking for you can pretty easily tell the two manufacturers (East Penn vs Johnson Controls) products apart.

Shop-Teacher
Shop-Teacher
3 months ago

The old man happy car lives!

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago

Great news! I was hoping you’d get it back.
As for the crappy top-post battery terminals you mentioned, there is another way. Those of us familiar with The General know all about side-post battery connections. And how fun they are to jump-start.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
3 months ago

Side post batteries are the work of the devil.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
3 months ago

I just added marine terminals any time I had to replace cables. They’re a nice upgrade, especially if you ever need to make stacked connections, like running an inverter.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
3 months ago

You definitely need to have a head to head with the Leaf. Who can eek out the most miles. The problem is bringing the two together, or I guess both going to a parking lot for a lot of circles.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

It would be pretty easy to get the Changli out to Cali in the bed of a pickup.

Andrew Wyman
Andrew Wyman
3 months ago

That means that Torch will need to license his Farm Truck.

Dennis Birtcher
Dennis Birtcher
3 months ago

Or, if they drive the Leaf and Changli, we could get a solid month of articles as they eke their way to a central meeting point. Plus another month for the return trip.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Wyman

Eke.

Eek is what a mouse says.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
3 months ago

Definitely would’ve gone for some LFP batteries on Amazon before the lead acid from the store, price difference may not have been too much. Also for more powaah, you can check if the controller could be updated a little if the motor can take it, maybe 1.5HP or something with just swapping that 1 thing now that you may have extra amps available.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
3 months ago
Reply to  Fuzzyweis

The BMS on most of the 12V LFP batteries you’d find on Amazon won’t do 60V in series like that. Probably have to use individual cells and a 60V / 20S BMS.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
3 months ago

I was hoping you would hook them up in parallel.

Just send the current straight to the motor with a simple momentary switch in between… avoid frying the rest of the electronics.

Oh, maybe let Otto out of the back beforehand.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
3 months ago

Considering he could outrun the car when he was, what, a foot shorter, he could follow with the camera. And maybe some sort of backpack-mounted fire extinguisher.

Detroit-Lightning
Detroit-Lightning
3 months ago

Warms my heart to know that the Changli lives!

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