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.