Monday, December 14, 2009

After months of investigation, NY-DMV manages to get it wrong anyway.

Ok, so I finally get a certificate which shows my vehicle can be registered. Let's see. VIN is right. My name is spelled right. Obviously the address is right otherwise I would not have gotten it. Oh, and apparently, I need to give the new owner this letter if I ever sell it so I'm guessing I don't get a conventional title mailed to me as I would with a normal vehicle?! You gotta be kidding!

The vehicle weight is written as 3660 lbs which is the weight of the transport rather than the BugE weight. The BugE only weighs 440lbs. So, what makes more sense? A 440lb motorcycle hauled around on a 3600lb transport or the other way around? This large weight may not have that big of a consequence when it comes to registering. However, it would have a huge consequence when insuring it! That is, if a small 440lb vehicle slams into something it's a lot different than a 3660 pound thing!

So, I write a letter to my DMV caseworker asking what to do. Instead of a letter saying I should send back the inaccurate letter for revising, I get a letter back saying I should contact the weighing company and then sort it all out at my local DMV office! Riiiiight. But hey, at least I got THAT suggestion in writing. So, if it is possible for my local DMV person to update the records to the proper weight, they now have clear authority to do so. I just hope the 3660 weight isn't in "the system" as such. It would be a real pain if someone pulling the VIN for something like a CARFAX got the high weight and quoted insurance based on that. Hmm, what are the odds.....

Anyway, it's getting close to refit time too. The custom refit parts for lifting the front shock mount should be arriving most any day. Also, the rear BugE bumpers have become crushed over time so I have replaced them with hockey pucks. They are only $0.99 retail and work remarkably well! I was also going to put in a defroster but I think a built-in heated one of sufficient size would probably kill the batteries. So, I'll be relying on "Never Fog" and "Rain-X" instead. If the canopy can start out without fogging then the little inside fan circulating cold air should be good enough to prevent additional fogging from happening while under way.

The journey has been very long. However, I do now have the satisfaction of being able to have broken the ice for anyone else who wants to build three wheel ELECTRIC vehicles in New York. A second BugE of the same layout would not face nearly as much trouble as I did. That's why my license plate is displayed on the website. It PROVES a BugE can be built, registered and insured successfully in New York State.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Turn signals, tail lights and weighing the BugE.

Turns out Technical Services doesn't just automatically send out a VS-103 form. No, no, no! My NYS caseworker found more problems. Some are legitimate. Others, well, probably not so much.

The first problem that my caseworker had was that the side driving lights that I understood were acceptable now are not. (dang, I KNEW I should have clarified that in writing rather than taking his word over the phone that I could keep them). I then a
sked if I could put some approved reflectors over the holes and specified the type and location of the reflectors. He responded to my email by another email that it was OK. GOOD. At least I got that in writing. I replaced the lights with reflectors and took another set of photos. Thank goodness for digital cameras! It is curious though how I got an inspection appointment if these lights were not OK. After all, I did submit photos of my vehicle along with the application when the side lights were clearly visible in the 4-photos that I was required to submit with my application.

Then, he wanted to confirm the turn signals are DOT approved. So, I sent them documentation HERE and HERE plus I referred to the receipts I submitted earlier showing that I had indeed bought them. Not good enough? He also wanted a photo of the markings on the lamp. So, after a fruitless search for K&S closeups that showed the lettering on the lamps, I decided I needed to find a way to make an otherwise nearly invisible set of lettering visible. So, I smeared on some turtle-wax to make the lettering stand out enough to be photographed. After photographing the lamp, I just rubbed the wax off.

Just in case he wants it, I also saved a photograph of the tail light too. It's an OEM tail light I bought on Ebay. It is a nice lamp and it's a perfect fit but it's also nearly 25 years old! However, it was one of the only tail lights I could find that had proper SAE/DOT markings on it.

I had the same problem with the headlights. Only one website finally had the sense to mention the headlights they were selling were DOT/SAE approved and listed the markings found on them.

The final issue was that the weight certificate I got earlier should have had a VIN number on it. In the description, they just filled in the description with "general freight" rather than writing the VIN number in the field. Unfortunately, that was my fault. So, I had to drag the BugE back to the weighing station for another go. But hey, I learned from that experience.

So, since the DMV doesn't provide detailed instructions on how to weigh a vehicle in an acceptable way, I'm providing suggestions here!

So, here are my tips on weighing a vehicle for DMV registration.
  • Since you'll need to unload your vehicle quickly (perhaps in front of impatient truckers), use a ramp trailer.
  • If using U-HAUL ramp trailer, don't just assume the reservation via the web means anything. You should call ahead to make sure they REALLY have a trailer waiting for you. Apparently only reservations taken 24 hours ahead mean anything.
  • Before driving on the pads, visit the weighing operator (likely the same person who also collects fuel payments and sells other merchandise too). Tell him/her that your BugE is very light in weight so you'll need to weigh with the vehicle on, then re-weigh with it off. Sometimes a "re-weigh" is less expensive than weighing it twice. To get a feel for prices, the price for weighing was $9. A re-weigh was only $1 more.
  • Now, this is the MOST important step. Read THIS STEP TWICE so you make sure you get it right! In the comment section of the weight certificate, have them type the VIN number of your vehicle that Field Investigation issued to you during inspection. If you don't have the VIN you can't prove you were weighing the vehicle rather than a box of rocks. Make SURE they type the VIN on the certificate rather than "general freight" or some other ambiguous comment.
  • Then, drive the car, trailer (with your BugE on the trailer) onto the pads. Communicate via intercom for them to do the first weighing. Then unload the BugE. Tell them you're ready for a "re-weigh".
  • Then load the BugE back on your trailer, drive off the scales and fetch your copy of both weighing certificates!
Of course, with every email or letter I send, I'll need to wait for a week before prodding them with another email or phone call asking if the have enough for the next step. Next, I wait for the VS-103 form. I then need to trailer the BugE to a private motorcycle shop (since that's a "safety inspection station"). Why this second inspection isn't combined with the the field investigation inspection is beyond me. Do they really think Elmo the motorcycle guy is more qualified to inspect a vehicle than a field investigation officer?

It's ironic that I got a letter from my state assembly man asking support in cutting taxes due to waste in state government. I think I have an idea or two for him.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

VIN Inspection day.

The night before, it was time to pick up my reserved 5x9 uhaul trailer with a ramp. A couple weeks ago, I reserved one online. So, I figure arriving at the u-haul place at 6pm gives plenty of time to recover from mistakes.

They didn't have it.

Fortunately, it was early in the evening so I still had some options. The least favorite option would be to use a trailer without a lift gate. Since I would likely be loading and unloading the BugE several times, and each time it would require another person, that was not an attractive option for me. Fortunately, after making several calls, the clerk eventually found a ramp trailer from another location I could use. Whew! It was an extra 50 miles of driving to fetch it, but hey, I got a trailer.

So, I load the BugE on the trailer so it's ready to go. It's getting late. Time to tie it down. Dang! Busted off the mirror mount! Fortunately, I had access to tools and materials for a quick fix. After doing the repair, I decided to do a final test drive (top speed was only 42 but I attribute that to cold batteries). Other than that, all systems checked out. So, put the BugE back on the trailer being much more careful when tying it down.

Morning arrives. It's a crisp autumn day. A little too crisp. The temperature dipped down into the 20's. So, I go out that morning to find that the BugE canopy covered with thick frost! Fortunately, it was early enough in the morning that i could cover the canopy with a motorcycle cover and run a hair dryer to melt the frost into water beads. Not great, but at least I can see through a bunch of frozen water beads. During the journey, the water beads didn't go away but at least it didn't get worse. Fortunately, once I parked the BugE in the DMV parking lot, the beads eventually melted and evaporated away.

So, I drove the BugE in line with other cars who need VIN investigations for one reason or another. Fortunately, I brought a book. Once my turn comes, I drive the BugE into the DMV garage. The guy is nice and seems genuinely interested in the vehicle. So I give a tour of the BugE controls, give them a tour of my pre-made notebook itemizing all purchases and then I get escorted to the waiting room. Although I didn't see the inspection process, I'm thinking that they were more interested in examining the purchases featured in the notebook than establishing the BugE could perform as needed. Glad I brought that notebook! Eventually, a nice shiny yellow VIN certificate is glued to the side of the frame and I'm able to load it back on the trailer. Yipee!

Well, not really. The Field Investigation office needs to fax the MV-272.1 form back to technical services. Then technical services mails a VS-103 form back to my address. So, more waiting. Then, I get to trailer the BugE AGAIN to a "safety inspection" station (read 'local motorcycle shop') where they will apparently ponder the boxes on a VS-103 form which they might see once in their lives and fill it out best they can. Why the field investigation people aren't trusted to inspect headlights and tail lights is a mystery especially since they are the ones who pull people over for lighting should a vehicle not meet inspection requirements!

What was also interesting was the guy who inspected my vehicle also said, "I'll fax them a copy today. However, you should wait a week, then give them a call to follow up." Based on past experience, I expect I'll need to contact them. I've been doing communication in writing when I can so a record is kept.

Anyway, the inspection process killed the morning, but I still had some afternoon left. So, I decided to get a weight certificate. This private inspection station was on the "approved" list of stations I could take my BugE to. So, I avoid the big rigs, pay my $10 to the cashier and drive the BugE on the truck drive-on scales. Then I realize the truck scales in the photo have two problems. First, they aren't sensitive enough to just measure the BugE. Second, to request a weighing from the weight operator, the weighing station buttons were VERY high (since truckers don't want to get out of their cabs). So, I had to find a long stick to push them. It was almost comical. Fortunately, there were few trucks that day. So, I did a tare-weight of the car and trailer. Then I drove the BugE on to get the weight difference. I found my BugE weighs in at 440lbs.

Unfortunately, I was to discover that weighing the BugE did me no good at all this day. In the description, the weight operator just put in "general freight" rather than typing in the VIN number. It wasn't their fault - I didn't tell them to type it in. Due to this, I was to discover later that the VIN omission on the weighing slip made this weighing a useless exersize.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Motor & headlight interlock

Since this vehicle is a motorcycle, the traction motor should not be operated without an interlock requiring the headlight to be illuminated either in a high-beam or low-beam state. So, the idea is to tap into the 12V going from the handle bar to the lamp from either the high or low beam light circuits to energize a small relay. This little relay will then interrupt the throttle signal, making the speed controller provide no power to the motor.

Sounds simple. Ah, but life isn't so simple. I can't just tap the high-beam wire & tap the low-beam wire, then tie them together so when either one is powered. Otherwise, both filaments stay on since one feeds the other where they meet which would be just before the relay coil. So, I need to put some diodes in to prevent this back-feeding. Also, when using the handlebar control to switch from high-beam to low-beam I noticed there is a tiny bit of time when neither circuit is powered. This can make the small relay drop it's contact, which is probably not a thing we want happening when underway. So, a capacitor has been added to power the relay coil for a brief amount of time during hi-low or low-hi switchover. The capacitor has a rating of more than twice what I needed so the relay will stay energized several seconds after the lighting is switched off.

Here's the schematic for that part of the circuit.  Part numbers are Radio Shack parts.  In the photo, I also used an optional relay socket in case the relay needed to be switched out quickly.  So far, the relay seems to be operating flawlessly.  So, a quick switch out socket probably isn't needed. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hey, poke...poke...anyone alive in Albany NY?

Since my last email to the Field Investigation caseworker was apparently ignored, I decided to write again to see if there was anything I could do to speed up the process. When it comes to government rules, one just never knows. The silliest thing might hang up a process and I wanted to make sure my paperwork was not waiting for something silly - such as a fax of a blank piece of paper to prove the back of the certificate was indeed blank.

As I look at the dates of when things happen, I can't help but think some major foot dragging is going on when it comes to processing the paperwork. So, as an incentive for them to move a bit quicker on this, I did point out in the email that I have done talks on this vehicle in the past and that I will be continuing my presentation at this year's activism symposium at Wells College. I can't be sure if that dislodged the paperwork so it could go to the next step. However, I did get a reply the same day and I was informed the letter for my inspection date went out the day before. Coincidence? It's hard to say. Now, back to waiting....

Monday, August 31, 2009

Auburn NY Newspaper features the BugE!

This was the color photo that went with the newspaper article. One major change from the plans is that big ole headlight that New York State insisted upon. I also replaced the Eurosport mirrors with larger pickup truck mirrors that work much better. Because the turn signals are not built into the new mirrors, I have added some K&S DOT approved blinkers for the front. The tail light and rear turn signals have been upgraded with lights that have clearly marked DOT markings on it.

I went through the receipts so the inspection people have something to base sales tax on. The major component cost came in at $7200. The kit can be built for less. However, my vehicle has some optional features that drove up the price. For example, I added more wiring for reverse, a Powercheq battery management system, a dc-dc converter with more capacity and a seat slider. This amount doesn't include all the fiddly bits such as nuts, bolts, connectors, paint, tools and materials I used from previous projects. It also does not include the special journeys to the store I made when I was short a bolt or two. The true cost also includes upgraded parts not used, excess materials not used, some new tools plus a nice tool chest to keep them in, garage floor refinishing materials, painting supplies, respirator cartridges, small shop vac and even a trailer hitch installed on my OTHER car so I can haul the BugE around! Plus, it also includes a cycle shelter to keep it in. This much larger total came to around $12k. However, these things are not "in" the car. So, when people ask, how much did it cost for my little adventure (or rather how much would a new BugE really cost for them) it depends. Of course, my labor isn't counted in this total either. But hey, it's my first attempt at putting together an electric vehicle. Given how much a custom motorcycle can cost I think I did quite well!

I've also saved up enough money to go the next step which is to register and insure it. So, I've filled out the paperwork to get a VIN.

The packet came with a form that explained what I needed to do. I needed to send some paperwork to Technical Services and a multi-copy form (with a check) to the field investigation department.

Obviously, NY-DOT hasn't inspected very many electric motorcycles. Some fields such as "fuel type" could be filled in by "electric" and it makes sense. However, other fields such as "displacement" are rather tricky. So, I just put in 150CC and then a side note that it was just a guess on equivalent power. I also had to loosen the motor clamp to read the motor serial number. I found out I have number 701. The weight field I left blank since I was informed by my caseworker that I could provide the weight upon registration rather than make a special trip to a NYS approved weighing station just to fill in the blank. So, I gave an approximate weight of 400lbs with batteries just in case they need a ballpark figure for some reason. Along with the form, I need to send copies of receipts for "major components". So, the packet I sent off was quite large at that point.

Now, it's time to wait. Since the request is being shared between two state offices, I'm expecting quite a long wait. I just hope I can get the vehicle registered before December 31st so I can qualify for the Federal tax break. Given that it's September, and it's New York State, I'm thinking I'm cutting this awfully close!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Retrofit - driven by New York State

My busy summer has slowed down enough so I finally had some time to work on the BugE! The retrofit to comply with NYS-DOT requirements is now done. I also did some other improvements as well.
  • Abandoned idea of 3-way braking. Locking the rear wheel is just too big a risk. If the rear wheel were to lock with uneven front wheel braking, it's almost a guaranteed spin & flip. Keeping the rear wheel freewheeling will mean the vehicle takes longer to stop but would tend to stay straight on a roadway surface rather than flipping if braking action locked up wheels. I may extend braking arms on the front wheels for more brake leverage.
  • Replaced Eurosport mirrors with Izuzu pickup truck mirrors. They are much better! (and since they are surplus OEM parts, by their nature they are also DOT compliant).
  • Made a new wiring harness to provide two additional switched DC circuits (one I'll be using to power Navigator lights which are now accessory lights rather than primary headlights the other is there for future use). Wire runs are shorter, color coded and MUCH easier to troubleshoot.
  • Made transparent dashboard in arch area with three accessory switches (fan, nav lights & extra switch) plus room for a car radio faceplate. One nice benefit is that a clear dashboard makes behind-the-dash wiring changes very easy to do.
  • Recording the wiring harness measurements in case I want to offer a harness kit.
  • For now, mounting the retro 48v meter behind transparent dash where the radio would go. Eventually, I may go digital with the power meter so I've mounted it so it can be easily swapped out for something nicer looking.
The next step is the worst. I apply for a homebuilt vehicle inspection appointment. Then THEY pick out a time for it to happen. Then I frantically trailer the BugE to the nearest inspection location (For me, it's a 45 minute drive to Syracuse) Then of course, even with my pre-inspection questioning, they may still find something wrong with it!

Before starting this paperwork process, I gotta save up to pay New York State sales tax on my own vehicle! Plus I need to save up for trailer rental, insurance, registration, inspection and weighing station fees. Then, I need to work on a nice looking purchase portfolio so I can show where all the components went on the vehicle so the cops don't think I made it out of stolen parts. The more I claim went into the vehicle, the greater the money New York State gets. This amount is also what the federal electric vehicle tax credit will be based on too. So, in a twist of events, the more New York State takes, the more I could get back from the Federal government!

With the help of an independent insurance agent, I did at least find an insurer for the vehicle (liability only). It was insured for a day. However, I've kept the expired insurance card in case there is any question from the DOT that the vehicle could be insured.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A revised dashboard and wiring harness.

Since I'm changing the type and location of lighting, it's a perfect time to also make the wiring neater and add a dashboard. Here's the design criteria
  • I decided to use the same wire color coding scheme as before will make future wiring expansion or troubleshooting easier. Although tempting, I decided against using a fancy fuse block. The wiring just isn't that hard to troubleshoot. Instead, I'm going to simply have inline fuses.
  • DOT and NHTSA requires a motorcycle grade headlight (which must HAVE motorcycle markings on the lens) and turn signals in approved positions. So, the HI/LO headlight and turn signal wires need to be long enough to reach the front of the vehicle. Same with the ground wires. I'll be keeping the dual-navigator lights in the old positions on switched 12V just because I got-em.
  • I really like the idea of being able to take the cowl off for servicing. So I'll be keeping the molex connector used between the cowl and chassis.
  • I like having the speedometer (plus indicator lights) on the handlebars as well. (the handlebar area includes brakes, throttle, speedometer and lighting controls) I probably could simplified the wiring a bit by putting this bit of instrumentation on the dashboard, but I think having the speedometer on the handlebars looks better. For now, I'll have molex connectors mounted in the dashboard for quick-disconnect but I may make an extension to the wiring so I can run them up the steering stalk instead of having wires going directly out the dashboard.
  • I wanted to fit the dashboard in the area under the arch and have it be transparent so people can see roughly how the BugE is wired. However, when lifting the cowl, I usually grab this lip to lift it. That means the new dashboard will need to be mounted with screws so it can be detached on occasions when the cowl needs to be lifted off.
  • I put in three accessory switches. One for fan, one for the old navigator lights and an accessory switch for future use. I also wanted to leave enough room for a future car radio.
  • I also wanted to put in a "Signal Minder" type box rather than the plain turn signal relay that shipped with the kit. So, I added additional spade connector taps that the signal minder box would need.
  • For now, I put in the retro 48V charge indicator behind the dashboard (rather, behind it which is one of the benefits to having a transparent dash). Eventually, I would like to get rid of that 70's looking thing and buy or build a circuit to allow the digital E-F indicator in the speedometer to represent electric capacity.
  • A more secure key-switch to allow the lights to operate but not the main motor when the car is being shown at exhibits.
First, I drew out a dashboard and marked with a ruler and sharp nail where material should be cut and removed. Then, I took out the Dremil tool and started cutting out material. Even though the material is inert, it's a good idea to wear a respirator for this since quite a bit of plastic dust is generated.

Here, making sure the switches and Molex connectors are in the correct places before running the wires to them.

The shelf is held on by 4 screws. It holds the dashboard plus an extra shelf attached to it out of "L" brackets. The shelf has additional holes drilled into it so zip ties can hang off of it.

Next, I put on wire holders on the bottom of the fan so the new wire runs could neatly go along the top of the cowl if they were either going to the front, right or left on the car.

To make wiring neater, I decided to add some wire wrap around the bundles. Then, I attached the front headlight using a long bolt and plastic pipe for a spacer then ran it's wires through the cowl. On the plastic pipe spacer, I put three large rubber grommets on the outside of it. They don't add anything structural but the grommets look better than simply a short piece of plastic pipe. Finally, bullet connectors were crimped on & the pins pushed into the molex connectors.

What went well.
  • During construction, I've found a world of difference between using a cheap crimp tool and a better one. I bought one for $30. It's worth it. I've saved time and money by not needing to redo crimps.
  • The molex connector pin tool from Radio Shack at $7 is also kind of pricey but it allows fixing mistakes.
  • Using solder & heat-shrink rather than tap connectors makes wiring look MUCH better.
Not so well.
  • The K&S turn signal handle bar control has a special 9-pin connector on it. The connector is hard to find, hard to solder and it's expensive. If I was to do another vehicle, I would consider cutting it off and replacing it with a molex connector available at Radio Shack.
  • Dremil to cut the transparent dashboard from LEXANdoes work but doing so without scratching is tricky.
  • Kisan signal minder SR-1. is a luxury that's not really needed. After buying it, I thought of an idea to give 4-way flasher capability to the BugE without resorting to spending $99 for a special flasher box. I decided to mount an inexpensive slider switch in the dashboard to allow me to connect the right and left turn signal wires together. Once connected, instead of only the right pair or left pair working when the turn signals are activated, both pairs will flash in 4-way flasher mode. So, save your $99. Spend $3 for a slider switch instead

I found a 12-pin connector between the cowl and the chassis is great for detaching the BugE when the cowl needed to be worked on. However, I found it would have been even better to use (3) 2-pin molex connectors instead of one big pin connector. That way, the connectors can pass through the small battery tray hole one at a time so the battery tray can be removed without cutting any wires. Also, the original side navigator lights needed to be taken off as well. Originally, my NYS-DOT caseworker said they were OK to leave on since non-dot lights are considered ornamental. Unfortunately, I didn't get that in writing. So, during my next correspondence, he insisted the sidelights also needed to be removed. To cover up the hole locations, I used amber reflectors.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tax credit for the BugE

If I could have registered the BugE in 2009, it would qualify.

Link to the 2009 rules are HERE.

So for my BugE, here's how it could work....

Is the BugE a qualified vehicle? Yes! It is a three wheel vehicle propelled exclusively by electricity. It has 4-12V optima blue top batteries rated at 55A each. So, total rated battery pack capacity is 2.64KWH. That is just over the ARRA requirement of 2.5KWH.

Would I qualify for the tax credit based on time of purchase? Perhaps. Several kit components were purchased in 2008. However, the pile of parts I bought is not officially a "vehicle" until it gets a VIN. So, I would "buy" the VIN when I pay the sales tax on all the parts. At this time, the parts then magically turn into an official vehicle. If I get the VIN in 2009, I would qualify.

Now, the question is, how much would I get back? The credit is 10% of the cost of the vehicle, up to $2500. The amount of course depends on the final total of the car components I claim. For NYS, I'm only obligated to value the car based on "major components". So, I'll only be counting components that actually went in the car rather than duplicated or upgraded components that were purchased, with intent to use, but were not not installed in the vehicle.

Now for the bad news. Thanks to the NY DMV delay, the BugE really existed as a vehicle only since it was registered (which unfortunately finally happened in 2010 rather than 2009). Meanwhile, the battery pack size requirement for 2010 increased to 5kwh. So, staying with the Lead-Acid pack put the BugE under the 2010 kwh limit. Had I registered it with a lithium pack, it might still have qualified for a tax break. However, I didn't. Ironically, I'll probably be upgrading to Lithium but I won't get a tax break for my doing so. Link to 2010 rules are HERE So, I've managed to avoid every single tax incentive for getting an electric vehicle.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

What's allowed, what's not.

I took the time to make a multiple guess Q&A survey, complete with a self-addressed stamped envelope to the caseworker from NY-DOT. I expected my envelope back in a few days. What I got instead was a phone call. So, I did the Q&A by phone and wrote down the answers. Since this was all done verbally, I really can't guarantee that these are the only modifications I need. However, I'm optimistic that my configuration is pretty close to what I need to pass.

According to him, I can take the vehicle to be weighed at an official weighing station after getting a VIN rather than before I apply (So I can leave the weight blank on the form for now). The weight certificate is not needed when I apply for inspection, only when I register.

The wheels and tires that come with the BugE are probably OK as long as the weight on each axle does not exceed the tire specifications. Also, there can be no markings that prohibit highway use (eg. some lawn tractors have markings on the tires that prohibit highway use). Tread pattern doesn't matter on motorcycles so the MC2 "slick" tires that come with the BugE kit should be OK.

  • I DO need to install a primary sealed headlight with DOT motorcycle markings, Hi/Lo built in and it needs to be in the center (or two approved lights within 8 inches of each other). Currently, it cannot be LED and the reflector needs to be a certain minimum size. Both positions I proposed as per my understanding of NHTSA rules appear to be fine.
  • Targa blinkers will be changed to blinkers that have DOT documentation.
  • 4-way flashers and auto-turnoff circuit are NOT required (just nice to have).
  • Tail light needs to have DOT/SAE markings
  • Although powered reverse is a feature, I do not need reverse lights or audible notification.
  • Mirror lights that are not DOT approved are OK as long as they work and DOT approved blinkers are also installed as per NHTSA recommended locations
  • One red reflector (which can be integrated into the tail light) needs to be mounted on the rear of the vehicle. Other reflectors are nice but not required.
  • Turns out that a thumb throttle can be used instead of a twist throttle (probably because I'm controlling electricity rather than fuel)
  • Proposed interlock behavior and instrument display behavior I proposed based on NHTSA regulations were acceptable.
  • Dual navigator lights on the side can be operated on a separate switch if I decide to keep them. No interlock is required.
Technical Services was OK with both proposed brake configurations (either Blue Sky recommended layout or having a dual-brake on one handle for front, then second handle for rear wheel brake) I seemed to recall that there was a requirement for a parking brake for trikes. Specifically, that it needed to be an integrated brake and it would need to prevent movement on a 30 degree slope for 5 minutes. However, he insisted that a parking brake was not required. (I'm keeping mine installed anyway)

Not covered by his department. However, I'm pretty sure using OEM replacement parts that would be for another approved vehicle would by their nature be OK to use.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Changes so BugE can be registered in New York

In my phone conversations with my NY-DMV caseworker, the main problem with my vehicle appears to be the lighting and controls. So, I used an image editor to investigate how some different lighting layouts might work. The FMVSS guide I'm using is HERE . First, about the lighting. Because this vehicle is classified as a motorcycle, it needs to have DOT/SAE motorcycle lights with motorcycle markings in the housing. Finding aftermarket lights has been surprisingly hard since the market is flooded with cheap replacement lighting.

Anyway, my first thought on revised headlight placement was to have a single light shine out through the windshield so the light would not affect the aerodynamics. However, using a spotlight, I found that others would only see a glowing blob coming down the road. Since I didn't want to cut into the bubble to mount a light, I eliminated this option.

The second option I considered was to take the existing navigator headlights off, then put DOT blinkers in the holes and mount a couple of sealed-beam DOT legal motorcycle headlights on the fenders. Reading the regulations, I found that primary motorcycle lights cannot be more than 8" apart. At first, I was convinced there was some regulation that would exempt a tadpole trike since it would show other drivers that a very wide thing was coming towards them rather than a very skinny thing! However, I found no such exemption. I have since observed that some motor trike vehicles such as the Xebra that clearly would benefit from a wider lighting layout still retain a headlight in the center. Another three wheeled vehicle, the Aptera, does only have two lights on the side more than 8" apart. However, that vehicle is only available in California. So I suspect a special exception was made at the state level rather than the national level.

Another configuration I considered was to have the motorcycle light shine out the front door. The headlight, mounted through the removable door panel, would be at the lowest height permitted. One cost of this option is that I would lose use of the front cargo door.
The final configuration is to simply place a single sealed-beam DOT approved motorcycle light in the front. I would also like to keep the dual navigator lights on the side since they look nice but they don't need to be DOT grade since the state would consider these ornamental rather than functional.

So, I submitted in writing the 2nd and 3rd proposed lighting configurations to my caseworker that shows some proposed configurations and measurements (eg headlight would be so many inches from the ground) and also states electric interlock requirements (eg. motor can't be on without the headlight). Hopefully, my DMV caseworker can point out additional obvious problems. At minimum, I know I need to redo the whole 12V wiring harness for a center light but that was something I was going to do anyway.

For now, it's back to the garage for the BugE. As soon as I get my survey back, the work can start on changing out the lighting.

In a supreme bit of irony, I learned that Auburn High School completed a roadway legal BugE. Unfortunately, these roadway legal experts were in Auburn Alabama not Auburn NY!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Studying for the New York State DMV inspection...

New York State goes by the Title49 guidelines by the NHTSA. The good thing is that it's a federal standard. So, if I move to another state, I'll be OK. There is quite a bit to the code so I have delayed my inspection request until I can make sure the BugE complies with the code. I guess everyone needs a hobby. This for the moment is mine.

So far, the problems that may be an issue are:
-Still don't know for sure if NY will have a problem with the frame, body and wheels. I suspect they will find the BugE acceptable, but I don't know for sure. The case I'll be making is that 23 other states approved vehicles based on kit parts and so far, there have been no accidents due to structural failure. If NY rejects the vehicle on the basis of this, one has to ask, how many successful vehicles would it take? If I were rejected on this basis, I think I have a strong basis to appeal the decision although I have no idea how I would do so.

As for the NEV limitation, New York doesn't restrict electric trikes to 25MPH. Instead, it insists all motorcycles (electric or not) must be able to EXCEED 40MPH! Yay! got that one!

As for the other areas I CAN address according to Code49...

  • The kit provided tires I have are acceptable provided I can demonstrate that the weight does not exceed the capacity of the tires.
  • thumb throttle is fine. (twist grip throttle shipped with newer BugE kit works too)
  • "self canceling turn signal" mechanism providing 4-way flasher capability is nice, but not required.
  • Blue Sky kit turn lamps need to be replaced with slightly larger DOT legal versions
  • Blue Sky kit tail lamp needs to be replaced with DOT/SAE legal version (I'm using one from a salvaged bike I bought on Ebay)
  • Replacing side headlights is tricky with two headlights, one for high beam, one for low beam. In NY the headlights can't be more than 8" across or there needs to be a center light. The center lamp should have DOT/SAE markings and also say "motorcycle" on them with hi/lo in the same body.
  • Mirrors - the Eurosport mirrors look good but they were mounted a little too low. I'll be replacing them with Izuzu truck mirrors which will give a larger mirror area.
  • Glad I wired in the turn signal indicator lights to the speedometer! At the time, I thought this would just be a nice, but not necessary feature for me. Turns out having turn signal pilot lights and an illuminated speedometer are both needed!
  • right-left brake layout is acceptable as is and is also safer than stopping using rear wheel. If rear wheel locks, the vehicle could go into a spin!

That's it for now.

Oh, and there is also a quiz. Which lamps are DOT approved? Yes, in both cases, bigger is better. However, it's not the size that makes the grade. What really makes the lights legal is the DOT / SAE code on the lens of each lamp. FINDING authentic DOT/SAE stamped parts at any price is a challenge. In my case, I gave up searching for a new tail light and just went with a 2nd hand part. This approach works, but the tail light I settled on is nearly 20 years old!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Trial of the BugE by NY DMV

So, I make a big sigh and embark on the obstacle filled path of the home built vehicle maker rather than the easier path available to those vehicle owners that have vehicles that already have a VIN. So, I write my letter to the DMV stating that I've built a vehicle based on the BugE kit and would like an information packet to start the process of getting a "home built" vehicle approved on New York State roadways.

I'm expecting a long wait for the packet, long wait for an inspection date and a laundry list of wants when it comes to blessing the BugE for New York roadways. I'm sure people at the DMV do not like approving home built vehicles. There are probably lots of engineering questions since this catch-all category includes everything from motorized furniture to parade floats. So, I'm expecting a form with all sorts of hurdles and mods I will need to make to claim the BugE is safe. Of course, in my favor, the BugE is considered a motorcycle in trike configuration so the national requirements should not be so strict as for a car but I have no idea what kooky New York State laws may lurk about. Perhaps it will need strobe lights or need to be painted florescent orange or carry several fire extinguishers. It may get plates, but then get lumped into the category of regular NEVs which are governed to not exceed 25MPH! Not that it's that big of a deal. The surrounding roadways are 35mph so even with a NEV restriction, the BugE should still be a useful vehicle for me.

However, instead of getting a thick compliance packet with a mile-long check list, I get a phone call from a representative stating that he doesn't think the BugE is fit for roadway use, ironically BECAUSE it's a kit! The reasoning probably is, if the kit maker didn't issue a VIN, it must have been denied by NHTSA or DOT at some point so it's crap. Denied unseen - even without an inspection!

But that is only the first skirmish in what looks to be a long war. Not to be a person who accepts a denial of a BugE even without some sort of inspection or at least a set of hurdles to overcome, I respond in writing and point out that the BugE has been accepted in 4 different states & I give references (since then, I have learned that BugE vehicles are being driven legally in 23 states so his case for a blanket denial of the BugE design is totally without merit) and of course I offer to make mods on whatever may be lacking for compliance with New York State laws.

So, I've enlisted the help of the kit designer Mark Murphy. I see by email correspondence that Mark and my caseworker have had a back and fourth Q&A. Things are looking good. Looks like the main problem technical services has is with the lighting, specifically with the headlight location and making sure all lighting meets DOT/SAE standards.

Meanwhile, I've accepted that I'll be carting the BugE around to several locations so I've installed a trailer hitch on my regular car so carting the BugE around can be done inexpensively.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yes, you can weld with a ratchet

Since my BugE was stranded at a motor-sports shop for a regular inspection rather than the more detailed inspection that a home built vehicle must go through, I decided to fetch it back and store the BugE until the paperwork can be completed and I can then transport it to the various stops it needs to go to.

There is a legal way to get the BugE home without using a truck. I decided to tow it. It seems unsafe - and it is. However, the law is the law. So, I got a nice big rope and had another car tow the BugE. It was an adventure to say the least. Unlike driving in regular traffic, I didn't have the means to avoid potholes. So, I hit them straight-on. However, the canopy structure experienced very little shaking - even going over some rough railroad tracks! One scary part was when the tow car went around a corner too sharply and threatened to pull the bug over with the rope! Fortunately, I accelerated and that reduced the tension on the rope enough for me to match the turn. I eventually got it home. Obviously, I lived through the experience. It was so sad to have such a great vehicle only on the road with a rope. Don't be cruel! Let the BugE go! Oh well, someday.

Once home, I decided to re-install the Powercheq modules. Unfortunately, when I was putting on a bolt from one of the rear batteries, I saw a spark that caused me to drop the ratchet handle which then touched another battery terminal with a noisy flash. I could hear the hum of electricity going through the ratchet handle! My batteries were destroying themselves! First, I tried hitting the ratchet off with a larger ratchet I had within arms reach. More flashes, more humming & I then noticed one terminal had welded itself to the socket and the other terminal was welded to the handle! Finally, I took a big wood stick nearby and hit the handle. Another poof of noisy sparks, but at least the handle came off! Whew!

The result was one ugly looking melted post. Fortunately, I could still use it. I decided to deal with the large battery imbalance by installing the rest of the Powercheq modules. So far, the modules seem to be re-balancing the pack. Each battery still works and reads nearly full voltage. However, I'm sure there will be a performance hit. "How much" is an interesting question.

Finally, I put the BugE away and tied down the cycle shelter. Over the next few weeks, I'll need to save my pennies again and think of the best way to make the BugE road-legal for the least cost. So far, to get a coveted VIN from New York State involves this little procedure HERE .

When working on the BugE, safety first! Have layers of protection not only in devices but procedures as well. Remember, with live circuits, use only ONE hand not two! Also, cover up exposed live wires with SOMETHING if they are likely to flop around.

Monday, March 30, 2009

You want to drive a WHAT in New York State?

At first, I was rather surprised when people say they have never dealt with a three wheel electric car. Three wheels, yes. Three wheels and electric? Nope. Now, I know why. Apparently, New York State's elected officials have collective amnesia about the gasoline prices last summer. Otherwise, they would change some laws so inexpensive electric vehicles and bicycles could more easily replace petrol cars.

The first sign of trouble was when I went to State Farm to have them provide liability insurance for the vehicle. Nope. They didn't want anything to do with it. I can see that. The actuarial work would be a bit much to ask for someone just walking in the door. No problem. The State Farm agent recommended an independent agent. After several calls, my new agent finally found an underwriter who would be willing to insure the BugE for $282 a year (or $141 for the 6 month riding season) . Needless to say, that was rather high. However, I figured that the BugE is a new vehicle with a small risk pool so the insurance company rightfully is a bit cautious. So, I thought, at least I found an insurer.

Next stop was the DMV. Now, I'm sure you will all be surprised at this - but this is where my day got really bad. Originally, I thought I would just fill out two forms, pay some taxes, then go through a rather easy inspection. Ah, but this is New York State!

The guy at the DMV window didn't know how to deal with a kit car. So he asked his supervisor. After some discussion, the supervisor then handed me a guide to registering a "home made" or "unique" vehicle. Grrr. I thought by having a production kit, I had avoided this. Apparently not. The kit didn't have a VIN number and that was the problem. The certificate of origin has only a chassis number and fairing number - but no VIN number. However, this is understandable. The VIN is issued by each state and not all states still do this. At least New York still does. However, New York does not make it easy. The extended inspection process is featured HERE.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Getting the BugE on the road

A few days ago, I stopped by the motor vehicle office to check out what would be involved with getting the BugE on the road. I thought it would be a real problem getting the vehicle on the road. It doesn't appear to be. I was told that getting the BugE is surprisingly similar to the process of getting a regular car on the road.

However, I decided to check at my local inspection station to make sure they were OK with handling such a strange vehicle. During the trip there, I was somewhat concerned with range since I figured I would need to drive on several stretches of road at 45 or 50 mph. However, this appears to not be a problem. Most of the route has a speed limit of 30 and vehicles tend to go only a little above that speed. The short 45mph stretch tends to be slower than the speed limit due to so many cars being on the road. So, I should have no range problem getting home.

So, I dropped off the BugE at the inspection station.

After a few days, I decided to see if there were any problems with the inspection. The good news is, it passed. The bad news is, they can't attach a sticker since the engraved number on the chassis is a chassis number, not a VIN number. So, the sticker is ready. I just need a VIN number so they can tie the sticker to the car. Given that I'll be dealing with a state agency, this could take a while. I'll need to think of the best way to bring my BugE home!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Final prep before the show....

Finishing touches before loading on the lift gate truck.

1) oil the chain & gear (believe it or not, it already had a tiny hint of rust!)
2) tighten the brakes
3) put in nicer looking canopy safety bolts, one on hood, one on top.
4) remove a few inches of Velcro from rear of lens so it fits on the cowl tighter.
5) put a dab of grease on tie rod ball joints
6) redo the front door seal using neoprene and a hot glue gun setup
7) remove powercheq modules so battery setup can be seen more easily

I had use of a stake rack truck with a lift gate. Equipped with a HEMI engine, it was a remarkably smooth running engine and had great climate controls, but boy does it like it's gas! I couldn't help think about the contrast of the truck to the BugE from an energy standpoint. After driving for 45 minutes, I arrived at the BugE assembly location. Loading the BugE on the truck to drive it to the symposium required two people. Since the lift gate was just a little narrower than the front tires, we needed to be a bit creative in how we loaded it into the truck.

First, the BugE was driven onto the lift gate so the left tire was on the gate. Then, setting the rear brake & propping up the fender, I could safely grab the rear wheel and put it on the lift gate as well. Then, we put a board under the front wheels, lifted the vehicle using the lift gate, then used a wooden dowel underneath to roll the board into the flatbed. Once loaded, it was then tied down. Then, the lens was covered with a soft cover & secured with tie down straps. Getting the BugE off the truck was the reverse of the process. The vehicle arrived in one piece and was then driven to the storage area to await being displayed during the symposium.

The lens had some fingerprints & smudges on it. To clean the lens, I found a 80/20 mixture of sprayed on water and white vinegar is gentle enough. Since scrubbing would likely leave scratches, I wanted to use a different approach. I found dragging a soaked microfiber cloth across the lens can remove smudges without leaving scratches or water spots. Just before the symposium, the body will be cleaned for a final time to get rid of any roadway grime. Gotta remember the Armor all for the tires!

The BugE was not promoted too well for this event, but it was very well recieved by those who did see it in it's pre-road legal form. It was a fully functional vehicle at that time, but it didn't have tags. Since then, it has undergone a retrofit to meet NYS-DOT requirements to use public roadways.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Building a better latch system.

When servicing the BugE, I find I usually put up the cowl. So, I have put on a large "L" bracket attached through the hole drilled in the outer frame. The bracket has a rubber washer on one side of the bolt so the bracket will stay where placed. Just lift the cowl, then flip this bracket underneath it. Having a built-in service bracket is a small but important feature.

The new BugE now comes with cowl brackets that address the cowl issue below. However, this exploration may help someone who may be servicing an earlier model BugE.

Previously, I was using springy latches on the bottom of the cowl attached to bolts that stuck out the side. They didn't work very well since, in my opinion, they were attached to the wrong point! So, after studying how the suspension really worked, I tried a new approach.

Knowing that the front of the cowl rests on the inner frame instead of the outer frame, I decided to rest the rear of the cowl on the inner frame so the movement of the front and back of the cowl would be less.

So, I cut down a heavy 6" steel bracket so it could hold a rubber bumper and hit the inner frame rather than beat against the outer frame latch. The bracket is secured to the fiberglass lip with a 1/4-20" flat head screw & nylock hex nut. It is also is secured a second place by a 1/4-20 x 3/4" bolt & nylock about 4" up the mud well. As for the bumper, instead of using a screw, I decided to install a hex head bolt in through the bumper so the it could be secured to the bracket in a more substantial way. Since doing this, the rear of the cowl seems to take bumps better but there is still quite a bit of shake.

Next, I attached two sections of angle iron to the battery tray lip, one on each side, via 8-32 screws. The angle iron is the silver thing attached to the battery tray lip in left photo. The "L" shaped angle iron should prevent excessive side to side movement since the bumpers will "bump" into the angle iron if the cowl tries to go right or left.

I then attached the original cowl latches that came with the kit to the new bumper hex bolt via a small "L" bracket. To make sure the catch always faces the rear, I used a small rubber washer & tightened the bolt enough so it doesn't turn easily. Since the base of the latch is a bit shorter than the height of the catch, I added some washers as spacers. (middle photo) Adding or taking away washers from the machine screws that hold down the latch allows the latch height to be adjusted.

In the last photo, it can be seen how the latch catch is attached to the bumper bolt via an "L" bracket. To prevent the "L" bracket from rotating, a rubber washer is between the large "L" bracket and small "L" bracket.

This modification is definitely worth it! MUCH less shake and side to side movement than when the bumpers were hitting the outer rail. This is probably because the cowl is now riding with the battery pack and passenger mass too! Time will tell if this solution holds up. For now, it seems to work rather well!

Materials used:
2 - 6" brackets, cut down to size.
2 - 1/4-20 x 3/4" hex bolts, nylocks & washers
2 - 1/4-20 x 2" , washers & nylocks
2 - 1/4" hex bolts
2 bumpers (came with kit)
(2) 1/2" angle iron pieces cut to size
(2) 1" "L" brackets to attach latch catch to bumper bolt.
(2) rubber washers
cowl latches & (6) 8-32 x 2" screw/nut sets
drill oil

Tools used:
Drillpress (1/4" for thread, 5/16 bit for hex head) to prepare bumper
Vise, Grinder, drill (1/4" bit), hexkey & wrench

30 minutes, preparing bumper & drilling 1/4" hole for bumper at the proper location.
30 minutes cutting down large "L" bracket & installing in fender.
1 hour constructing battery tray "L" bracket shelf, then attaching rubber hold downs to it.
30 minutes - Installing small "L"brackets so hinge catches can be mounted to the bumper hex bolt.
3 hours (or so) blogging about it.

Great minds think alike. Mark Murphy, the BugE designer has since incorporated a similar bracket in his 2009 BugE models. I would like to think he used my idea. In reality, I think the idea was probably developed in parallel.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Attaching the lens to the canopy.

Here is a photo of how the long strips of velcro are applied to the cowl. I decided to use the hook side on the cowl and loop side on the lens.

The kit comes with enough adhesive backed velcro to do the job. The hook side of the Velcro goes along the lip of the cowl. The loop side of the velcro goes along the edge of the lens. The Velcro has no problem holding on the lens by itself. However, as a precaution, I am putting 1/4" bolts with rubber grommets on the front and back pieces just in case the Velcro isn't strong enough to hold the lens on by itself.

I did run into one problem. The lens shipped with my kit is not quite big enough for the cowl once the Velcro takes up the space between the lens and cowl. So, along the middle, the lens and cowl velcro sections don't meet very much. I did find that taking about 4" from each side in the rear made the canopy fit to the cowl better.
To do:
Use more "JB-WELD" to magnets closer to the speedometer pickup. They are just a little too far away from the pickup sensor so the speedometer is giving a false low reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Maximizing battery performance

To get the absolute most performance out of an Optima lead-acid battery pack, the batteries should be balanced. In the original plan, batteries were arranged in series. They were charged with a single 4A 48V charger. The charger has a regulator that shuts off the charger when the overall pack has sufficient voltage across it. However, as batteries age is possible that some batteries may be lacking charge, while other batteries may be overcharged. If the imbalance becomes too great, it will lead to a shorter pack life or less than optimum performance.

Fortunately, someone else has thought of this problem and has made some electronic modules which dump (or take) excess charge from a neighboring battery. Ordering the parts from EVSource took a while since they apparently had a backlog of orders. I've since learned that Harvey Coachworks also carries these modules. I can't recommend these modules enough. I have operated my pack without these modules and it doesn't take too long before each battery voltage starts to vary by quite a bit. I then need to manually charge some batteries more than others and it's basically a big headache. With these modules installed, charge averaging is all taken care of. I'm convinced my pack would not have lasted as long as it has if I hadn't had these.

Anyway, the battery terminals were bought from Autozone, a local car parts chain in my area. Spades and terminals were mixed since I didn't have enough terminals for all the wires. The color of the wire is important. Each module MUST be connected with Yellow wire (+), then purple (-) on other battery, then white (com) on the common terminal between the batteries. Failing to do this will make the module think there is a massive imbalance in the battery arrangement and it may burn out. So, for wiring reliability, the connectors should be soldered, not just crimped on so there is less possibility of having a wire detach and cause a problem. Also, when connecting the (-) there will usually be a visible spark. Also, it's VERY important to connect and disconnect wires in order according to the instructions since it's possible to damage the modules.

The battery terminals also need some preparation. The nuts holding the bolts can fall out when there was no bolt present. Since nut dropping is not something that should be happening when attaching touchy expensive electronic modules, something needs to be done. One solution is to melt some solder to the underside of each terminal so the nuts stay on even when bolts are out. As you can see, attaching solder to the terminals doesn't look pretty, but it works. It also is something that cannot be seen by the casual observer since this side of the terminal connector faces down.

After connecting all the powercheq modules, they need to be mounted somewhere so they can't rattle around in the battery compartment. So, I made a small mounting tray made out of wood covered in duct tape so the modules can be zip tied to it. The wood could be painted instead. However, covering with duct tape is faster than waiting for paint to dry. To hold the tray, two flat head screws pass through and screw into a battery terminal. The clamp is then attached to an unused battery terminal. The little red terminal cap on the bottom of the tray is there so you can see the battery terminal better.

My first mounting attempt going across looked OK. The powercheq modules blinking on and off when equalizing gave a high-tech look to the battery pack. However, I could no longer stow the stick I use to prop up the fender during maintenance! So, I rotated the tray 90 degrees. To do this, I needed to extend the length of some powercheq wires so they would reach the battery terminals.

3 powercheq modules
6 battery terminals
2 flat head screws
3 zip ties
9 terminals that fit 1/4" battery terminal end screws (avoid using spade connectors since they pull out)
Wood for shelf
Duct tape (or paint) for shelf.
12Ga wire (to extend powercheq wires when tray is mounted sideways).

Jigsaw (to cut wood)
Drill with 1/4" for ziptie holes and countersink bit (for flathead screw holes)
Mini ratchet w/ 2 sockets for securing bolts on battery terminals.
Soldering station (solder pen, helping hands, solder, wire stripper, heat shrink tubing, ect...)

Around 3 hours, to think of and construct solution, not including blog time.


I have run my Optima batteries with and without battery management modules. I definitely think the BMS system was a good purchase. It saved me the trouble of manually rebalancing the cells in the pack. Plus, I later found it also had the benefit of allowing me to use a single inexpensive 12V charger rather than a more expensive 48V charger. To do this, I just attached a cigarette lighter port to one battery. Then, I charge the battery through that port! The BMS then balances out the charge equally with each battery. Charging this way isn't as fast as doing it in series. However, 12V chargers are rather inexpensive, widely available and light enough to just throw in the cargo area just in case field charging is needed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

First test drive! Feb 22, 2009!

The test can be seen on YouTube.

One of the concerns I had was if the BugE could climb out of my driveway! It's quite steep. As you can see from the video, it's no problem on relatively dry pavement. It has plenty of torque! However, passing over the snow made the tire wet so the tire had some trouble gripping the driveway. However, I found going up slow would solve that problem. Also, there is always the option of adding some roadway grit too. Overall, a very good result!

I have not put on the transparent canopy yet since I have some tweaking I still need to do. However, the major goal of building a working car has been reached! After the canopy has been installed and the BugE registered & insured, I plan to make more performance video tests.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

48V motor test

A frantic rush to the finish continues.

To complete the 48V motor circuit, I had to make a few more cuts. I have found that grouping tasks such as cutting with the Dremil saves time.
I found I had to trim the battery tray lip in the rear to allow the #4 wires to be passed under the vehicle. On the left, wires go from the reversing switch to the controller. Also, the brake line goes through that lip too. Smaller circle shows the brake cable. Larger circle passes 48V lines. On the right, one cable will be passing from under the speed controller, up , to go to the negative battery terminal in the battery tray.

I also did some cuts on the rear fender. One is for the reversing switch handle so it doesn't need to be taken off every time I need to lift the fender. At this point, I've put on and taken off the fender several times. Since the switch has dragged on the inside of the fender several times, it has managed to mark a path of it's travel inside the fender. So, now I know where and how wide the notch should be. Notch is cut, then switch handle is attached.

Note, switch handle didn't come with a screw. I happened to have one. Size and TPI will be noted later.

Two other Dremil operations are for the battery cutoff switch and the charging port. I put the holes towards the front on either side, but behind the glove box indentation so wires would be in no danger of hitting battery terminals. To trace a circle, I used a coin on the inside to serve as a guide for my Dremil cut. Then, I smoothed the cut while widening it with a Dremil drum sander tool. Nice fit!

Now, I have screwed on the fender for the final time (yea, right). Then, the batteries go in, one by one. Once the switch and port are mounted, their wires are pushed out of the way. They will be attached later.

At first, I wondered about why there was a space left between the battery packs. Once I took off the temporary handles from the batteries, I found out why the extra space around the batteries is important. If not loaded correctly, the batteries are in the perfect position to pinch fingers! After loading the batteries, the space between is a perfect fit for a 2x4 piece of wood. After slipping in the wood, the batteries seem to be rather secure. Nice design!

After the batteries are installed, the remaining 48V cables are constructed. The process is the same as it was when I put the reversing switch on. Sit next to the car, measure a run, cut cable, strip end, crimp end, wrap end in tape, put split tube on outside, wrap split tube. Sounds like a bit of work but it goes quickly. I found wearing nitrol gloves, with cloth gloves on only keeps my hands warm but also keeps my fingers free of little copper metal bits! I am putting wire wrap on all the wires I can in the battery tray. I may be a bit paranoid but I really don't want something shorting against something else.

The wire sections are connected to the battery posts VERY tightly with 5/16" nylock nuts rather than the wing nuts that came with the Optima batteries. I'm not sure if split tubing is really needed around all the cables for protection but I'm putting it on just in case.

The only really difficult wires to attach were the final wires to connect to the battery pack. I needed to drop the controller shelf so I could attach the large #4 wire to be connected to the battery. Fortunately, this is held on by two bolts which are rather easy to get at. Then, attach all wires tightly and lift the shelf back up.

I'm not attaching the positive and negative cables to the 48V motor circuit yet. First, it's time for a final 12V circuit test.
- 48V charge meter works
- battery charge port works
- tail light, signal lights, low beam all work.
- horn didn't - (traced to a lose spade connector).
- brake light spring is just a little bit too tight. This was fixed by stretching spring. I also decided to solder the brake indicator connectors rather than rely on crimps. Since I have attached & detached the brake indicator connector several times, I am really glad I spent an extra $2 to put on a quick-disconnect for that little piece of the wiring!
- lo-hi beam indicator lights on speedometer are reversed (purple colors are very close to each other, so this is understandable and can be fixed later).
- hi-beam is dim. Monitoring the Yahoo group shows more than one person has had this problem. However, since this is not critical for the 48V test, I'm going to press ahead with the 48V test.

  • Block front wheels so they cannot move.
  • lift rear wheel
  • Attach all cables & final 48V battery cable with nylock nuts
  • Test 12V
  • do low speed 48V forward & backward test.
Now, this is a big test, with big wires that can unleash the full power of the battery pack. Safety glasses, no wrist watch or rings and the one-hand rule are used when connecting wires.

First, the contactor and DC-DC converter wires are attached to the battery cutoff switch. The charging wires are attached to the positive and negative posts on the battery. The 48V meter reads that the pack is full.

The negative DC traction motor wire is attached to the pack's terminal along with the DC-DC converter feed wire using a nylock.

The positive DC traction wire (via fuse) is then attached along with the other DC-DC converter feed wire. No spark. This seems good.

Finally, the big moment. Things will either work, not work or smoke. I turned the switch & the contactor clicked. 12V lighting works. Good. Now, gently push on the throttle..... nothing. Tracing out the wires, I found the key switch spade connector was detached when the controller was dropped to attach the large power wire. This was re-connected.

Try the key again. Just touch the thumb throttle ... success! Due to the chain drive, it's not as quiet as I expected, but it's much quieter than a regular motorcycle! Then reverse was tried. Success again!

It's been a big night.

I think a small test drive is really close to happening!

Other tasks done:
- Put in a spacing washer for the parking brake so the handle can lock.
- screwed on the front door. Still need to hot glue a better seal around the door.
- put in a wood stick for propping up rear fender when servicing the BugE. Also need a way to prop up the cowl too.

Still to do:
Tighten steering tube bolt.
Install more padding for cowl on frame to absorb bumps better
Build little shelf in battery area for powercheq modules
Troubleshoot 12V wiring issues. (look at hi-beam light issue - why is it so dim? - found that re-seating the bulb in the headlight solved the problem)
Make cowl wiring neater - give some thought to a dashboard.
Arrange to transport to/from an inspection station.
Arrange transport to/from symposium location
-design and install a dashboard console to include a car radio & rocker switches for accessories.

Unanswered questions
-If storing outside in cycle shelter, would a small heater (such as a light bulb) to eliminate condensation from electronics and bubble be needed?

Installing seat isn't mentioned in the tasks. However, for servicing, then driving, then servicing again, having a seat that easily slides on and off is REALLY NICE.

Also, I put in a better keyswitch in series with the battery cutoff switch. This allows lights to operate when the BugE is exhibited but the motor contactor will not be ON without the secondary switch being ON too.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Installing the speedometer pickup

These notes only apply to pre-2009 BugE kits that have drum brakes. The new BugE kits now come with disk brakes.

The speedometer kit came with a speed sensor, mounting bracket and several magnets. The instructions covered programming the unit rather well, but it did not cover the more mundane task of mounting the sensor!

In the image to the right, the sensor is shown mounted in the bracket. A hex wrench is used to secure a set screw for the sensor. The kit also came with some tiny rare earth magnets (circled). To mount the sensor, I used a 1/4-20x3/4" hex bolt and two washers left over from a Radio Shack grommet kit (Part# 64-3025). Earlier in the BugE steps, I used the smaller grommets from the package to protect the holes when I was filling the frame with anti-corrosion paint. Since I did not use all the larger sizes, I had quite a few left over. Inside the yellow square, a 1/4-20-3/4" hex bolt is shown cut to 3/8" long plus a washer can be seen. The other nut/bolt is shown so the original bolt length can be seen.

The left most photo shows the speedometer arm balancing on the steering spindle pin. The bolt & nut are held in the mounting arm tight due to grommet#1 filling the space. The sides of the hex nut have been filed down slightly so it will fit tightly in the brake channel. Once the brake assembly is pushed back onto the steering spindle, all the parts are held together by pressure. Grommet #2 was added for a tighter fit. Once the bracket is in place, the sensor is mounted to the arm using a set screw.

The next step was a bit messy for me. There is no place for the magnets on the BugE tires. I didn't want to weaken the wheel by drilling little mounting holes so I figured that the little magnets should be glued on. The product I used was J-B Weld. There are three reasons for this. First, the mounting material should be strong. Second, it should be resistant to water. Third, and most important for me at the moment was that it was cheap. Fortunately, I had a box full of glues, epoxies and calk collected over the years. So, I punctured the tubes, mixed the product and it worked. I was impressed. I'm pretty sure the "new" pack I used was at least 10 years old!

Once the epoxy dries, I put the wheel back on. Then I used a Dremil tool to drill a square hole through the wall of the BugE large enough, and square enough for the sensor wire end to go through. Then, I took a small grommet & split using a razor blade so it can go around the cable. Then, I took a larger grommet & work it over the connector, then put the larger grommet over the smaller split grommet. Then, I stuffed both grommets into the square hole which will took up the space around the cable. Hopefully it will hold. I'll be watching that cord. If it wanders around too much in the wheel well, I may use some split tubing to force it to take the same path up as the brake cable.

At a later time, the speedometer needs to be calibrated. Since the instructions that came with it cover this step, I won't go into detail on how the unit is programmed. Just as well since instructions such as that usually differ from unit to unit.

Kit Materials used:
(From speedometer kit) mounting bracket, sensor, magnets, hex wrench

Additional materials
  • (1) 1/4-20 x 3/4" hex bolt & nut, cut to size
  • (2) grommets left over from the earlier anti-rust step for arm
  • (1) large grommet, (1) small split grommet for speedometer pass through.
  • (1) J-B Weld epoxy package
  • (1) set nitrol gloves (for the epoxy)
  • (1) stirring stick & disposable mixing container
  • zipties
Tools used:
  • 3/4" wrench to take off wheel nut
  • Hammer to hammer out cotter pin
  • needle nose pliers to convince pin to come out of the axle.
  • Vise to hold hex bolt for cutting & hex nut for filing down
  • Dremel tool (with cutting wheel) to cut down hex bolt to desired size
  • File to remove material from the sides of the hex nut so it will fit in the channel
  • ruler & pencil (to measure where magnets go so sensor can pick them up)
  • Drill & drillbit (for passing through sensor wire)
Time used:
  • Jacking up the wheel, taking off cotter pin, castle nut & wheel washers - 15 minutes.
  • Imagining a solution & test fitting parts together - 20minutes
  • Cutting down the bolt & grinding the nut to size - 15 minutes
  • Mouting arm to wheel - 15 minutes
  • Drilling hole through body for sensor cable - 15 minutes.
  • Securing wheel with castle nut & cotter pin, then removing from the jack stand - 15 minutes.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

BugE bumper probem - and solution

Monitoring the Yahoo group informed me that there was an issue with the rear shock absorber (also known as BugE bumpers). The issue was that the bumpers would bulge out beyond the ends of the bumper assembly, cutting into the BugE shock fitting. This may lead to an early failure of the BugE bumpers with all sorts of ugly consequences. When I was building the BugE, I noticed my BugE was experiencing similar symptoms. (Lots of bulging, even with no batteries installed). Since I was VERY close to putting the batteries, giving the bumper a full load, I needed to get this repaired!

For those of you with the rear suspension BugE's that don't have improved bumpers, here are two methods to upgrade. One takes money, the other takes time.

For around $35, you can make an inexpensive improvement over the rubber BugE bumpers by replacing them with a EnergySuspension Universal Bushing kit #9.4102R. The kits are available through AutoZone.... You typically get two, so you'll have an extra!.

To change out the bumpers, remove the shock from the vehicle. (don't forget to support the rear since the rear of the BugE will fall without a jack to hold it up) Once removed, the rear shock comes apart with an allen bolt. .

If you don't have $35 at the moment, some humble $0.99 hockey pucks can also be used. To make center holes, I just use progressively larger wood drill bits to drill out a hole. To make the 1/2 puck in the middle, I used a recipricating saw and vise. Messy but effective. The ride is somewhat stiffer than original but the material seems to be holding up well.