Monday, December 21, 2009

The Grinch Stole Christmas!

Look at him. All green and hunched over. Chuckling at himself as he loads up my MINI-E and whisks it off so it won't be in my garage on Christmas morning.

Well, he's not exactly the Grinch, but as far as I'm concerned he might as well be. Unfortunately MINI-E #250 needed to be towed to Morristown MINI this morning. The red battery icon came on last night when I was trying to charge it. I hoped that it might reset itself overnight, but it wasn't to be so I had to call the Grinch and let him do his dirty work.

I believe I am partially to blame for the problem which I think was caused by allowing the batteries to get too cold. During the past three weeks it's been really cold and I managed to keep the batteries above 50 degrees at all times, except for one time when it went down to 49 degrees. It wasn't much a problem because I drive a lot and I charge frequently, both actions bring the battery temperature up significantly. As long as you don't let the car sit in the cold for a long time (24 hours or so) without using it I believe the temperature will stay high enough that it won't cause any problems. The battery pack is very dense so it will retain heat for quite some time. The problem is that I didn't use the car since early Friday morning. I drive the car a lot ( I have 17,700 miles on it already) but the past two days we had a big snowstorm so I was driving my truck that has a plow. That, plus it's incredibly busy at the restaurant so I've been working 15 hour days and I didn't have time to make sure the car had some use. When I came home from work at 11:45 pm on Sunday, I turned the car on to check the charge status and record some data. Everything seemed fine; the car turned on and the state of charge was at 55%. I did notice the battery temperature was 43 degrees. I had never seen it so low, but since the car started, I figured I was in the clear. I then plugged it in to charge it up overnight. It started charging fine but after about a minute shut off. I was still in the garage so I realized that it stopped charging. I unplugged the cable and plugged it back in. This time it only charged for about 5 seconds and shut off again. This time the dreaded red battery icon lit up on the charge gauge and I knew I was in trouble.

When I woke up in the morning I checked it again and the red battery icon was still lit, just for kicks I plugged in the charger again but again, nothing happened. I then popped the hood and closed it. I understand that by raising the hood, the high voltage system shuts off so I thought by opening and closing it I might reset something, but nothing changed. As a final attempt, I bought out a portable electric heater and placed it in the cabin of the car, blowing directly into the air vents to the battery compartment. After about two hours, the cabin was as hot as a beach in Aruba but the red battery icon was still lit and I needed to call the Grinch. He arrives in about 35-40 minutes and whisked #250 away.

During the afternoon I got a call from Morristown MINI. They wanted to know if I was charging or parking the car outside. I told them that the car has been in the garage since I last drove it. Evidently, they had two other MINI-E's towed in for the same problem as mine but they were both parked outside that past day or so. My garage does get cold even though it's attached to my house. I recently bought an electric garage heater but I have not had time to install it yet. It has a built in thermostat so I can set it at 45-50 degrees. I think this will alleviate any future problems like this from occurring.

By now anyone following this blog knows I love the car and I'm very glad I applied to be in this trial lease. The one reservation(well two reservations, the other being the ridiculous high cost) was that I was concerned with how the cold weather would impact the batteries. I can live with a reduced range since I have two chargers, but hopefully I can keep the battery temperature high enough to avoid another incident like this. For all the great aspects of this car, the one glaring deficiency I have found so far is the battery temperature management. The car simply doesn't have one, (except for a fan that blows cabin air across the battery pack) and it would be a fatal flaw if they actually planned on producing and selling these. They don't, so it's not a problem except for the trial lease participants here on the cold East Coast. I know Tesla spent a lot of time and money working on the temperature management system in their roadster and GM is also paying a lot of attention to it while designing the upcoming Volt. I'm anxious to see what BMW has planned for the ActiveE they recently announced, I'm sure they have had their engineers working on this issue for quite some time now. They wouldn't make the same mistake twice now would they?


  1. Tom, you didn't do anything wrong. Everything is fully protected, something just broke.

    This is a good thing, the whole reason for a prototype evaluation is to find the weak links. You found one. Good Job!

  2. Sorry about the car, I hope you get it back soon. I've been following your blog for a while now, it's very informative and entertaining. Happy Holidays