RTFM: Bricking An Electric Car Battery

A story is breaking in the world of Electronic Vehicles about an owner of a fabulously expensive Tesla Roadster (a very light two seater sports car with an electric motor and a huge battery). It’s a pretty fast and nice bit of kit.

Unfortunately the manual of the car makes it painfully clear that if you ever let the battery go completely flat you’re in deep trouble. It’s the Electric Car equivalent of taking a new engine, running the revs up to maximum in neutral with your foot flat on the floor until something goes pop.

I’ve been in the computer business for a while. I’ve sold tens of thousands of laptops all with batteries almost identiical to those in modern elecctric cars: lithium ion. If they ever go completely flat, by being left in a drawer for 6 months, they’re completely dead. Annoying if it’s a $100 battery in a laptop or an iPod. Rather more painful if it’s the $40,000 component in your sports car. I have customers bring in year old $200 net book computers that they stuck in a drawer six months ago and now they’re pissed off when I have to tell them a new battery is $120. There’s just nothing else I can do.

The moral of the story applies to all modern electronic devices with lithium batteries: keep ‘em topped up. If you’re storing them for a while take them out and charge them up every couple of weeks.

It’s even worse: electric cars don’t have a clutch or gearbox like a normal car so the wheels are directly connected to an electric motor. Getting them to turn if you can’t somehow get power to the motor is going to be very hard.

Which would be why the Tesla’s user manual makes it very clear that you should always leave your car plugged in. If you can’t do that then it tells you how fast the battery looses power but basically leaving it unplugged for more than 2 weeks has a good chance of getting dangerously expensive.

Just watch for this to be another stick to beat up on electric cars. You heard it here first.

h/t Bricking A Tesla Roadster Battery: Today’s Electric Car Meme.

About Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian's interests include electric cars, world peace and an end to world hunger. Besides blogging here, Brian of London now writes at the Times of Israel. Brian of London also hosted Shire Network News

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RTFM: Bricking An Electric Car Battery : Israellycool – What Is An Electric Car
26 February 2012 at 1:02am
[...] and a huge battery). It's a pretty fast and nice bit of kit. … Read ...

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  • STV

    But aren’t the cost of LI batteries coming down at a fairly decent rate?

    I do have to say that this seems to be a poor design issue for the Tesla, for the cost of the car couldn’t they have included a discreet solar device to stop the battery from going entirely flat?

    TBH if I was spending that amount of money on a car there isn’t a chance in hell I would buy electric

    • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

      I do agree that Tesla have been sloppy with the control systems. Nissan appear to have something better. It all depends on the point in the chemistry where the battery’s control system says I’m just going to completely turn off all drain that I can and pray someone plugs me in soon. Eventually the battery will brick.

      The issue is that the Tesla is a play thing while the Nissan Leaf is often a daily commute car. This owner is just an idiot.

      As to the high cost, you’ll understand when I tell you these numbers. Renault Fluence ZE battery capacity: 22kWh. Tesla Roadster: 53kWh. And the Tesla weighs a lot less.

      • STV

        I agree with you and Nissan do seem to be more switched on (excuse the pun).

        I think my other point was that the Tesla in the UK is £86,000 and I’d rather spend say £70,000 on a Nissan GT-R regardless of how cheap per mile the Tesla is to run.

        I think, as you say, it is a play thing and if you are actually concerned with the green credentials and pence per mile then you would go for something like a Prius or leaf and if you want a fun car you don’t have to spend as much.

        • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

          I totally understand you but you probably haven’t driven any electric car right?

          More so with a sports car, and especially with a play thing, range is relatively unimportant. When you tap the peddle even on a low power, heavy electric car like the Renault Fluence ZE, you get a shock. Getting 100% of the engine’s torque at 0 RPM is hard to describe. In a Tesla I can understand why it’s owners are smitten.

          Then you have constant acceleration until either electronics decide it’s not necessary in order to save the battery (in my Renault’s case it starts to limit the torque at 90KMH). I suspect the Tesla doesn’t bother. No gear changes just one smooth pull. It’s quite exciting.

          I’m not saying it’s better but numbers on pages don’t work for Electric because the feeling is so new. Again back to the Renault Fluence ZE: none of the regular car numbers look good but when you drive it at town speeds you get this astonishing acceleration at very low speed with ZERO hesitation.

          Watch this for some inkling on why people with $110k to burn might buy these things. It’s not necessarily a green thing and it sure isn’t a cost thing: the Tesla is genuinely exciting to drive I’m sure.


          Final point: in my old MGF back on the track in the UK there was only one way to get a really quick start: rev to 5000 rpm and then step off the clutch quick enough but not too quick while controlling the wheel spin. The smell was, ehhhm, distinctive. You just don’t need to do that with the Tesla.

          • STV

            I drove a Mitsubishi Miev in Japan a few weeks ago which was 40 summat-KW and bizarrely expensive (nearly twice the price of the new Toyota GT86), but I do have a degree in motorsport engineering so I understand some of the principles.

            I actually tried it out because of your writings here and it wasn’t bad, but that particular model just wasn’t for me.

            I suppose I could turn this on it’s head and say you haven’t driven a Nissan GT-R, right?

            If we were to discuss driving experience I can understand peoples enthusiasm for the acceleration of the Tesla. However, my point stands because the GT-R accelerates faster, goes quicker and is cheaper.

            There is no doubt that there is incredible potential in the electric vehicle market but the one thing I don’t think it has on it’s side is the feeling of driver involvement.

            It’s a criticism that I also give to automatics but driving the miev my hand was constantly twitching the gear-stick and my foot for a clutch only to find disappointment in an automatic layout. It’s a nothing point for a lot of people, but for me I have to feel like I’m controlling the car, for me that’s a fun driving experience.

            On the other hand forgetting about gear changes to me seemed a bit video game-ish and worryingly I felt a bit bored and nearly zoned out. Perhaps with greater acceleration this wouldn’t have been as much a problem.

            It’s another small point but I do like a re-assuring rumble and so to, I think, would the pedestrians/cyclists who didn’t hear me coming!

            I think what it might be best to say is that I understand some of the benefits, I just don’t feel the same appeal as I do for good old internal combustion.

            • http://www.israellycool.com/author/brianoflondon/ Brian of London

              We’re not so far apart then. I drove a fair few exotic things on tracks in the UK. I guess the most astonishing was a 3l Caterham that I was driven round Castle Combe in. I didn’t drive it unfortunately. That was lightening on brakes and acceleration. I’ve had a few laps in Ferraris and Porsches. I had time in various rally cars too.

              I have driven an Evo (forget which one) and I know it’s not a GT-R I also know the appeal of the amazing 4WD systems.

              A year or two before my first kid came along the MGF (which was on the verge of doing something very expensive to it’s variable valve system and which had been sprinted mercilessly) was traded in for a diesel Alfa 147. Surprisingly I loved that car. Manual (of course) and tons of torque but a world apart from the MGF that had revved to the sky.

              I sold that Alfa when I moved to Israel and I bought a Honda Civic here (the modern shape) with a 6 speed semi-auto box with paddle shifts. Most of the time Tel Aviv is horrible stop start driving and I love my semi-auto box. Some hate it, especially my wife, but when you drive it right it’s smooth as silk and I’m sure its 10% more efficient on fuel and power than a real auto box would be.

              In the end there are still no race tracks in Israel. It’s a mess. If there were I’d buy something nice for track use, but until then my road car just needs to be efficient and at least pull away quick. Speed limits here are mostly 90KMH or 110KMH and they’ve just caught the disease of aggressive speed cameras. I can’t be bothered speeding any more!

              I’d say the chance of zoning out on an Israeli road is usually zero and you’re dead if you do :-)

  • Shy Guy

    Just watch for this to be another stick to beat up on electric cars.

    One of the conclusions of this problem is that no stick is necessary.

    Hey, fellow American taxpayers, another half a billion dollar gubermint loan using our hard earned dollars well spent!

  • http://www.thelooniverse.com harrie

    O yeah? I have a Sony camera, top-of-the-line, and was told that you were supposed to keep the batteries topped up. Too bad Sony tells me to discharge them when not in use. So much uninformed BS going the rounds…

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