Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Munich, We Have a Problem!

That icon you see of a plug with an exclamation mark is what the car is supposed to show if you have the car plugged in and charging and you try to start it up. The car will not start while it's plugged in so you cannot make the mistake of driving off while it's still tethered to the EVSE wall charger attached to your home. That would be like driving away from a gas station while the gas nozzle is still pumping gas into your tank, something that does happen every once in a while and is extraordinarily dangerous and at best only results in a destroyed gas pump and a huge insurance claim. At worst a spark ignites the spilled gasoline and the whole place blows up, along with you and the people working there!

The problem I have is that this icon is coming on and the car isn't plugged in. This means for some reason the electronics thinks the car is plugged in and won't allow me to start it. Plus, if I try to charge it the red protection light on the EVSE lights up which means it has gone into protection mode because there has been a problem detected. So basically I can neither start nor charge it, which leaves me with little choice than to have her towed in to Morristown MINI for the "flying doctors" to take a look at it. 

This is the first time I have had a problem and the car needed to be towed in about a year as the car has proven to be very reliable considering it is a prototype test car and even this time I believe I had a hand in on it's demise. On Sunday night I was charging outside at my restaurant in the rain. We had quite a storm and it was really pouring. When I unplugged the car, I quickly put the cap on the receptacle on the car as to not allow rain to get it wet. What I failed to realize was the the plastic cap had filled with rain water and when I slid it on the charge receptacle it flooded the area with water. 

I drove home without a problem, but when I arrived and went to charge the car, I noticed how wet the plug area was and that there was actually a lot of water inside the plug receptacle. I dried it off as best I could and left the cap off overnight to let it air out. I didn't need to charge the car to get to work the next day so that wasn't going to be a problem. In the morning when I tried to start the car all I would get was the icon pictured above, meaning the car believed that it was plugged in which it wasn't. By now the area looked dry, but I guess inside was still wet so I let the car sit all day and took my Toyota to work. 

This morning I got up and tried to turn it on again but I still get the plug icon. I figure that if it hasn't dried out in roughly 36 hours then the water probably did some damage that needs to be fixed so I called for a tow and it's now off to Morristown MINI. I figure this was 50% my fault and 50% the cars fault. I definitely shouldn't have poured water on the receptacle, but the car should be able to handle screw ups like this, there are plenty of idiots like me out there that make mistakes. I'm sure they could design the plug area better to prevent problems like this from happening and that is exactly what the MINI-E program is about; finding design flaws like this and correcting them so future EV's that actually make it to the showroom don't have them. The more I think about it, the MINI-E program was a brilliant idea. BMW is getting more real world data and information with this program than they could ever get with internal testing, and they are getting us to pay a lease payment to participate! Genius! So I sent Rob Healey, technical coordinator for the MINI-E and Vincent Immerso, MINI-E service adviser for the MINI-E at Morristown MINI an email that detailed the issue and a heads up that they should expect the car shortly.

Within an hour I got a call from Vincent and then an email from Rob to let me know they will get right on it today and get me that car back as soon as possible. Vincent asked me if I needed a loaner car, which I declined for the time being, and Rob informed me that Shaun Gillilan, one of the flying doctors was already en-route to check out #250. That is some great service!

So it looks like there is no need to call and complain to Richard Steinberg, manager of BMW's North American electric vehicle operations or Dr. Norbert Reithofer, BMW CEO to make them aware of this problem. The rank and file have this under control.

UPDATE: The car was fixed the same day and I already picked it up. As I thought, the problem was caused by excessive water infiltrating the plug recepticle. My bad!


  1. Hi Tom,

    Sorry to hear about the car. I bet they fix it quickly for you as you have become a great spokesman for BMW. You are a real person telling real stories and that is something that cannot be imitated.

    Be well,

  2. You are right this is program has been great for BMW. Not only for research, but for publicity. They have received a whole lot of exposure from you and the other mini e drivers. I have seen other auto makers do similar programs, but not with nearly this many vehicles. Maybe we will see others do beta testing like this in the future.

  3. I'm surprised you can charge it outside in the rain. Is that really allowed? Hope you get it back soon

  4. Thanks for the information and your report. I'll watch the cap now carefully when charging under bad weather conditions.

  5. Stefan:
    I've been charging outside for over a year in rain and snow and I never had a problem before this. It really was my fault as I allowed a lot of water into the plug area. However I do believe that manufacturers need to make the plug area as waterproof as possible. The best advice I can offer you with regard to the weather is to manage the battery temperature. Do not let the battery temperature get too low or you are asking for problems. Have fun!

    Robert: Yes outside charging in the rain is permitted. It is safe and unless you are careless as I was you will not have any problems.

    Miguel: I have it back already so you were right. They fixed it the same day I brought it in.

  6. Tom,
    Glade to hear your back up and running, the separate cap seemed a bit of a cheap way to go. The volt's charge door has a built in rubber lining to seal automatically when it closes.
    Finally got word my Volt is being built this week. Of course the first one was delivered to a dealership 5 miles from where I work. Wish I'd used that dealership :(

  7. Yes, I read about the first volt delivery in Denville, NJ. At least you got word that it is production. It won't be long now Robert!
    We need to get some pictures of #250 and your volt together!

  8. I'll definitely stop by with my Volt, just got word its been built #593

  9. It's good to hear that you have not needed service for almost a year now. Reliability is one thing that people will question with electric cars

  10. Tom, did you try a hair dryer on the receptacle? I used to leave the yellow EVSE in the rain and eventually it got damp inside and refused to work. 15 Minutes with a hair dryer fixed it, although I did take off the cover first.

    The new J1772 standard connectors should fix this. Water should not be a problem, just don't put petrol in there!