Yesterday was not a good day for Silent E. We were stopped in the bumper-to-bumper single-lane rush-hour line inside UCF when she quit on me altogether.
Oh, did I mention it was raining?
As I gently pressed the pedal to start creeping, I heard the contactors open and saw the "check engine" light come on.
I never wired the check engine light to anything. Clearly, the car was mocking me.
Luckily a policeman stopped to help out before the traffic backed up behind me became violent. We pushed it up a nearby driveway. He wanted to give me a jump-start. I assured him that none of the things that work for a gas car would help me and that I would be fine. Then I called Eri to explain that I would be late for dinner. Before calling AAA for a tow, I broke out my trusty voltmeter and started debugging.
I thought perhaps my voltage regulator had died, and the accessory battery had run out of juice, leaving me without enough power to keep the contactors closed. But the battery was fully charged. Next I thought perhaps a short-circuit had blown my traction pack fuses; but the pack showed full voltage.
The hood wasn't keeping the misty rain off my components very well (partly because the driveway was on a steep incline), so I closed it up and called AAA. Their database was down, but they expected a truck to arrive within an hour, and promised that a dispatcher would call me.
I called Nathan. He was disappointed that the car had broken down, but since I've only put on 2000 verifiable electric miles he decided this was all part of the shakedown. He also found it suspicious that the contactors had opened together, so I went out into the rain for some more debugging.
This more thorough examination showed that the voltage at the inertia switch -- which is between the contactors and the battery -- was only 5V, probably insufficient to hold the contactors open. I figured that indicated a bad ground, but Nathan thought it meant a short-circuit. Either way, I was done for the night. I got back into the dry cabin and settled down to play some chess on my Treo.
An hour later I called AAA to find out why no dispatcher had called me yet. Their database was still down, but they promised to have a dispatcher call me right away.
An hour later, with the light gone and still no call, I was tired of waiting for AAA. It occurred to me that if I had full pack voltage, all I needed to do was bypass the contactors. The controller could work without them.
Although I carry a couple of tools, I was unable to remove the 17mm bolt from the contactor. It was too cramped, and the needle-nose pliers couldn't grab the bolt well enough.
As I calmed down, I realized that fooling with the 120V system was foolish anyway. If the problem was insufficient voltage at the contactors, the right thing to do was wire them directly to the battery!
Both contactors came together at the inertia switch, so I pulled that terminal off and tried to run it to the battery. It wasn't long enough, of course, so I looked for a wire coming directly from the battery positive terminal to connect it to. The vacuum pump switch was directly connected to the battery, and it wasn't critical. I pulled its positive wire and tried to connect it directly to the contactor wire.
They were both insulated female push-on connectors, so I couldn't even get them to touch. But the needle-nose pliers were about to come in handy! I used them to strip the ends of one of the scrap wires I keep in the trunk, turning it into a jumper. As soon as I touched the jumper to both wires, the contactors closed!
I drove a few feet before I realized I would need the key to unlock the steering wheel. I stopped, did a quick check for anything else I might have forgotten, and drove the rest of the way home.
I pulled the jumper out, completely incapacitating the car, before I started charging it. I've got an alternative vehicle, so I've got some time to fix this low-voltage problem. I'll definitely be waiting until it's nice and dry, anyway.
Two and a half hours after the initial call, I called AAA again. Their system was up, and they thought the truck would arrive in about 20 minutes.
I briefly considered letting them try to find a nonexistent car before my better nature took over. I told them I had fixed it on my own and asked them to talk to a manager about that dispatcher.
An hour later they called again to make sure I really didn't need any help. Thanks, AAA!