Does anybody remember the Jetsons? How everyone cruised around in flying cars that folded up into a suitcase? Pushing buttons and voilà, dinner was served! The Jetsons debuted on September 23, 1962, and, believe it or not, every kid watching thought we’d be in flying cars by the year 2000.
Recently there was a debut of a flying car, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet. We are, however, in the future of the electric vehicle. The next question is, are you be ready for… wait, scrap that, are you interested in electric vehicles (Figure 1)?
It’s become pretty obvious that most manufacturers are coming out with an electric vehicle, whether it be a hybrid or fully electric. Take Tesla, for example. They seem to be well ahead of the game at this point over most manufacturers. That might be short-lived with everyone shifting their attention and resources to these types of vehicles. Just take a second to imagine the major manufacturers’ different options with their electric vehicles.
For example, if you haven’t seen the new Ford F-150 all-electric truck, you should definitely check it out! This all-new electric vehicle has what they call the “Ford Intelligent Backup Power.” Yes, it can provide power to your house. That’s right, I said YOUR HOUSE. It has enough electric capacity to run an average home for up to three days. And you can stretch that for up to ten days if you ration it.
So now the big question, how long will it be before you see these vehicles in your shop? Most warranties extend between three years 36,000 miles and can go as far as ten years 100,000 miles. Once the cars are out of warranty, what type of repairs can be made on these cars?
I’m often asked what type of equipment will be required once one of these batteries needs replacing (Figure 2)? As we all know, lithium batteries are very dangerous and explosive, so it’s important to understand what you’re dealing with first. The life of these batteries is estimated to be about 15 years. Disassembling the batteries and disposing of them could be a big issue. Make sure to talk to your waste management people about these types of batteries.
Another issue to deal with is fire. There have been numerous reports of vehicles catching fire while parked. By all indications, car battery fires remain infrequent occurrences even compared to gasoline and diesel fires. But naturally, they garner more attention because electric vehicle technology is relatively new.
Tesla has over 1342 charging stations, most of which are unified to fit all other electric vehicles (Figure 3). That is a huge jump from the mere 400 or so locations available just three years ago.
Recharging is speedy. To give you an example, we were driving a Model X, and we were down to about 10 miles of indicated range at one point. We found a supercharger station, and after exactly one hour of recharging, it showed a 240 mile of range. It’s no different than your cordless power tools, just bigger and a little bit faster!
With the expectation of the growth of the electric vehicle, we will need a lot more supercharge stations. Most bulk shopping centers and stores have selected parking for these vehicles (Figure 4).
General Motors has announced an ambitious plan to have 30 electric vehicle models for sale by 2025. The extended range of options in this quickly-growing market makes them an attractive option. The mix of consumer demands and automakers’ desire to produce such cars means a coming change for the type of cars rolling into the repair shops.
Keep in mind, most electric vehicles on the road today have fewer moving parts than internal combustion engine vehicles. Look at the Chevy Bolt. It has 80% fewer moving parts to a comparable internal combustion engine’s car.
Now is the time for shops to consider investing in the training and tools needed to handle these new vehicles. Shop owners that develop their EV and hybrid maintenance skills can get ahead of the curve. You can make investments to help capture the market shares before the competition to set yourself up for repeat business year after year.
It may be helpful to start with the top tech in your shop and give them some classes mixed in with their regular hours. This way, you could have someone function as an in-house expert in this field. They, in turn, can help other techs in your shop solve EV-specific problems. Training is more accessible than ever, On-Demand and online learning opportunities are just a click away.
Here are some basic but very important rules to keep you safe while working on EV or Hybrid vehicles:
- Always wear protective gloves before working on an Electric or Hybrid vehicle. Use a measuring range of DC 400 V or more on the voltmeter. Using a voltmeter, verify that the voltage of the 2-phase connector is 0V (Figure 5 & 6).
- Never leave the vehicle unattended unless the ignition is off and the transmission or vehicle is in the park position.
- Keep the ignition key in your pocket whenever you’re away from the vehicle.
- Use extra care when positioning jacks or hoists. There may be high voltage wiring underneath the chassis.
- Most Hybrid vehicle’s high volt batteries are nickel-metal hydride and typically should only be recharged by the vehicle’s charging system. The auxiliary 12V battery used on the vehicles may use a standard lead-acid battery, and some use either a gel or glass mat battery which requires a special charger.
- Some vehicles use a high voltage motor that will operate the A/C compressor or cooling fans. This motor may automatically come on if the battery compartment gets too hot.
- Whenever service is required near the battery or other high voltage devices, always use the appropriate safety gloves. Never wear anything metal that might come in contact with a high voltage source.
- Some vehicles’ electronic modules may be damaged if you use the wrong scan tool. Consult your scan tool manufacturer to be sure it’s appropriate for the vehicle you’re working on.
- Some vehicles with regenerative brake systems develop a voltage that could damage a module even if you just push the vehicle around the shop. If you need to push the vehicle, it’s a good idea to place each wheel on a tire dolly.
- Never connect a conventional battery charger to the vehicle. Even the auxiliary, 12-volt batteries that most hybrid vehicles use are specially sealed. Consult with the owner’s manual or look at the battery for any precautions or warnings before connecting a charger.
- Wait at least 5 minutes after turning the ignition off or isolating the high voltage battery pack before performing any service on the vehicle.
Lastly, try to stay away from the Orange wires. With Hybrid vehicles, the high voltage batteries can be isolated by removing the 12-volt battery from the system. Once isolated, voltage is confined to the battery pack. On the factory side, the battery is sealed in an impact-resistant case. Leaking or exposed plates are rare. High Voltage is also managed with the airbag system. If deployment is detected, the high voltage circuit is isolated. And a secondary switch monitors rapid deceleration in the case that the airbag system fails.
Some models also come equipped with a hood switch. When the hood is opened, the high voltage side is isolated (remember to leave it up. If the hood does not interfere with other operations).
Some have switches to disconnect the high voltage battery (Figure 7 & 8).
- When working on the high voltage systems, always wear insulating gloves.
- Keep the service plug in your pocket to prevent other technicians from reconnecting it while you are servicing the vehicle.
- After removing the service plug grip, do not touch the high voltage connectors and terminals for at least five minutes.
- After removing the service plug grip, do not operate the power switch as it may damage the hybrid vehicle control ECU.
And to think we’d be flying around in cars by now… that’s so far in the future… right? And that’s not just smart. THAT’S STREET SMART!