Corbin's Treehouse - Corbin Dunn, Santa Cruz, CA
Plug Bug

Archive for the 'Electric Bug' Category

The Electric Bug Chronicles: Cops.

Stories from the driver’s seat.

I have been pulled over at least ten times by the cops. It has become less frequent the past two years, although part of the reason is probably because I didn’t get to drive the bug a lot for the past year due to transmission trouble. I can recognize when it is going to happen, and let me share some of my favorite stories.
One time I was driving home on Highway 85 in the carpool lane. A cop pulls in the lane behind me, and starts tailgating me. Now, his lights aren’t on, and I’m not doing anything wrong. I figure he just really needed to get by me, so I pull into the next lane and let him pass. Then I immediately get back into the fast lane. The cop, now in front of me, pulls into the left breakdown lane area and slams on his brakes causing me to speed by him. He pops back into my lane right behind me and flips on the lights. I pull over into the breakdown lane, and he walks up to the window and says, “I was going to let you go but you got right back into the carpool lane!” I showed him piece of paper that validates the carpool lane stickers and said I have a zero emissions vehicle. He looks it over and says “alright”, and I take off ahead of him.
I’ve always liked monkeys and on one of my old cars I had found some stickers and put a call sign on the door titled “Monkey <star>”. My friend Jason laser cut some for my bug to continue the tradition:

The Electric Bug Chronicles: You’re kicked out!

Stories from the driver’s seat.

So, this happened about three years ago. I was driving the bug to the Summit Store in the Santa Cruz mountains, and pulled into the parking lot. It was a hot day, and my “air conditioning” is just a matter of rolling the windows down. Some guy was staring at me as I pulled in and gave a yell: “HEY! That doesn’t sound right — they are going to kick you out of the VW club!”. Hah! Yeah, vee-dubs have a distinctive sound and my car lacks it. I still plan to add a jetson soundtrack to the car at some point….
Below is a shot of the hood. If you look carefully you can see a unicycle in the back seat on top of the batteries. And a skateboarder.
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The Electric Bug Chronicles: Hey, Don’t Pull Him Over!

Stories from the driver’s seat.

In the past four or five years I have been pulled over by cops a lot. I always get set on my way without a ticket; so far I haven’t been caught for speeding.
One day, about two or three years ago, I was driving along on Highway 85 in the carpool lane. A cop pops behind me, and I know the drill before it happens: they are going to turn on their lights and pull me over. They do. As soon as they walk up to my window I hand them a little piece of paper that validates my coveted “white stickers”. They look it over, and send me on my way. 
But that isn’t the story! The fun part came the following day as I’m driving up Highway 17 in a lot of heavy traffic. I’m in the “fast” lane and see a motorcyclist splitting the lanes. He slows down beside my passenger window, and starts revving his engine to get my attention. Now, keep in mind my last encounters with motorcyclists hadn’t been so great. I roll down my passenger window (which isn’t easy), and the guy starts yelling at me: “I saw the cop pulling you over yesterday, and said no! Don’t pull him over — he’s electric!”. It made my day to hear him say that. Some people get it!
Here’s a picture of the motor from back in 2011. It looked really clean back then!  
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The Electric Bug Chronicles: F – You

Stories from the driver’s seat.

This is something that happened about four years ago, and the picture below is from 2011. 
The California HOV white stickers: the privilege to drive solo in the carpool lane during rush hour is very mjuch coveted by EV drivers. Back in 2011 it was a time when the yellow hybrid stickers had already expired, and people would only occasionally see a Tesla Roadster, and even less frequently a boxy EV RAV4 (unless your last name is Adelman). So, I was driving solo the carpool lane on Highway 85 one day, and a motorcycle comes by splitting the lanes. He slows down and takes a good peek at me going solo in the carpool lane, and assumes I was violating the law. His answer was to show me his middle finger, and then continue alone his way. Ah, ignorance! 
I would have taken this as a one-off event, but the same thing happened again about six months later! And I’m pretty sure it was a different motorcyclist. 
Below is a shot of the oft-missed white stickers. Some people hate putting them on their cars; I think they are a badge of honor!
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The Electric Bug Chronicles: Window down

Stories from the driver’s seat.

It was quite chilly out as I was driving home on 17 yesterday in the fast lane. I was surprised to see a guy in a red BMW with his window fully rolled down driving in the right lane and zipping past me a bit. He slowed down, and cranked his head out the window, pointing his ear at my car as I passed by. He then sped up and gave me a big thumbs up. He must have saw my carpool lane stickers, and was leaning out to “hear” how quiet my car is!

And now a picture of one of my charging spots at work. The Tesla and I are parked in non-marked EV spots. When we are done charging we don’t have to move our cars, and two other EVs can take the plug and start sucking electrons. 

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Plug Bug: Try 3 with the transmission

I really miss driving my electric bug. It has basically been out of commission for an entire year. I probably squeezed out around 1000 miles on the rebuilt transmission I got late last year, but as I mentioned on  y last post I’ve been having some trouble. The general gist I get from people is that the alignment of the main input shaft with the motor is off. This causes the shaft to vibrant around and make the main shaft seal leak oil.

So I pulled the motor/transmission from the car (yet again — something like the 5th or 6th time in the past year) and took a look. First off, I think the motor mounts are backwards. I had installed new ones when I put in the rebuilt transmission, and I think they were potentially preventing the motor from sitting flush on the transmission. Here’s a shot of the problem (it is hard to tell):

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I flipped them, and they both fit more flush than before, but one was still protruding a little. I ground it down with a file to make it a little lower than flush.

I needed to figure a way to align the motor and transmission. I cut a piece of 1/8” aluminum plate I had laying around and made a hole just perfect for the shaft right in the middle:

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I then used a tap transfer thing to make some accurate locations for all the holes.  I then stuck it on my milling machine and accurately drilled out the holes. Now, this won’t slip over the motor’s side, as it has a female adapter that is larger than the input shaft.

I cut out the hole and drilled another hole in a smaller plate that fit the shaft again. I drilled and tapped some holes on it to hold it on at the right distance from the transmission.

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I could then visually align this hole with the pilot bearing and motor adapter.


One hole was really badly aligned (below). Another was slightly off.

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I blue’ed them up and scraped an accurate location for where the holes should be. 

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I pulled the adapter off and stuck it on the mill and used a 3/8” end mill to trim them up.

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People always ask what I use the milling machine for, and I usually am a loss for words on specific things. But it comes in SO HANDY for stuff like this.

I mated it to the transmission, and the bolt holes line up way better than they ever did before. I hope this helps the problem..if not, I’ll be trying something else.

I can’t lift the motor/transmission. Actually, I don’t think I can lift the motor anymore; it is simply too heavy (about 140 pounds), and I have some injuries right now.  So, I had to figure out how to get the motor off the table. I have an engine lift..but it won’t reach over the table due to the legs hitting the end. So, I screwed some 2×6’s from one table to another, and inched the motor out until it was close enough to grab with the lift. Then I carefully lowered it down to my floor jack and wheeled it back out to the car.

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I drove it about 5 miles as a test. Tomorrow I’ll drive it to work and home and see if it still leaks oil.






Tesla OS 7 has serious usability problems combined with a hit from the ugly stick

October 15th, 2015: Tesla released their OS version 7 – featuring Autopilot. A self driving car, who wouldn’t want to update? Well, I wish I hadn’t and I want to downgrade. The instrument panel is now very difficult to get the information I care the most about. Here is a screen shot of the car stopped at a light behind another car:

New tesla dash


I get it. Tesla is trying to make the car the center of the universe and show you your surroundings. The side lane indicators turn from the a light gray to a white to indicate when you can turn on auto-steering based on how much information the car can read from its sensors. It turns blue once it is set to following the lane. It flashes halos around your car when other cars or objects are nearby. Your current speed is a digital number up on top. This is all interesting, but I don’t care about this in my normal driving, and only care about this when autopilot is on. I do want to see the detailed sensor data, but not in the way that takes over the entire panel.

What is important for driving? Speed, power and battery level. All previously shown on this beautifully designed gauge: 


Speed. Speed is the most important factor when driving, and it is right in the middle of the screen. However, even more important are the analog gauges indicating your speed and power. At a quick glance you can instantly see your speed by looking at the blue line on the left. You can quickly see if you are speeding; the blue line turns to a white line once you past the known speed limit. The known speed limit is a beautifully thought out small white line. Now, with the new user interface you are forced to read the digital speed number, and mentally interpret it. You then have read the digital speed limit sign, and  think if you are higher or lower than this number to know if you are speeding. The old interface was even step better; it would flip the battery meter over and show you the speed limit at you once you pass through it. This subtle animation draws your eyes attention to it subtly alerting you to the fact that you are speeding. 


Old speed lmit flash


Why are these analog gauges so much better? People have known this for years. Glass cockpits in airliners still have analog gauges. The book “Automotive Electrical Handbook” highlights some other reasons: you get an overall idea of the scale of the value, and “you can read the gauge without actually looking at the numbers”. You also don’t really care about the exact value; it isn’t important information. I want an analog gauge.

Power. The power meter was on the right hand side of the gauge; a beautiful orange when you are consuming power, and a green when you are in regen. When hypermiling and maximizing distance on long drives, I would frequently try to keep the kW draw as low as possible. Now we have this much smaller power gauge tucked to the left or right side of your digital dashboard:

IMG 5411 


It is a lot harder to see your power meter when looking at a glance. The gauge has become too busy. I have no idea what scale the graph is showing me. But worse, the power meter no longer has the fine grained steps it previously had: 20, 40, 80, 160, etc —now it only has 100, 200, 400. Before it also wasn’t linear, which allowed you to see more details about your power consumption at low levels. This was very important when I was trying to maximize range. The new gauge is much more difficult to read, and I’m not looking forward to my next long distance trip. And where are the yellow dashed limiters that we used to see on cold days?

Battery. We still live in an age where your battery level is very important to know. Previously, it was shown in the center of the universe and had a very large size. This means you can more easily tell how much of it is consumed just by looking at it at a glance. There were literally more pixels to show the range, and therefore you had a more fine grained idea of what value it was at. Here are the two dash boards side by side to emphasize my point:

Dash compare


The 17” panel. The main problem here are the climate controls. It is really hard to tell between the enabled and disabled state. 

Climate controls2

The CONTROLS button is enabled, but it is exactly the same gray as the disabled windshield heater buttons. The climate button’s enabled state is blue, which differs for no apparent reason. The temperature disabled button is yet a different gray. Now I have to take more time to think about what button I need to click on because I can’t quickly tell the state. The old UI was just obvious because it was skeuomorphic.

The rest of the panel doesn’t matter to me; it isn’t information that is very important to driving.

Other problems. The headlight and high beam light indicator is now in the top left of the instrument panel. For me, this is now hidden behind the circular steering wheel! I can’t see it — and I’m going to have to move my wheel up to an uncomfortable height to have it appear in my vision. The turn signal lights aren’t obvious. Previously they would blink completely on and off, and it was really clear when they were on and what side was blinking. Now, the white arrow inside the green signal indicator blinks — it is too subtle. I preferred the much more obvious blinking of the entire green signal indicator, and it was more obvious to me when it was blinking. I bet people who are hard of hearing will frequently leave the blinkers blinking too long.

Heating and cooling. Something changed here. The air blows out colder than I want it to, and hitting the temp up a notch or two doesn’t seem to make it respond like it used to.

The ugly stick. The new UI is ugly. Everyone I know that has a Model S has said this. Previously we had a beautiful skeuomorphic design with subtle gradients and color transitions. Now we have a bold white that sticks out and makes my eyes want to bleed. It is just for my eyes to look at the UI because those whites stick out so much. The main 17” display also looks like they accidentally desaturated everything. 

Praise. Let me give Tesla some praise. The new trip meter is awesome. I really like knowing how long my current drive has taken, and the energy I’ve used. 

What Tesla can do. First, bring back the functionality that is missing. Add an option to show the main circular gauge. Add a new side gauge to show the cool new sensor information. I’d imagine it would be something like this hacked Photoshop mockup:




I can easily picture how engaging adaptive cruise control (and subsequently auto steering)  would do a cool animation to swap the speedometer out and show you the current user interface. At that point it is fine; the information isn’t necessary because I am not controlling the car.

I would also like to see some more depth added to the controls, and reduce the brightness of a lot of the non essential whites. This was previously done; the range number is less important than the digital speed number, and therefore it was less bright. Right now, everything seems to have an equal amount of white and brightness, which makes it harder for your eyes to quickly hone in on the most essential parts. 


Notes: All images were taken by me, or screen shots from the Tesla manual. Please contact corbin at corbinstreehouse for permission to use my pictures and any part of this article. Permission will be granted if you link back to my website. 

Bug transmission down again :(

Sadly, my transmission saga continues. My rebuilt transmission from MOFOCO was slowly leaking oil from the main shaft. I had took it out…and tried to see if there were any problems. A few months ago before vacation I made sure the pilot bearing was in the right spot (or where I thought was the right spot), and put it back together. It still leaked oil, but I just continued to drive it. Right before my last trip it started slipping — this was no surprise, as I knew the clutch pad would eventually get some oil on it.

So, back out it came. Here’s a video of it:

I don’t know what is wrong. The transmission itself runs smooth and has no other problems. I’m asking for help on the DIY EV forums and the

So, I figured I’d try the old transmission again. I installed it (takes a day to do the swap), and it makes a horrible noise:

It didn’t make this bad a noise when I took it out. But, after I took it out I did mess with it by taking one of the sides off and replacing the main shaft seal. So, I can’t drive it like this to see if it would also leak oil. I also asked on the samba about this different problem (no responses yet).

So…I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do. A cool EV I really enjoy driving and two non working transmissions.

I could buy *another* transmission, but I don’t want to waste $800-$1200 on another one. Especially if that isn’t the real problem! I’d rather rebuild one of these to get one good one working. 




Plug Bug: charger repaired; back on the road

The bug is rolling again! About 39,800 electric miles. I asked Manzanita Micro why it failed and what I could do to prevent it from happening again. They said it “was something in the negative side of the rectifier bridge. possibly something in the ground.” — I’m not sure what that exactly means. For now, I’m going to limit charging the car at 20 amps. I had previously been pumping it up to the full 30 amps, hoping to get the rated 6kW of power out of it. I think that makes it have trouble…but I can’t say for sure. 

Here’s a picture from today while I was charging at Apple:

IMG 4642

I always open the hood to let the charger get some extra cooling. It tends to overheat and starts blinking its LED when I keep it shut. 

Bug down! Charger broken (again – 3rd time)

Sadly, the electric VW bug will be taking some time off the road. Last time it was the transmission, and this time it is the Manzanita Micro PFC-30 charger. I didn’t even get a 1000 miles before another problem came up. I was really hoping to hit 40,000 miles and it is nearly there hovering a bit over 39,700 miles. 

Last Sunday I was charging the car and pulling about 27 amps. The charger should be able to pull 30, but quickly goes into a limit mode due to temperature. This happens no matter what the temperature is, and is just a flaw in the charger. It might happen due to the voltage of the car: the car runs at 154 volts, but charges somewhere higher, like 170V – I’m not sure as the exact voltage as the charger has no measurement for this and you turn a dial to adjust it. So, it is stepping down the 220v input to 154v. And, I know the charger is only about 80% efficient, so the extra energy has to go *somewhere*, and that somewhere is heat dissipation. 

The charger has failed several times:

First time: May 2011 – Charger Not Charging — Manzanita Micro repaired it (out of warranty) for $170. I wasn’t quite clear on why it failed.

Second time: September 2012 – Charger Failed again. – $213 to repair it, and they said the reason was from corrosion on the cables.

This time, I’m seeing the same symptoms as the first time; the charger is causing a ground fault, and flipping the circuit breaker that my EVSE is hooked up to (50amp breaker).

I opened the box..I think the bad part is underneath where I can’t see. It smells like magic smoke. 

I don’t have much choices for a replacement charger; it is by far cheapest to just get this one repaired, so I’ll send it back and have them fix it again. The EMW charger looks nice; it outputs 12Kw, and is a decent price ($2300) — but I can’t fit the 12x12x12” dimensions in my current location. And I don’t want to pay $2300 for a new charger, when I can get the current one repaired for a lot less.

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(c) 2008-2015 Corbin Dunn

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