1/9/97 - More on tire problems and other technical matters

More Tire Problems

The saga of the tire continues... The new year started off on the wrong foot on January 2nd with yet another low tire pressure warning light. This time we were in Orange County, so we stopped in at Saturn of Santa Ana, where we were able to verify that the same tire was indeed low, but nothing could be done (aside from repressurizing it) because the EV-1 technician was off that day. So that afternoon, I took the car to Saturn of Cerritos, where, they decided to simply replace both the tire and wheel, probably because this problem had recurred so much. So while the problem was "solved" for us, it was still a mystery...

Then on Tuesday evening (1/7) it HAPPENED AGAIN! So on Wednesday morning the car went back to Saturn of Cerritos. Apparently that day, the technician talked to their main service center (wherever that may be) and was told to run more tests, requiring us to leave it overnight.

Thursday evening, when picking up the car, I was told what I hope will be the final resolution of this set of problems. First of all our original wheel/tire (replaced on 1/2) was pointed out sitting on the side of the repair area. It apparently was indeed losing air slowly, but the leak couldn't be located. It was speculated that the metal of the rim had a flaw and was actually losing air that way. The wheel and tire were to be sent back to GM for analysis.

The new wheel and tire were OK, meaning that the most recent low tire pressure indicator was a false warning. After much discussion with the home office, he found out that this was a problem which had been seen before. Apparently the driving peculiarities of certain EV-1 owners were able to trigger false warnings. No one could say just what those driving peculiarities were exactly. Replacement software was promised for the end of January. Unfortunately this software requires a part to be replaced instead of just a download.

The other possibility is that the false warning was caused by the replacement of the tire without taking the time to allow the computer to recalibrate itself. If I heard correctly, the technician is supposed to drive the car 100 miles so the re-cal occurs before the car is returned to the customer (Note: It doesn't get charged to our lease!). Sounds like technicians will be very busy if very many EV-1's are sold!

Technical Tidbits

While talking to our EV-1 technician, I was able to see another EV-1 up on the rack with the battery assembly down for the replacement of a module (this car had been driven by a Saturn employee and run down far enough to damage a battery module!). The technician pointed out the heat pump (front left corner), a very small unit! The engine (motor!) compartment looked as tightly packed underneath as it does from the top.

During our conversation, he remarked that we were getting very good mileage out of our charges compared to other owners. Apparently many are "Hollywood types" for whom the cars are just novelty toys.

At this point (past 1000 miles) we had achieved an estimated range (trip odometer + estimated miles remaining) of up to 72 miles, which I had thought to be pretty low since the EV-1 sales rep had said he had gone over 100 miles on a charge. But apparently it takes more than 1000 miles to break in the batteries. He also mentioned that our range would be less with the cold weather we had been having (high 40's, I think). In fact on Tuesday, it had been noticeable enough that Jean and I discussed it while driving home.

To make sure we were running the car for best performance he reviewed key points for getting maximum range:

The last is very hard to do as it sits at 5 when cruising down the freeway. I also learned that the bar graph is NOT linear! Going from 6 to 7 indicates much higher power use increase than from 5 to 6.

One other thing the technician mentioned which may occur in the future is a charger failure. The car needs to circulate coolant while charging off the 220V charger, so if the coolant sensor (an optical sensor) detects a low level, it will stop the charging. In this case the 110V charger should still work. It was nice to hear about this BEFORE something happens, and it should definitely be in the manual!

Security Feature Suggestions

Another thing brought up by the technician was that one of the rear wheel panels had been damaged, apparently by someone who had gotten curious about the car. He told me that they had decided to replace it for us but had to back-order it. Actually I hadn't even noticed it myself.

Perhaps for security, like an electrified cattle fence, the car should be designed to charge its structure up enough to shock those who are too curious! (just kidding) Maybe I should get some "Danger! 400 Volts" stickers, though!

Stuck Charger Paddle Incidents

While talking to the technician, I asked about an incident in which an EV-1 owner had had the charger paddle get stuck in the car (related to me by Bob Siebert). It turned out that there have actually been two incidents of this. He explained that if a capacitor in the charger paddle is defective, upon insertion of the paddle it will actually melt the paddle and weld it to the receptacle in the car! If this happens, the owner is advised to cut the charger cable.

He said that in the second incident, instead of cutting the cable, the owner removed the charger (about 100 pounds, I think) from the wall, put it in the passenger seat, and with the paddle still sticking out of the charging slot, drove it to the dealer! That's apparently NOT the recommended way of handling this!

High Marks for Saturn Service

The tire problems have been a major inconvenience, but they've served to convince me that Saturn really is trying to provide good service and that at least some people (like the EV-1 technicians) are very enthusiastic and excited about working on the product.

Communications between the field service people and the factory and design engineers seems to be very good, and while everyone is still scrambling to get the support infrastructure out to the dealers, they really are trying hard to make the EV-1 a successful product. I especially appreciated the technician taking the time (well past the 7 PM service area closing time) to explain things to an overly-curious customer.