Featured Post

This is the Kodak Moment for the Auto Industry

Plug-In Drivers Not Missin' the Piston Electric vehicles are here to stay. Their market acceptance is currently small but growing...

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Trying to Buy an EV Nearly Cost Me My Sanity

Previously, we've discussed a friend and his nostalgia for the Saturn brand. Now, he's shopping for an EV; with Saturn long gone, what brand and model will he choose.

This has been a multi-year journey and it's not over yet. It's fair to say that the process is not going well. I sat down with him for an interview to share that story here, with you.

Solar Is Free EV 'Fuel'

CarsWithCords (CWC):
I understand that you're interested in buying an EV. Why?

Saturn Fan EV Shopper (SFES):
I have a big huge solar array on top of my house and I might as well have free "gas" because of it and I think we all need to be more responsible in terms of our carbon usage. It's becoming alarmingly clear if you've watched the weather at all, that Mother Nature is telling us that we have done bad.

Additionally, one of my side hobbies is carbon capture technologies. I like to play with algae and I've worked with state senators and state representatives trying to get legislation about carbon capture and carbon capture technology. So I really feel like I need to walk the walk here and an electric car is critical to getting less carbon into our atmosphere and I didn't realize when I started on that journey, how just weird and hard it was going to be. 

I knew the pandemic was gonna throw curveballs, but there were some decisions from automakers that just made me scratch my head. It really made me doubt my own sanity at times, which is not something that I thought was gonna happen, you know, while buying a car.

EVs Are Going Mainstream

What was the process you used to decide which EV was right for you?

So the good news is more and more EV options from the long-term brands.

I had been a long-time Saturn owner and that company folded, horrifically folded, as GM started to implode at one point. That left me at a point where I literally couldn't get my car repaired.

Rivian, Tesla, and some of the other start-ups are immediately off of the table because I didn't want to have to relive that tragedy. Also, I wanted a car, not a political statement, so that knocked out what I would call "vanity" brands. 

I wanted a car from an established brand. I wanted a car from the likes of Ford, VW, or Honda; these companies are older than I am and the probability of them surviving is much higher than a vanity brand or start-up; where, yeah, sure the CEO is completely invested now until he buys a new shiny thing and wants to call it X or something and I'm just making that part up.

That could never happen.

It may end up causing a massive distraction for the brand, for the support of the brand. So I just wanted to have, for lack of a better word, a mainstream provider. And so when I was EV shopping, I went to the Portland Auto Show. This was in February of 2021.

I Want A Car, Not A Starship

I tried out every EV they had there and, for me, they fell into two general categories.

Category One: they are trying to be Star Trek, where it was super high-tech and digital everything. And, you know, just weird glass cockpits that didn't make any sense or they were just very thinly reskinned and cludgy.

This is funny/ironic because I'm a huge Star Trek nerd. So that's how I like sci-fi, but that's not how I like my cars.

The second category was what I'd call normal cars. The Ford Mustang Mach-E was in this second category. Yes, it had the big screen, but it still had buttons and knobs in a familiar layout. 

The VW ID.4 was also in the second category.

There were a lot of cars, like some from Subaru and Nissan, that were there at the show but they were locked. What's on the inside? "You're gonna have to trust us."

I'm there to car shop. The car is there and I can't even sit in it. That didn't endear these brands to me.  

Dieselgate Is The Past, EVs Are The Future

I tried out the Volkswagen ID.4. I know some of your readers shaking their fists at me, "Volkswagen! They're the diesel-gate B*#%@#$."

Yeah, they're the diesel-gate B*#%@#$, but this is an EV. Yes, they cheated on diesel emissions. I felt like they had learned their lesson and an electric car is not a diesel. I didn't want to punish the EV for the sins of the diesel. But I went in very cognizant of sometimes, you know, we take imperfect choices because there are no perfect ones.

This was 2021, during the pandemic, and the car show was really weird. You had to have proof of vaccination. You had to wear a mask. They let in a very limited number of people at a time, so it was a pretty low-key show. One of the events was a "test ride." Sadly, they didn't let you behind the wheel, you were just a passenger and one of the sales droids drove you around a portion of the conference floor.

Even though I didn't get to drive, I thought that was really cool. I mean, you're actually on the event floor and they're actually driving it around. I was like, yeah, we can do that.

Right, that's pretty cool. Driving around indoors. You can't do that in a gas car.

EVs, yeah, no tailpipe, no tailpipe emissions.

Sitting in it, the ID.4 felt good. It was the size that I wanted my knees don't work as well as they used to, so I need something that has a little higher sit-point. It had a giant glass sunroof that I really liked. Even with the giant sunroof, they didn't change the location of the roof line, which I thought was really nice. It felt really well put together. That was attractive to me, getting in and out was easy, and it had the range I wanted.

We inherited a Nissan LEAF when my mother-in-law passed away. I drove the LEAF for a little while. It was used when she bought it so we were the third owners and the range was so degraded by the time that it came to us, it was unusable for our needs.

Based on that LEAF experience, I wanted something that had north of 200 miles of range and the the battery pack that was offered with the ID.4 at that time was like 240-260 or something like that. This would be plenty of range for our needs, even in winter with the heater on max or in the summer with the AC on high.

So I was really happy with the ID.4. It had the right feel, features, and range; so I went home expecting an ID.4 to soon be gracing my garage.

I talked it over with my wife. She agreed. Looking at the options online, they even had the color that I wanted. I've always loved blue cars and they offered it in blue. It came with a white weird kind of fake material trim, but I was like, OK, let's do this.

You had to pre-order it effectively to get a reservation. So I went to their website, filled out all the paperwork, designed my car in their configurator, and submitted it, including, you know, putting down some ducats. That got me into the queue. This was all in February 2021.

Sounds good so far. You found a car that you like and you've got the process going. I'm interested when the questioning of your sanity part comes into play.

Oh, it's coming.

The Frayed Ends of Sanity

When reserving the car, you had to pick a dealer that you wanted to work with. One of my current cars is a Mazda from a local dealership and they've treated me pretty well. They have a Volkswagen arm of their same dealership. They've been good enough to earn my business.

So I called them up to find out where to from here. They said they had completely misjudged the market acceptance of the ID.4 and there were 400 people waiting in the queue for an ID.4 at this one dealership alone.

400, wow!

He said, "I hope you've got patience." I was like, you know, I've got perfectly working cars right now, so I'm willing to be patient.

So he said, I'll get you an update in October. I was like, OK, you know, it's February and I'll get an update (not a car) in October.

October comes and my estimated delivery date is set to February 2022. One year after my order was placed. This was when the supply chain in 2021 really started drying up. There was apparently an automotive silicon factory that also had caught fire or had other disasters. There was automotive grade silicon worldwide constraint. That's not going to help. The dealership tells me that all the dealerships now have to compete for the limited stock so February is an estimate.

OK, I can be patient. I'll be patient. Just keep going. Keep going.

EV Racing With My Dad

In late 2021, my dad started looking for his next car. He was thinking he should go green as well. Looking into the EVs that are available, he found the Mercedes EQE.

After reading all the specs and a test drive, he says, "Yeah, I'll take one of those." So in January of 2022, he gets on the reservation list. Now, he and I are having a race. Who will get their EV first? And I'm like, "Dude, I'm totally gonna take you down. I've already got 10 months in the queue." 

His response was a simple, "We'll see. We'll see."

My trash-talkin' are words I'd be eating later.

The Waiting Game

And so I keep waiting and waiting.

Then I got a call from the dealership. I thought maybe the car was here. It wasn't. They're like, you know, this car is popular and in short supply because of the chip shortage. So the Feb 2022 estimate date became a March date and the March date became an October date. October came and went with no car. I would call periodically to let them know I was still waiting and interested. My estimated delivery was August of 2023.

The Ship Sank!

The dealership called me in July of 2023 to let me know that they had a large allocation, including some that matched my configuration, on a ship that was coming and my August 2023 delivery date looks good. Yes! It could finally happen.

Before July concluded, my hopes were scuddled. The car cargo transport carrying thousands of cars, including one that might've been mine, caught fire and sank in the North Sea. The ship had several month's worth of ID.4 production in it. This made the worldwide shortage of ID.4s radically worse.

The Blue Blues

In August of this year, my patience was wearing thin so I called up the dealership, "Bro, what's going on here, man? We seem to be perpetually delayed? What's the new estimate?"

He said that they were reordering their allocation for the sunk cars and there was a problem. He said, "Well, the interior that you wanted, the interior fabric supplier is no longer supplying that color."

And I'm like, "OK, so put a different color fabric in it." The interior of the car was not a big factor for me. It wasn't some great thing; the materials, the color, it was kind of just good enough.  

They said, "Well, that's not how it works. Volkswagen is discontinuing the blue exterior color because it was paired with this interior color that's no longer available."

That makes no sense to me. Get it from another supplier, put in a black interior, a white interior, or a tan interior. Any of these would work with a blue exterior. And I'm now you can see where the last strands of my sanity starting to evaporate.

They tell me I can have it in silver or gray, or any of the dullest possible imaginable colors. I just wanted blue. If I'm spending all this money on a new car, I should be able to get it in the color I like. I wasn't asking for some rare sapphire-encrusted exterior. I just wanted a normal blue, like I'd ordered. How hard is it to have a blue car?

And it was a little bit like the reverse of the old Henry Ford line of you can have it any color you want, as long as it's black. But for me it was, I could have it in any color I wanted as long as it wasn't blue.

At this point, I'm in the official VW queue and they've long ago locked in my $100 non-refundable deposit and that money is not coming back. 

Jaded By Harsh Reality

I ordered this car two and a half years ago and I still have no car. The fates seem to be plotting against me. The optimist man who thought an EV would be in his garage soon has been replaced by a cynic. I'm pulling the plug on my ID.4 dream. 

I called the dealership and said, "I'm done, you guys. I don't feel like you want my business bad enough. You're not giving me any options. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect delivery in less than 2 years." I know the dealership is only able to offer what VW makes, so my real issue is with VW corporate, not my local dealership; but in the end what matters is whether can I get what I ordered, and in this case, the answer was 'no.'

I mean, how hard is it to use a different interior with the blue exterior. The fact that they were inflexible in this regard made me worried for them as a brand. 

I officially canceled my reservation.

Dad For The Win

I'll call up my dad ready to eat crow and I say, "OK, I'm going back to square one. You're probably gonna win."

He says, "I'm totally gonna win. My car is scheduled to be manufactured this month (August) with delivery in September."

So my dad actually picked his car up last week (early September), so he's got the EQE now and he's starting to learn how to drive it.

He very much so won. He has his car right now, and I don't even have one ordered.

My dad is 79 years old. So you're never too old to get an EV. I never expected this. He's been a total gearhead for his entire life. He enjoys turning a wrench and he has rebuilt and customized multiple cars over his lifetime. I honestly didn't think I'd ever see him in an EV because he has gasoline in his blood. It's just easy for him to see EVs are the path forward. They're the way to keep us independent from oil.

There's been a little bit of a learning curve for him. At 79 things are a little bit harder, but he says the most surprising thing so far has been it goes from zero to "oh, God, how fast am I going?" way too fast for his 79-year-old reaction times. But new cars like his also have all of these new modern safety features like collision avoidance, lane keeping, self-park, and other features. It will be really, really exciting to see how these features mature.

Good for him, at least one of us got an electric car.

Single & Searching 

I'm back to single but searching and I'd put my car status as "complicated." There are still lots of opportunities and there are more and more brands building more and more options, which is exciting. The supply chain issues seem to be mostly resolved, so there's hope. 

But I've had some job variability recently and that made me wanna sit on the sideline financially for a little bit. I want to avoid any large purchases right now. My big problem with EVs right now is that the ones with a practical size and range for my needs are fifty to sixty grand, which is quite a bit of an investment. This is slowly changing, but not as fast as I'd like. 

New models are coming out, existing models are getting updated, and I'm back in the market. I'm really hoping I won't be featured on your blog again as that guy who failed at buying an EV part 2.

It Just Hangs There Mocking Me

One of the annoying parts for me is when they said "Your car will be here soon," I had a residential hard-wired Level 2 charging connector installed in my garage. It's been installed since February and it has had *zero* car charging sessions. 

It's kind of an albatross on my wall saying you spent a lot of money (for nothing - so far). I had to wire her off a separate circuit and do a whole bunch of other stuff to make it work, so it was a pretty penny. I'd like to think it's more Volkswagen's failure than mine, but there's a certain level of spiritual depantsing every time I look at it; oh damn it, why do I not have my electric car.

The good news was I was able to advise my dad when he got his charging connector. And this is maybe a little bit of a heads-up for some of your readers, Dad lives in a house that was built in 1976. It's electrical panel is actually classified as a fire hazard and if anybody with an electrical license interacts with it they have to flag it and tell the state and you have to get it updated. So he called the electrician that installed mine, when they showed up to do the consult they're like whoa boyyo this is gonna cost you. They have to completely replace the panel, they have to completely replace the electrical runs to the meter and the meter as well. They were all out of spec. That's a lot of rewiring, which was an expense that he hadn't expected when pricing the car. The upgrades involve a lot of permitting and working with the local utility for the meters. The county and utilities are not always as timely as you'd like them to be. 

It sounds like he's getting rid of a potential fire hazard, which is a good thing.

Yeah, it was pretty funny because my dad is an electrical and mechanical engineer. He said, "If I'd known that was that much of a problem, I'd have done something about it sooner."

I told him, "You know, I known someplace with a brand new charger that's never been used. If you let me borrow the car for a day or 2, I'll bring it back with a full charge." This little joke reminded me of my high school days, "Dad, can I borrow the car?" 

With Dad replying, "Sure, but you know the rule, bring it home with a full tank." But seriously, he doesn't live far from me and he is welcome to stop by anytime and charge up if he needs it. It would make me feel like I've actually done good with my investment.

Ironically, I installed my charging connector too soon. My dad didn't start the process until after he picked up his car and it's going to be at least 3 months before he has his service upgraded and can level 2 charging in his garage. Until then he can trickle charge on level 1, charge at my place, and use the local DC fast chargers. So he has options. 

So a word to the wise, if you have an older house, maybe the first step that you do is an inspection and estimate for a Level 2 connector installation in your garage because that might end up being the long pole.

I'm Not Giving Up

So what are your EV plans now? 

Yeah, I think I'll rerun the same plan from 2021 again. The Portland Auto Show is coming in a few months. I'll head there and kick all the tires and sit in the seats and everything; go on any EV ride and drive events. There's only so much you can learn about a car online. For me, I have to see it, touch it, and sit in it to really know if it's the right car for me.

And I've been considering opening up my strike zone a little bit. The Bolt EV is a really cute car. I had dismissed it in the past because I blamed GM for killing Saturn, but as I said, there are no perfect choices. So this one may be in the running. I like that it's smaller. They've had some issues though, uh, like where they said, you know, don't park it inside. I'm going to make sure all of those issues have been resolved. 

I like the Nissan Ariya too. The outside is kind of sleek and elegant. The inside has some really kind of weird quirks, so I'm hoping that the next model year will maybe straighten out a couple of those.

The Subaru I only got to see from the outside of the car show I had a Subaru previously. Maybe I'll actually get to sit in one this time. The cockpit layout that they had in the diagram at the car show seemed like they were going the Star Trek route, so I'll have to try it out.

I was looking at the Audi Electric SUV and that was I was really close to pulling the trigger on that one. It's a nice car. It ticked all the boxes. It wasn't a Star Trek car. It was a little bit heavier than I wanted and it was a lot more expensive than I wanted, but I was Jonesing for an EV so bad I was willing to be a little bit stupid. But then when I got that little bit of variability in my life, I was like, nope, nope. This is not the time to financially stretch. No room for stupid right now. I'll put them all back in the hopper again and just kind of walk around the car show and see what I can get.

I don't think I'll have much of an ability to be patient this time. A few months is okay, but if they want to put me on a list for a year plus again, I might have to choke somebody out.

Whoa, I see the ID.4 experience has left a bad taste in your mouth.

You know, I see ID.4s around all the time and I'm like ohh that could have been mine. I still like the look, I still like the shape. When I see a blue one I'm like hmm, what's the punishment for Grand Theft Auto these days? LOL. 

EV sales are increasing, every year there are more models. There will be a lot of opportunities for me to become an EV owner. It'll be exciting to watch this transition unfold. I'm not going to wait for the next battery technology breakthrough. I'm in the market now. You see headlines every week about solid-state batteries or aluminum batteries or some other thing that's coming down the Pike like a thousand-mile battery. I've been promised jetpacks long enough that I'm you know I'm not gonna hold my breath. I've worked in technology for a long time and I know that it's a lot easier to write press releases than it is to make products in high volume. Being able to make one cell in a lab is far from being able to mass produce something with 5-nines of yield. I definitely don't want perfect to be the enemy of progress here, so I'll get something in my garage and on that charger before the end of 2024. Maybe it'll be something that you haven't had a road test on and I can let you kick the tires on it and write up a happy ending as the next part in this saga. 

Yeah, that'd be fun.


A lot of EV manufacturers have announced that they're going to be switching from the J1772 port to the North American Charge Standard (NACS) port in 2025. Are you worried that you'll be buying in a 'lame duck' year? 

Much like waiting for battery advancements, I don't think it's right to wait for things like this either. There will be adapters, NACS to J1772, NACS to CCS. There are too many CCS/J1772 cars on the road today for support to disappear. There might even be a conversion kit to swap the actual port at some time.

You've got to have some sort of backward compatibility and a migration strategy that doesn't alienate your earliest and most fervent supporters. I work professionally on a technology that is still going strong 40 years on. The original packets still work with today's networks even though the speeds are orders of magnitude faster. Hopefully, they've got that same kind of attitude to have a smart strategy that makes it easy to convert. If this a Betamax versus VHS challenge, uh, you know, they're gonna alienate a lot of people.

I think you have the right attitude there. The perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good. Automakers have to have a plan to not abandon people in some legacy technology. There will certainly be adapters and I like your idea of conversion kits for an easy upgrade path.

Well, so when you actually do go to the car show, we'll have to do this again.

Yeah. You should come with me! It was fun the year we went with a couple of our other buds. 

Yes, that was a fun time.

You can live-blog of the Portland Auto Show. Come on readers, leave a comment telling Pat he should go!

I bring a notebook and take notes on each car I check out, because, as Adam Savage says, "Remember kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down." You can use my notes as field research. 

The notes really help me compare after the fact. I think I get better results this way than real-time and memory. 

I really like having all the cars under one roof. I don't have to go from dealership to dealership. The Auto Show is a bit of a long day, but it saves a lot of time overall. I'll wear a mask, socially distance where I can, bring hand sanitizer etc. It's a public event, COVID and other nasties are still out there.

With the Nissan Ariya that I looked at it online. I didn't really like it, but I know seeing it personally can be a very different experience than a photo can convey. Then when I finally did see one IRL, it was a much nicer car than the photos convied. You just don't get a good sense of scale with photographs. And no photo can tell you how putting your actual cheeks in the seat will feel. Only sitting there can tell you whether or not it's wide enough or not for your caboose.

Exactly, butts in seats is a tried and true method. 

Speaking of butts in seats, I do want to put in a plug for National Drive Electric Week. There are events all around the world. You can find one near you by checking driveelectricweek.org 

The Oregon Electric Vehicle Association is hosting on October 8th with a ride & drive and a lot of different EVs to try out. You can talk to actual owners rather than sales guys (although some of them may be there too): 

OEVA’s NDEW Event Ride & Drive Info Expo 
October 8th, 10am-4pm
4330 S Macadam Ave, Portland, OR (Tesla Sales & Service Center)
w/ generous support from Portland General Electric (PGE)
Many local dealers to provide EV ride & drives, 26 different vehicles, 13 Brands

There are a lot of events coming up in late September and early October. So you might be able cheek out some cars and it would be even cheaper than the car show and sooner.

That's a great idea.

It's important to have a community because when you're switching from horse-drawn buggies to motor-powered, it's nice to have somebody who's kind of been on the journey and can talk you through some of the things. I've learned quite a bit from you and your blog on my journey. Switching technologies like this, what charger to get and some other things, having somebody who's been there, done that, it definitely makes it a lot easier to make the move with confidence.

That sounds like a nice wrap-up point. Any final words you want to add?

San Dimas High School Football Rules!

Just kidding.

Ha ha.

Thanks a lot for your time and I will definitely swing by and try your charge connector so it doesn't get lonely.

Next, next time you're playing pickleball and your battery is low, just text me and swing by. Free juice for you and your car.


Sunday, September 10, 2023

Tesla Model 3 New Battery

Like thousands of other excited, soon to be Tesla owners, I stood in line to reserve a Model 3 on March 31, 2016. This was a game-changing car. Tesla was moving from the high-end luxury market, towards more affordable EVs.    

Two year later, our pick-up date finally arrived. The initial deliveries were rear-wheel-drive vehicles. We ordered the all-wheel-drive, so we were far from the front of the delivery queue. On August 21st of 2018, we were handed the key cards and drove off in our new Tesla Model 3. 

Model 3 Delivery Day 2018

Five years and 24 thousand miles later, we still love this car. The white seats have held up well even through car seats, kids, and dogs. Other than a couple of filter changes after the wildfire summers, we haven't done much maintenance until this month.

The app recently popped up a message that we needed to schedule service. Going to the car, I found this waiting for me on the touchscreen. 

The Learn More provided the following: 

VCFRONT_a402 Error Tesla

VCFront_a402 error message: Our 12V battery was dying. A couple clicks in the app and service was scheduled. It would be mobile service and it was about a week out. Luckily, I work from home and this is not our only car, so we didn't need a loaner. 

Mobile service is great! Instead of taking time out of my day, driving to service, waiting around... I get to remain in the comfort of my home, the service technician comes to me.

The estimate was $110 ($85 parts, $25 labor); I approved this in the app. Our service day arrived. A message in the app let me know they had arrived. Earlier that day, we moved the car from the garage to the driveway for easy access. I saw the driver's door and the frunk pop open in the app. 20 or 30 minutes later, another message informed me that they were done.

I went out said thanks and good-bye. I checked that the error message had been cleared and moved the car back into the garage.

Why Does An EV Have A "Starter" Battery? 

The 12V system runs the accessories and safety systems. EVs generally have a DC-to-DC converter that allows the high voltage of the traction pack to be stepped down to allow the traction pack power to be used to run the 12V system and charge the 12V batter when needed. However, during a severe crash, Tesla vehicles (and most other EVs) uses a pyrotechnical safety switch system to disconnect the high voltage pack. This system uses miniature explosive charges to blow apart the connection between the traction pack and the rest of the vehicle. This reduces the risk of electric shock or fire during a crash.

Safety first, we certainly want to avoid fires, but after a crash, you may still want to do something like open your electronically locked door or roll down your electrically powered windows to get out of the car. To do this, if the traction pack is isolated, you'll need that accessories battery.

If the 12V battery is damaged or disconnected during the crash too, you're not stranded in the vehicle. There are mechanical overrides to open the doors. These are conveniently located located on the Model 3; a little to convenient in some cases where people new to the car pull this handle instead of pushing the open button.

Whenever you get into a car with electronically locked doors (most new vehicles nowadays), make sure you know where the mechanical overrides are located. This is not something you want to be frantically looking for after a crash. 

Why Not Upgrade To A Lithium Starter?

Lithium starter batteries are smaller and lighter than the current lead-acid standard. I'm sure these will become the standard soon (maybe as the industry transitions to 48V). 

In an EV, the "starter" battery does not have to turn the crank to start car, there's just a lot less stress on the battery. 

Today's cars were not designed for a lithium starter battery. This means that the battery storage area is not temperature managed. Lithium batteries are more temperature sensitive than lead-acid batteries. If you want it to work in summer heat and winter cold, I (for now) am going to stick with a lead-acid starter battery. 

Not all lithium-ion batteries are the same. Iron-based lithium batteries (LFP, LiFePO4 and the like) are more temp tolerant than the nickel-based chemistries are a much better choice for a starter battery that would not receive all of the comforts of a liquid cooling system.

Lithium starter batteries are coming, but I plan on waiting until the auto-OEMs have qualified them with hot weather, cold weather, and crash testing. But if you want to try it out, don't let me stop you from voiding your warranty. Just make sure it's the right voltage, amperage, physicals fits, and is well-secured.

Hays Energy Lithium Battery


This article contains affiliate links 
I am long Tesla