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lou's garage

We have started phase two of converting an old Volkswagen into an electric vehicle to hopefully use in autocross events.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

I still receive regular requests for updates on our Project Puma EV, so here we go.

Our budget minded electric vehicle project started before the onset of COVID-19, but the pandemic did a number on my business, forcing me to concentrate on keeping the doors open and shelve the EV conversion.

We are back on it now and steadily making progress. The two Pumas I initially purchased were both in dire need of mechanical help, one was salvageable, while the other only usable for parts. In hindsight, I should have a purchased a donor car that was in better mechanical shape. At least when this car is road worthy, I can proudly declare it is completely rebuilt as our shop foreman recently finished an extensive chassis refurbishment. All the floors have been cut out and replaced, new knuckles and front suspension lowering kits installed to give this car a slick, resto-mod look. Every other suspension piece has also been replaced.

Finally, phase two has started, which is to mate an EM57 electric motor sourced from a 2013 Nissan Leaf to the Puma’s four-speed manual transmission. Nissan Leafs are in abundance and relatively cheap when compared to Tesla drivetrains, making them a popular choice for budget DIY’ers. Accordingly, I have found a couple small companies producing and selling adapter plates and motor couplers for the Leaf.

The shop foreman recently finished an extensive chassis refurbishment.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

However, none of these adapters are designed to use the original Volkswagen transmission along with its factory clutch. They all employ a simpler clutchless system. They still use the donor car’s manual transmission, but they eliminate the clutch and direct connect the engine to the transmission. Electric motors don’t need to stay running when sitting so a driver can shift gears of a EV’s manual transmission without a clutch, as long as they do it slowly and gently. My problem is that I want to participate in competitive autocross events and the words slowly and gently are not in an auto-crossers vocabulary.

Therefore, we are back to the original idea of generating and building our own custom adapter plate, which can house the bearings required to support the Puma’s flywheel and clutch. I started by tracing and creating a sketch of all the mounting points, bolt holes and dowel pins from the Leaf motor. Next, I scanned and imported that sketch into a CAD program where I am currently creating a digital rendering of my original sketch to scale. Hopefully this will yield an accurate two-dimensional flat drawing, which I can then send to my CNC plasma table to cut a test piece out of thin sheet metal. This simple flat piece will provide something that I can use to physically check my work by having a rigid part I can bolt to our Leaf motor. Worst case scenario is that my drawings are inaccurate and useless, forcing me back to the clutchless design mentioned above. Phase three will be the sourcing of a Leaf battery pack and the design/manufacture of a front and rear battery compartment in the Puma. I will provide another update when phase two is complete.

Your automotive questions, answered

I’m a Canadian snowbird currently wintering in Florida. I’ve had my car shipped down here and having gone through the effort to import the car and get Florida plates, I’m planning on leaving the car here from when we leave in April and return next October. I’ve searched the web and there is very little information that I’ve been able to find on steps to definitively prep a car for a long unattended duration stay in Florida.

Several Canadian friends do this and each has their little tips and tricks, but I’m looking for a more authoritative approach. Some friends install a battery disconnect switch and disable the battery before heading North, some leave dehumidifier bags in the car to help absorb the significant humidity over Florida summers, some over inflate tires and some fill the gas tanks full and add a fuel additive. All do a thorough car wash before going home and all use windscreen shields on all windows to keep brutal Florida sun from damaging the interiors. My car will be parked outside and exposed to the elements. Rather than install a battery disconnect switch, I’m looking for someone to start my car every two weeks in the hopes of recharging the battery and removing the humidity. Any other suggestions, guidance or directions?


Jeff L

To your points listed Jeff, washing a car that is about to sit outside for the season seems ineffective, but using sun shields is advisable. Keep in mind though, that a vehicle sitting in a public parking lot with sunshades on all windows screams steal me to any would-be thief. Filling the fuel tank before parking is essential and adding a fuel stabilizer won’t hurt either, along with a fresh oil change. Over inflating the tires slightly to help prevent flat spots is fine as long as the maximum tire pressure as displayed on the tire side wall is not exceeded. You must remember to return pressure to that as listed on the driver’s door before driving away. Desiccant or silica gel packs placed within the interior and trunk will absorb moisture, but how effective they are is debatable.

Starting the car every two weeks is not advisable unless your helper is also going to be taking it for an extended drive. I would prefer a battery maintainer to be employed, but it sounds like your vehicle won’t be near any electrical outlets. So, in that case, I would remove the battery completely, store it inside, leaving it connected to a battery maintainer. If no battery storage is available, just leave it in the car unhooked or have a battery disconnect permanently installed for future seasons. Newer batteries should recover easily after being charged. Older, aged batteries may not.

I would also add to top up all fluids before parking and be aware of any potential rodent infestations. Assure that the vehicle is parked on a flat surface and do not use the parking brake. Leaving it engaged will see the brake pads corrode and seize to the rotors. Block the wheels if necessary, but leave it off. Call your insurance company and ensure your fire and theft policy is in good standing.

Lou, every battery tender I have used over the years came with instructions that say to attach the ground (black) clip to the engine block or another metal part in the engine bay (not to the negative (black) battery terminal as you suggest). The same instruction comes with regular battery chargers. Is that instruction incorrect, or less effective?

Albert M

Yes, attaching the negative/black alligator clip to the engine block or metal grounded point is technically the safest way. A spark almost always occurs when the second battery charger terminal is connected. While rare, there is a small chance that a battery can explode at this moment. Attaching the ground alligator clamp further away from the battery moves that spark to a safe distance, minimizing the chance of an incident. When a good ground connection is established, it will be just as effective at charging the battery as a direct connect.

Additionally, when direct attaching a charger to a battery that is located out of a vehicle, I connect both alligator clamps to the battery first, and then plug in, or turn on the charger. Plugging in or turning on the charger after making connections is also the preferred method for the technique as listed above. Don’t forget that the positive clamp is always first.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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