Learning To Listen To A New Type Of Car

I always considered myself in tune with my cars. I paid attention to changes in the sounds from the engine or the feel of the wheel and I always considered myself capable of predicting some trouble.

But the Electric car is a different beast. There is no vibration when stationary and no idle noise. The slight whine that comes under heavy acceleration is noticeable but I’ve never yet detected any change to its character.

A week ago, last Wednesday, I set out on a long trip around the north of Israel. I drove with a passenger first up Kvish 6 toll road stopping for a new battery at Eliakim. My passenger drove the switch so I have a picture of my car from the outside making a switch.

From there we climbed up near to the town of Ma’alot for our first meeting. After two hours or so we headed back down the hill to a new switch station in Karmiel arriving with around 11%. This station is unattended: signs ask you to call the service centre but in all other respects the switch was normal. A couple of interested pedestrians wandered over to take a look.

Another quick drive and we were in Haifa for our final meeting. An hour or so again and we set off back to Eliakim for our third switch. That might sound inconvenient: I probably could have cut that to two switches with careful driving on the first leg but I really prefer not to drive the car down to very low battery values especially when my natural route takes me right past a switch station.

There was one odd thing: from the moment I got onto the motorway in the morning I felt a mild vibration through the steering wheel at speeds above 100kmh. I immediately felt that the wheels needed balancing. There wasn’t much I could do and it wasn’t severe enough to warrant stopping. I resolved to take care of it soon.

So here are the details of the trip:

  • 313km / 210 miles
  • 3 battery switches
  • 9% lowest battery point reached on way to 2nd switch
  • 53kWh used 17kWh/100km
  • 3.7 miles / kWh
  • 56.6 km/h average speed
  • 2 hours parked at first destination, 1 hour at second.

The following Thursday I went to my car as usual, took my child 2km to his Gan and came out to go to work. I tried to start the car and saw the following screens:

“Elec. System to check”;

“Electrical motor fault”;

“Electrical fault danger”.

I tried the usual trick of turning off, getting out of the car, locking it and waiting a couple of minutes but that didn’t help so I called Better Place.

After a few minutes they called me back saying they were arranging for a truck to take my car and for the same truck to bring me a replacement electric car. It would take an hour and half or so. I walked to a nearby café and waited.

Sure enough they came, dropped me off a white replacement and took mine.

On the phone later I told the Renault service centre to also check the wheel balance.

I had the loaned car until Sunday (during which time I made two trips with it to Jerusalem) and mid Sunday morning they told me my car was ready and the motor had been replaced.

One needs to realise the electric motor in my car is not all that big. I believe it can be picked up by one person. It’s an important piece of the car, but it’s essentially a sealed unit. Any problems with it and the answer is to take it out and send it back to Renault so they can diagnose the problem and determine if the unit was faulty from the start.

Interestingly the head mechanic told me once the motor had been replaced, the wheels no longer felt out of balance and I can confirm the steering is now rock steady at 120 kmh.

So it seems the vibration I felt was the first sign of an impending motor failure. The motor is supposed to be sealed and capable of more than 100,000 km so failure at 10,000 is obviously premature.

What caused it? I don’t really know. I have noticed if one drives over a pot hole while accelerating hard, the front of the car makes a tremendous bang. It’s certainly not mechanically good for the car. I haven’t done this a lot but I wonder if it is possible to bend a drive shaft doing this.

Once again I can’t fault the Better Place service. This was a financially positive event for me (two trips to Jerusalem that don’t come out of my 20,000 km per year) so I really can’t complain. In terms of time it cost me less than 3 hours including waiting for a tow truck and picking up my car.

Update: here’s a nice Renault graphic showing the relative size of the electric motor (and the reducer which is a kind of single gear, gear box).


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 is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.