Monday, September 12, 2011

The Red Battery Icon of Death

So ominous

If you're one of the lucky few people selected to be in the MINI-E trial lease program, you know there will be occasional bumps in the road. We were all prepped and warned that this is an experimental car, a prototype that BMW is using to gather information about electric mobility. I'm not sure even BMW knew how reliable they would or wouldn't be, and one of the qualifications to being in the program was that we had a second car as a backup, just in case.

However the cars have proven very reliable, and rarely ever need repairs. I have nearly 66,000 miles on mine now, and this is either the fourth or fifth time I had to have the car brought in for a technical problem, I can't really remember. Of course that would be a problem if this was a polished production car, but it's not, and under the circumstances I think that's fantastic considering it's a prototype test car.

Electric cars are much more simple than internal combustion engine cars and require much less maintenance, but they still have parts that can fail. From battery modules, to the power electronics, to fans that cool the motor and batteries, things can break. One thing that the MINI-E pioneers have learned is that you do not want to see the a red battery icon on your center display screen. That basically tells you: Dude, you're screwed.

Well yesterday I woke up and was planning to take the MINI-E to a local cafe with my wife for some fresh baked pastries and coffee and when I put the key in the ignition, the Darth Vader of icons appeared. The good old red battery icon was staring at me, front and center. When you see that, you just give up. You don't try to reset the power electronics, you don't repeatedly try to turn the car on, you just give up. The dreaded red battery icon means there is a problem with the cars high voltage battery system, and that could be serious. What you do is just what I did. You call MINI roadside service and tell them to come pick up the car and take it to the Flying Doctors, BMW's name for the engineers that repair the MINI-E's, and you hop in your back up car, the one you were required to have to be in the MINI-E program, and you go about your business until your MINI-E is returned to you, which is usually not more than a few days.

So for the next few day's I'm back on gasoline driving my Toyota Tacoma pick up truck. It's not such a bad thing because I need to give it a workout once in a while. It mostly just sits in my driveway collecting dust and I'm sure the use will be good for it. I don't even know when the last time I filled it up and the gas may be a few months old so I'll burn through all the old stuff I'm sure.

What's gas even cost these days? I guess I'll find out later this week...


  1. Hope you get her back soon Tom! As usual you created an enjoyable post out of a mundane experience. I really like your writing skills.

    Be well!

    Wilson Matteson
    Brookfield, WI

  2. When they fix these cars, do they tell you what was wrong with it, or do they just give it back without an explanation?

    Being a test car I wouldn't be surprised if they kept that information confidential.

  3. Wilson: Thank you! Much appreciation

    Anonymous: Yes, we do get a service ticket mailed to us that details the work performed. Pretty transparent, no secrets.

  4. So, what was the problem?

  5. Maybe there is a post coming explaining the problem.

  6. Yes there is. My next post will detail what the issue was.. I'll tell you this, it's the first time they saw this issue on any of the MINI-E's. Has to do with my excessive use (plugged in over 1,200 times so far)