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Plug Bug

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Plug Bug: The bug is squished… I was rear ended!

It’s a sad day in electric-ville. I was driving the electric bug to work at about 6:45 am on Highway 85, trying to enjoy my morning commute by working on learning some Japanese words for an upcoming trip. Listing to to language stuff on audio is awesome, and I really enjoy learning new things. Now at this time there was already quite a bit of traffic, which I consider the plague of silicon valley, and it slowly came to a stop in the #2 lane. Yeah, that is CHP speak for the second lane from the left.

Then I saw it happening. I always look in my rear view mirror when traffic slows down or stops, as I like to be prepared for the unexpected, and this time it actually happened. The car behind me, a 2001 Ford Escape XLT, didn’t slow down and rammed into the bug’s rear end at quite a fantastic speed. I was holding my foot on the brake, and in hindsight I probably could have softened my blow by letting the car move forward and whacking the guy in front of me. Instead, my neck took the brute of the force with some strong whiplash.

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The woman’s air bag went off, and she was disoriented with a cut lip. My neck was sore, but I otherwise was fine. At least so far, as this just happened this morning, and my body might take some time to feel the effects of the accident. The woman’s car doesn’t have too much damage, but the bug didn’t fare so well in the impact.

The bug wouldn’t move; the ignition was disabled and the throttle wasn’t working. I also couldn’t move the shifter — something was really messed up with the transmission. It is actually good that the car’s power source was disabled on impact. I have one of the main contactors to the controller hooked up to an inertia switch. The inertia switch is a simple little device that on impact will provide a hole in the 12v circuit to cut power. I discovered it works a few years ago when I hit a major pothole on Highway 17 and got stuck on the side of the road for a few minutes before I realized what happened and reset it. It worked great in this case; it immediately cut power to one of the two main contactors and starved the controller from having high voltage power. It requires a physical reset by pushing in on a button, but it is located in the rear trunk motor compartment and I couldn’t get it open. I also wouldn’t want to reset it until I made sure that the electrical paths were all sane and not shorting out on anything like the body frame. Conversions usually keep the high voltage pack isolated from the chassis. Normally a car’s 12v system will have the 12v ground hooked up to the body of a car, but that isn’t safe to do with the high voltage pack.

At first I couldn’t push the car off the freeway and thought the transmission was locked completely, but I realized I had put the e-brake on before I got out of the car to see how the lady behind me was doing.

Of course, I called 911, and the cops came within minutes. They were very friendly and I was happy to have them around to help make things feel a little safer. Luckily the traffic was bad, and not moving too fast to present an extra dangerous situation.

I had AAA tow the car to my house, and now I’ll have to deal with the other person’s insurance to get the car fixed. What happens depends on the extent of the damage, and I’m not planning on doing the work myself. The transmission is spewing out oil on the ground…so that means something bad happened inside it. The motor was probably impacted and pushed the tranny forward and broke stuff inside it. I have a feeling that the tranny and motor are damaged, and possibly the controller. I won’t know until I take the bumper off, and I am not going to touch the car until a claims adjuster first takes a look at it.

The rear engine deck lid is destroyed; there is a hole it from pushing the release hatch through the metal. I’ll need a “new” one from a salvage vehicle…which might be hard to come by. Matching the paint is going to be impossible, since I did a custom job on it…which means the car probably will need to be repainted. The bumper is wrecked…the rear panels are damaged and need straightening, and the light is destroyed. 

The car managed to remain whole and without major damage until today. That is from 1969 until 2016. Forty-seven years. Almost half a century, and then this happens to me. I blame distracted drivers looking on their cell phones. Don’t do it!

I’m quite sad. I have a strong attachment to this car, as I know every little part on it.

PS: I’m okay.

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Plug Bug: Rear bearing replacement and updates

Oh, the Plug Bug! I have so much time and energy spent on this car, and it continues to this day. 

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In the past month, the bugs transmission has been in and out three times. This is a time consuming task; it takes me about ¾ of a day to do a transmission swap.

I’ve been hearing a bad noise in the rear of the car, and I assumed it was the transmission after having so many issues with my rebuilt tranny. Here’s that setup coming out:

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So, I was unsure what to do, and put back in my old transmission. It made a horrible worse noise, and definitely needs some rebuilding. I didn’t drive more than a few feet before I knew it was just bad. I’m pretty sure it is the main bearings inside the transmission; the shaft moves up and down, whereas it doesn’t on my other one.

So what to do. I was frustrated and out of ideas. I didn’t want to buy a new transmission again, as I don’t want to spend a lot more money on this car. But, I went to eBay and found a used transmission for $400. I offered them $250, and to my surprise they took it. It cost me an extra $100 to get it shipped from LA, but it seemed like a good idea.

So, I put in the eBay transmission. It still made the same noise! Ugg…at least I know it wasn’t the transmission. And then this transmission definitely needs a rebuild; it pops out of fourth pretty consistently, which means it has a worn synchro. 

Out it came, and back in the “good” one:

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I had an idea that it might be the wheel bearing…and I tested the theory by grabbing the wheels and shaking it. The rear left rocked way more than it should have…so yeah, wheel bearing! I bought the inner/outer wheel bearings (and seals) and some new rear shocks. The rear end was just sitting on the bump stops and I think that was causing some noises (and it was..). I knew the shocks were dying, as the rear never used to be so low. The jack was much easier to get under the car at first, and now I had to squeeze it in on the edge. So coil overs would help with the weight:

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The shocks helped drastically with the feel and ride of the car. It removed a lot of bumping noises when I would go over rough roads…which is every day, as my driveway is pretty rough.

I put in the new bearings, and the “transmission” noise was then gone! But it came right back the next day. Apparently the main lug nut worked its way loose. That brings me to right now…I tightened it and I’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

While I was at it, I also popped off the front brakes and re-greased the back of the pads. They have been squeaking a bit since I last replaced them.



The Electric Bug Chronicles: Yeah, those skid marks on Highway 85 are mine…

Oh boy…

My bug needed new brake pads. I go through them crazy fast, as I drive down the famous “Highway 17” on a daily basis and my car doesn’t do any re-gen braking. This means I “ride the brakes” the whole way down. About a month ago the car started pulling hard to the left, so I popped the front tires off and the front right pad was way worn down. I ordered a new set from CIP1 (accidentally ordering the wrong ones first…) and put them on one evening 30 minutes or so before I had to go somewhere. The brakes screeched like mad for quite a while, and only now, about 200-300 miles later, are they starting to calm down. I know that this is partly because I didn’t grease them well enough, but I was okay with it. 

With fresh new brake pads I got to test them out right away at the intersection of Highway 17 and 85. I hopped onto 85 and quickly made my way into the “carpool lane” and started accelerating to avoid stalling traffic, but the car in front immediately started braking hard. I had to slam on my brakes, and did it a little too hard, locking up the tires. Yeah, no anti-lock brakes and I quickly pumped them to make me stop faster, and luckily I didn’t slam into the car in front of me (not even close — but I was nervous for a minute!)

A few days later I’m getting onto 85 again and see some long skid marks in the fast lane. Yeah, those were mine…

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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:

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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:

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

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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. 

(c) 2008-2015 Corbin Dunn

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