Tesla's Electric "brick" problem

Image from Tesla's website

Jalopnik reports:

“Tesla Motors’ lineup of all-electric vehicles — its existing Roadster, almost certainly its impending Model S, and possibly its future Model X — apparently suffer from a severe limitation that can largely destroy the value of the vehicle.

If the battery is ever totally discharged, the owner is left with what Tesla describes as a “brick”: a completely immobile vehicle that cannot be started or even pushed down the street.

The only known remedy is for the owner to pay Tesla approximately $40,000 to replace the entire battery. Unlike practically every other modern car problem, neither Tesla’s warranty nor typical car insurance policies provide any protection from this major financial loss. ”

The article continues:

How To Brick An Electric Car

A Tesla Roadster that is simply parked without being plugged in will eventually become a “brick”. The parasitic load from the car’s always-on subsystems continually drains the battery and if the battery’s charge is ever totally depleted, it is essentially destroyed. Complete discharge can happen even when the car is plugged in if it isn’t receiving sufficient current to charge, which can be caused by something as simple as using an extension cord. After battery death, the car is completely inoperable. At least in the case of the Tesla Roadster, it’s not even possible to enable tow mode, meaning the wheels will not turn and the vehicle cannot be pushed nor transported to a repair facility by traditional means.

The amount of time it takes an unplugged Tesla to die varies. Tesla’s Roadster Owners Manual [Full Zipped PDF] states that the battery should take approximately 11 weeks of inactivity to completely discharge [Page 5-2, Column 3: PDF]. However, that is from a full 100% charge. If the car has been driven first, say to be parked at an airport for a long trip, that time can be substantially reduced. If the car is driven to nearly its maximum range and then left unplugged, it could potentially “brick” in about one week.[1] Many other scenarios are possible: for example, the car becomes unplugged by accident, or is unwittingly plugged into an extension cord that is defective or too long.

Source:

http://jalopnik.com/5887265/tesla-motors-devastating-design-problem

h/t to Popular Technology

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This seems to be a problem exclusive to lithium-ion battery technology, not lead-acid systems. Seems to me that all that is needed is a master kill switch for the mains. I’d rather reprogram my radio and other gadgets than spend $40k on a new battery pack.

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Latitude

So now we know there’s a $40,000 up charge….for the brick
Wonder if a 250 chev block will fit in one?

Clavius

How about a 9-volt to keep the radio alive and have a full kill switch to preserve the battery.

Willis Eschenbach

Dang … seems to me they would have put in a low-charge sensor connected to a kill switch the first week. But hey, it’s greenies, I guess no one wanted to make bad vibes …
w.

GeoLurking

Dunno…. but you would probably get the same performance as the 327 equipped Chevy Monza.

Dave

I have my doubts about the accuracy of the story Jalopnik is (re-)reporting. I can’t imagine any consumer having trouble winning a case against Tesla for selling an unfit product if this is a real problem. It’s obvious that they should have included a protective system of some kind.

Bill

When people need to buy new batteries that is $40K of STIMULUS!
(you know, just like when some punk breaks your window)

Gary Hladik

Just what I always wanted: a $100,000 Tamagotchi pet!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamagotchi

GogogoStopSTOP

I’ve been involve in a few incidents in the corporate world where a high failure rate in the customer’s environment was projected by engineering experimentation & calculations. When the customer failure rate is high, when the engineers say it’s high for a certain condition, that cannot be ameliorated, the “failure rate problems” quickly turns into a financial exercise.
When the failures make a material impact on profit, i.e., when they get significant enough to have to put excess material aside & dedicate significant production time to the replacement of the failed parts, an accounting must be accrued. This ‘reserve’ must be disclosed to stockholders. If the company is small, like Tesla, this could spell disaster.
My suspicion is that they have to “ignore” this problem inside Tesla. If they address the problem & if the engineers say it’s really large, then the accountants will have to move for a reserve against current earnings.
If the above scenario were to happen, Tesla has two brick problems: 1) dead car batteries & 2) a dead corporation.

Lew Skannen

And to think that I once used to laugh at some of the weirder inventions of history.
Reminds me of some of the ideas my technogeek friends came up with at work.
1. WOM – write only memory. For stuff you want to save but never want to read again.
2. Mouse Tremble Pad – Put your mouse on it while you are away from your desk and it keeps the mouse moving thereby preventing the screen saver coming on and forcing you to laboriously log in again.

It would never sell in Australia – everything here runs off powerboards and extension cords.

But surely they can put in a device that cuts off the battery at a certain voltage?

sped

Even if you have a master kill,you have to shut down early like at 15% charge.so you give up. A good portion of your range.
It is a hazard, like reving an engine past redline til it ‘bricks’. Just another failure mode to be aware of.

Doug Proctor

Holy crap, one might say. Lots of us leave our vehicle sitting for more than a couple of weeks – I see vehicles, nice vehicles, covered in snowfall after snowfall on our Calgary streets. It always amazes me how many people have vehicles they clearly only sporatically use. And in the well-to-do neighbourhoods, where people go to Mexico for a month …
A Testla left standing for a few weeks that dies and cannot be returned to life. What a concept.

Chris Edwards

How about a 2 stroke back up generator that cust on when the battery reaches a certain point??

Instead of charging up a battery overnight would it not be better to wind up a clockwork spring or even a hydraulic accumulator?

John Cooper

Zac says: “But surely they can put in a device that cuts off the battery at a certain voltage?”
Well think about that for a moment. That would require some kind of a relay that would handle…what?…1000 Amps or something? You’re talking big bucks there.

Nerd

Tesla? LOL. Maybe they forgot to build Tesla coil power plants to help keep the batteries repleted?

RockyRoad

All electric vehicles run essentially on coal. And remember what Obama said? “Electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket”. So who of you would buy a car where they’re basically guaranteed the “fuel” price is going to skyrocket?
It makes no sense whatsoever.

George Steiner

Even if you disconnect a battery, it will discharge through its internal resistance.

GogogoStopSTOP

For those with proposals for engineering “fixes:” it’s like breathing. If humans don’t breath every so often, we die. If Teslas go too long, without being charged, they die, i.e., “brick.” There’s plenty of failsafe ideas, they just cost money & highlight the problem to everyone concerned.
They should have disclosed this as a material event to investors. But… it they did, their IPO would have been… you guessed it… a BRICK!

Seems like an old-fashioned electromechanical voltage regulator could firmly disconnect the battery when its voltage drops below threshold. Ten dollars.
This is exactly what happens when you let theory-minded pure-digital people design a machine that needs to be mostly analog.

Sam Hall

This happens with lead acid batteries used in telecommunications. The answer is called a “Low Voltage Disconnect” Google that term and you will find lots of people selling them. Clearly, the car should have one.

David Falkner

Good Lord. Fat chance the average person will buy one with that sort of guillotine hanging over their head. And who could blame them? A $40,000 battery?

Then there’s the fun event where the 400 volt wiring to the two 250 hp rear electric motors get cut in an accident. Think MEGA arc welder going off in the back seat. The Prius is no prince either. Their Nickel Hydride pack are good for 400 recharge cycles. Then the pack costs $8,000 to replace. So….you save $1,000 per year on elec home charges over gas prices on the Tesla and every eight years you got a battery bill for $40k. The Prius saves $1,000 on gas every year and you kick in 8 large every 8 years. If this is not sounding like a practicle green solution, then read “Green Prince of Darkness” and figure out the solar cell erosion trick.

Olen

The car commits ritual hari kari and goes totally green.

GogogoStopSTOP

Hey, you engineering marvels with $10, easy fixes. There’s one fix… CHARGE THE BATTERY
A low “anything” sensor wouldn’t work, you must CHARGE THE BATTERY before it goes dead.
There’s only one fix, even when you know the battery is going low… CHARGE THE BATTERY.

david70

Considering the hefty price tag of this car, I think these cars will become bricks more often than you would think. I’m guessing the typical customer for one of these things as more money than they know what to do with. If that’s the case, a Tesla will often be just one of several fancy cars in the garage. I could see a guy returning to his summer residence in Nantucket only to find his Tesla was “bricked” over the winter. At least the 40k repair won’t hurt that guy as much.

So…the Tesla is kind of like the super “heavy duty” battery for my smart phone with it’s supposed 10 hours+ of use? Only problem is every app on the phone is designed to stay on, so unless the phone is plugged in every 5 hours, I end up with a dead phone….
Of course, at least that battery isn’t $40,000…and can be recharged!

John F. Hultquist

Assuming this is true, while wondering why it does not seem to have happened (Did someone suspend Murphy’s Law?):
In places, buyers of such cars have received large subsidies –
Article here:
http://www.luxist.com/tag/tesla+rebate/
WUWT post and comments here:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/10/14/friday-funny-the-guilt-of-tesla/
If the owner allows this “brick” thing to happen [a reverse story is titled “How to brick a camel.”], should said owner be required to return the $40-$50K to the issuing authority?
REPLY: read the Jalopnik article – 5 incidents so far – Anthony

Alex Heyworth

Faux Science Slayer wrote
“The Prius is no prince either. Their Nickel Hydride pack are good for 400 recharge cycles. ”
That might be the theory, but there are Priuses in Australia being used as taxis that have done over 500,000 kilometres without needing a new battery pack.

Tom Murphy

There should be no shock here; the vehicle (including the battery) is working precisely as intended:
“Electric vehicles will play a key role in weaning our nation away from its oil addiction,” – Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA 14th District)
“The electrification of transportation is the most efficient solution for ending our nation’s dangerous dependence on petroleum. Because electrification is a transformative technology, it will require some amount of new infrastructure. To provide consumers with the confidence and flexibility they need, vehicle chargers are nearly as crucial as electric cars and trucks themselves,” – Robbie Diamond, Executive Director, Electrification Coalition
“The Obama Administration has set significant and considerable goals for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the coming years… These charging stations will build upon our already growing and established network of infrastructure and will accelerate the deployment of public and private charging infrastructure which will in turn encourage consumers to buy electric vehicles. Our Department of Energy grant was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, to provide jobs for Americans. Our products are built and installed with American labor. Every time we ship a ChargePoint charging station, three Americans go to work for a day,” – Richard Lowenthal, Founder and CTO, Company X
“As vehicle electrification emerges as a top priority, we are fortunate that [Company X] already has a fully operational charging network… ChargePoint America is a huge step forward. Along with efforts by other companies, it shows that no matter how rapidly we accelerate the transition to plug-in vehicles, the charging infrastructure won’t hold us back,” – Felix Kramer, Founder of The California Cars Initiative
What better way to speed up the installation of charging stations (and subsequent transition to a “clean” transportation technology) than condoning the bricking of a vehicle that only an affluent individual can afford? If such a person is willing to pay a hefty premium for a vehicle, I suspect they’re already passionate about EVs (and their eco-sensitive “cleanliness” – increased need for power generation notwithstanding). Presuming this suspicion is true, I think it far more likely that such an individual would blame the lack of accessible charging stations as the cause of the bricking rather than the (far more true and appropriate) fatally-flawed design from the manufacturer.

DirkH

At least once it’s bricked, it can’t self-immolate.
Can a bricked Tesla be recycled?

David Davidovics

Not a problem with my LiFePO4 powered EV. I’ve lefted it parked for months at a time before it was my daily driver and barely lost any measurable charge. The cells used in the tesla can store more energy (longer range) and slam out more power, but it comes at a price.

jorgekafkazar

Sam Hall says: “This happens with lead acid batteries used in telecommunications. The answer is called a “Low Voltage Disconnect” Google that term and you will find lots of people selling them. Clearly, the car should have one.”
If you’d read the entire thread, above, you’d realize that telecom batteries aren’t putting out 50 hp when the disconnect disconnects.

Curiousgeorge

Batteries suck. Get a horse. At least when it dies you can eat it.

JohnB

The killer is that if you are in an accident with an electric car, emergency services are trained to drain the battery as an electronic fault could cause a fire thanks to the Chevy Volt. So if you get into an accident with this car not only will you be paying for any physical or mechanical repairs but you will be replacing that battery also.

jack morrow

The car is like my out of date cell phone-if I ‘m not careful and let the battery go dead, I’m out of communication for quite some time. But, the phone didn’t cost thousands and the taxpayer paid nothing for it.

KevinK

I once restored a small railroad locomotive that was abandoned in a field (next to a WWII shipbuilding facility) for about 3-4 decades. It had a gasoline ICE and after cleaning out all the varmint urine and replacing hoses and wires it RAN. So, now we are expected to swap things that can run after DECADES of neglect with “MODERN” designs that need attention every few days……………….
But heck, your neighbors will subsdize you if you buy one.
Cheers, Kevin.

Bob Diaz

I find it hard to believe that something as basic as a low power cut-off system ins NOT included in the car. A control system, using a PIC Micro-controller can detect the condition and act accordingly. The PIC in power saving mode can run for about 6 months off a set of AA Batteries. So the detection system won’t really drain the battery dry.
It would take a portable generator to charge the battery and get the car to be able to run far enough to tow or drive the car to a charging place.
Maybe the article is wrong and the engineers were smart enough to consider this in the design. It’s not rocket science, just basic electronics.

DGH

I assure you that nobody who loves cars and has driven the Tesla Roadster would allow it to sit until its batteries are fully discharged. My bet is that the 5 people who have bricked their batteries would have seized their gas engines for a lack of oil.
The brand has serious business model deficiencies and some less serious product quality issues. Battery bricking is not among either set of issues.

u.k.(us)

Not that I care what happens to anyone foolish and rich enough to buy a Tesla, but I think the stories are probably only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to servicing said brick.

KenB

I guess that puts paid to getting insurance for theft and fire. How else could you deal with a dead Tesla brick…………

There’s some doubt whether those 5 incidents are for real. They required fairly significant neglect. E.g., parking unattended for a week with 4% battery charge is beyond stupid.
IMO, the one thing TM has to do is be very explicit to buyers: “NEVER let the battery discharge fully, as this will permanently disable it. Not covered by warranty.”

One version of the “original” Murphy’s Law sez, “You can’t make anything foolproof, because fools are so ingenious.”
😉

u.k.(us)

Thing I found:
http://www.autoblog.com/2011/09/26/tesla-reportedly-asks-for-another-loan-from-the-feds/
Thing it said:
“We haven’t heard much from Tesla of late, but that may be because the upstart electric car maker is hard at work getting the Model S to market, as promised, before the end of 2012. The Model S itself is the product of a $465 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy, but that’s not the last round of loans Tesla has its sights set on.”
—–
Date of thing 9/26/2011

Steve C

Now, that’s quite a ‘design feature’ not to mention in the ads. The plain truth is that battery technology, with the best will in the world, still isn’t really up to the job yet, and from the sound of this the high-tech lithium-ion actually manages to do worse than the old-school lead-acid jobs.
Some years ago now, I test-drove an electric minibus for the school I was at. It drove OK, but (a) it was basically a 30cwt vehicle which weighed 3 tons + with its (lead-acid) battery, which made it rather sluggish, (b) its range was pathetic, but the main reason it stayed at the dealers was (c) you needed to buy a whole new battery for about 3500 UKP (about 15 yrs ago) every couple of years. Anyone who really wants to drive electric would be very well advised to work out something involving a lawnmower motor and a modest generator, or maybe a big solar panel on the roof.
What battery does your electric car use, Anthony? How does it pan out in practice? (Sorry if you’ve already told us elsewhere, I have a memory like a colander.)

MrV

In desert climates it might be worth making some of the bodywork solar panels to feed a trickle charge to offset the drain.
In the long term replace the battery with a small nuclear generator or fusion power device is clearly whats needed here. I wonder if a RTG would work.

Jeff D

There has to be a low charge sensor. I would guess that circuit might need some tweaking/ beefing up. Hard to think that $5 in parts could trash 40K of battery.
Ouch!

Richard Patton

RockyRoad says: February 22, 2012 at 5:49 pm

All electric vehicles run essentially on coal. And remember what Obama said? “Electricity prices will necessarily skyrocket”. So who of you would buy a car where they’re basically guaranteed the “fuel” price is going to skyrocket?
It makes no sense whatsoever.
Because, the states are providing free charging stations. I can go to the local colleges or downtown or even Walgreens and the State of Oregon has put in "Free" charging stations. Not only do the rest of us tax payers get to help pay the purchase price of those cars we get to pay for their "fuel." A case of robbing the poor to give to the rich (only the rich can afford the subsidized cost of those cars.)