Repairing a Voltec charger

Alternative energy sources
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The usual. As I have two large solar PV systems here, and my lab assistant just put one in, and others are interested in things like this, here's where that stuff goes. This is mostly for things that work now, not "gee someday a fusor will do this" -- we know that, but it's not someday yet.
The hope is to save anyone embarking on this sort of thing a lot of wasted time and money, as at least I have been off the grid since 1980 and have had a lot of practice (and made mistakes you won't have to).

Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby Doug Coulter » Sun Jul 07, 2013 1:19 pm

Well then. My 2nd Voltec failed miserably this morning. Plug jammed in the car, but also no charge (the led wasn't stuck on as in previous failures). The design is fairly well "protected" from tampering - the latch is shielded by plastic so you can't just stick a screwdriver in there to lift it and pull the plug out of the car. Wonder just what they were thinking on that one. So I pry the handle apart - easy - and work the mechanism by hand, since once again, the latch mechanism is broken, along with having been sticky before - seems they'd never heard of self-lubing plastic, or that steel metal pins rust in outdoor use, which this is rated for (I don't have a garage).

Some time back, I'd bought the expensive but very nice cable from Tuscon EV, with the idea I'd build my own EVSE that would put out a pilot proportional to the excess power my solar system had at any given moment. Since a bang-bang (switch power on and off to the whole thing) actually works better than that would, for esoteric reasons (can't know exactly how much I've got till the panels are under full load anyway in this system) - I never got around to that. But I had this super nice, long, fat wire, not coiled, cable with an obviously much higher quality connector on it laying around...

Right on time, as it happened. I used it to replace the piece of crap cheaped-out GM cable and connector, no real problems doing that, it just needed to be done. I had to remove the strain relief - the new cable won't fit through the hole where it's full diameter anyway - and reduce the size of the #6 stranded wire at the end for the 3 fatties to about #8 - the biggest that would fit in the cheezy internal connectors, wire it up correctly while chasing off the wasps that had built a nest in there (getting in through the, yes, well designed drain holes for condensation - at least they've learned about that problem), and make my own strain reliefs on the post this is all mounted to.

I'm not sure how actually long that pretty thin wire in the coiled cable was, but it was both - thin and long, taking a rather shall we say, circuitous route to the car even when pulled out to the point of putting more side stress on the car connector than I thought wise (no problems from that - other things fail first, always it seems). But if my wattmeter readings are correct, the old cable alone was wasting about 40 watts...in series resistance, at around 13 amps at 240v going through it. A watt saved is a watt earned...

And here's what the result looks like. I don't back the car all the way in, as there's a path for my tractor that has to be between it and the house, so I needed a long cable. I always back in, as it's fairly dangerous to have to back out of my driveway - both steep and blind at the end, with a drop off on one side. This puts the connector on the car pretty far away from the house.
(as usual, click pix for high res view)
Innards.JPG
What the new cable looks like wired in


The output is on the right - and from left to right, the terminals are - pilot signal, 15v (for the led flashlight), L2, L1,, GND - just in case you ever have to do this one. The new cable doesn't have the useless dim led flashlight, I won't miss it.
Here's the perspective looking from the car:
Outers.JPG

I used a few conduit clamps on the wire as strain relief, screwed to the post. They fit nicely, as it worked out - nice and tight where the manufacturer terminated the fat outer insulation and covered that termination with THICK heat shrink tubing..

And from the yard:
CarEnd.JPG


Kind of a distraction from the series I'm writing (and starting to get help with) on reloading ammo, but it will save me more time than it took to do, this thing is just better - seems rock solid compared to the original. And I can drive the tractor over it, without catching it, or having to lift it over my head each time. I'm pretty sure, that while my tractor doesn't put down all that many PSI, it would have quickly ruined that cheezy coiled cord with butter-soft insulation on its conductors.

The car itself remains trouble-free and a joy, with one minor flaw - the charge door sticks if you don't lube up a couple spots with dry lube once a year - you sometimes have to use a fingernail to pull it open. Wow, that's pretty good for a maintenance record, actually. It'll be 2 years old in October.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby solar_dave » Sun Jul 07, 2013 2:17 pm

I have 2 of these Doug. Both cords have been replaced under warranty for strain relief failures, but that has long expired now. The new ones seem to hold up better.
Both of mine are inside and are still working fine, but only time will tell. I did put some dry lube on the car connectors a while back. Being inside the connectors may work better over time.
I did have mine apart at the cord change time and I can't see how they rate them for outdoor usage.

Nice clean install BTW.
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Re: Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby Doug Coulter » Sun Jul 07, 2013 2:33 pm

On my first, they refused to just ship me a cord, or believe I knew that's what I needed - they just shipped a whole new unit, which was identical to the previous one that had failed in the first month. I don't think the side-stress it got in my app had a bit to do with this, but it was enough that I didn't like it, and the coily, tangly cord was a nuisance from day one. Every time I had to take it out of the path so I wouldn't drive a tractor over it it tangled up. It quickly got to the point (about a week) where it didn't really retract anymore anyway. So every time, pull, untangle, connect (ouch, 5 or more lbs of side force levering on the car connector) and then fiddle the button to make the thing actually charge. I'm not sure why it really needed that latch at all, unless your situation was trying to pull the cord straight out.

I had to unscrew that terminal strip to put in the new fat wires. Couldn't force those fine strands into the holes at an angle without bending them out of the hole - danger! Then I put it back. It was easier to get a good tight clamp with it out, where I could hold it while tightening the screws - the nylon they used there isn't really thick enough to stand good screw clamp torque.

The board and all are well potted, the top is sealed with a good gasket, and there are little vent slots on the bottom that let water (condensation) out, and sadly, wasps in. It's not a really bad design for outdoors, at least if protected from rain right on it - and this is, a little. It looked pretty good in there (other than the wasp-waste) after almost two years. Well, it looked original. I wouldn't have designed this that way myself, but the basic thing seems to work fine.

And now, should I fix it, I've still got a spare connector. No way that wire is going to get reused - it's the very definition of UGH in this use-case. I might actually fabricate some better parts that won't break or rust. Nice having a shop.

Thanks for the compliment. I use this car and this cable a lot, I wanted this to be a "done and done forever" kind of thing. I was able to do this quickly enough to get the car recharged today, starting when I got back from the store at 10 am with about half a charge still (took about 3 hours, since we have partly cloudy and as such, the power cycled a few times).
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby solar_dave » Sun Jul 07, 2013 2:41 pm

I suspect if the connector fails I will just try and replace the whole cord as you did. I don't really care about the LED light in the connector. I hate the damn coiled cord as well it puts side loads on both ends of the cord which over time will most likely cause a failure. I certainly was a major failure in the design.
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Re: Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby Doug Coulter » Sun Jul 07, 2013 8:59 pm

In the interest of making this thread a leetle more informative than just bitching about something we all know stinks and will never be fixed, I thought I'd go ahead and actually repair the old connector - around here, one keeps one's backups hot and ready.

As well as show the world how they messed up. Here's the picture of all the parts (sorry, it's not a great pic).

ConnectorParts.JPG

Yes, they actually DID use cable ties as structural members, which as we know, will embrittle and break in a few years anyway in an outdoor situation. But this time (and evidently, also last time) that wasn't the problem.
The lower half-shell holds the "guts" via 4 tiny fast pitch screws for plastic. I took that off to get to the "issue". The issue was, that little white roller in the orange rubber coated actuator had come loose and was sitting in there sideways from the (correct) way it's shown here.
Roller.JPG
The problem - the nylon had gone walkabout

That handle is located on the U spring shown at the top (in the picture, in use it's the bottom) of the main connector, via two holes/posts in normal use, and held in place essentially by the hole in the lower outer shell. Here's a closeup of the squeeze handle with the nylon roller placed correctly again - note they only used some very shallow and Vee shaped notches to locate it across the handle - it had popped out of these, having plenty of room to do so, since they used an insane (over 1/4") clearance between that and the metal flap/lever it actuates when you squeeze the handle. So basically, you can make one of these fail by doing little more than holding it upside down and shaking a bit. I could/should have bent that metal down (in the first pick, out) some to prevent this happening again, but it's rippled metal so they could use even cheaper stuff (thinner)...sigh. It's not like they don't charge real money for this charger, the most expensive single part of is...the wire, which is maybe 10 bucks worth for a $400 thing.
Gheesh! The bad parts of the old GM moved to Schneider/Voltec? Bad implications for Xantrex, now owned by Schneider? We'll be watching, guys.
Here's another pic with the flash - different type of autofocus failure, I'm sad to say.
Flash.JPG
Overview of the connector innards


BTW, the top just snaps on. They'd also used some of that whjite silicone glue they uses around the wires in the main unit, they seem to like it. It had zero indication that it had ever stuck to the upper cover - I guess they forgot entirely about a magic substance called "mold release agent" it still had on it...C'mon boys, this is beginner grade stuff for engineers - if I want to be kind about it.

And oh, I added some lube to the rusted metal pivot pins in there and now it works smoother than new. There appears to be no way to just replace the wire - it seems to be molded right into the main body of the thing.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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Re: Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby solar_dave » Mon Jul 08, 2013 2:12 am

The cable ties are holding that mess together? Ludicrous!!

Certainly sad to see such poor engineering. I suspect if I get into mine at some point a few thing will change in there.

I had to post a link on the gm-volt forum

http://gm-volt.com/forum/showthread.php ... ec-Charger
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Re: Repairing a Voltec charger

Postby Doug Coulter » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:52 pm

That's fine Dave. I replied to it, but the real news is that I am now running an open-evse instead of the guts of the Voltec charger, and it's *way* better in use and flexibility. Should I get around to buying an incircuit programmer for arduino, it'll get better yet, but there's no rush on that as it works fine as is. What I'm now doing to turn it on and off is to simply switch the power into the open-evse board with a solid state relay I already had wired for the odd use with the 120v supplied charger or anything else that I wanted to only use power when I had extra to spare. Works great! The new unit (I bought their little kit with relays and an RGB LED) could be better documented - I'll do that here and give them the link - but it's good stuff, well designed, well built, and now - indoors. The old Voltec is now nothing more than a junction box, as I pulled its guts out. It might still work for all I know.

What happened was an apparent failue, and looking at the pilot signal on the scope, it looked as though the Voltec had lost its marbles. It was making an "illegal" pilot signal, and turning that on and off at about 1 second intervals. The actual problem, however, was the proximity switch on the new cable from Tuscon-EV, sad to say, and that sucker was a real pain to get to - they used triangle-drive screws, about the one thing my security-bit kit of secret weapons didn't have. So I made a driver...took it apart, bent the microswitch actiaving lever about 1mm, and now it's all better than ever. You might run into this if you've got a similar cable and the plastic over the button stiffens a little, that's what did mine in I might even finally use the supplied relays, instead of the lossier SSDs, but I wanted to make sure my "bang-bang" control didn't drop the mechanical relays they ship while the car was drawing current, resulting in them not living too long - to make absolutely sure of that one, a software mod is going to be required, and either they (open evse project) or I will eventually do it. Or a hardware mod that keeps their 12v supply up longer (a larger cap, those mech relays draw some real coil current).

But the word is, they're good guys - check out emails back and forth on their site, and yes, this works with a Volt just peachy - and you can even change the charge rate. NIfty interface. It has an RGB backlit LCD that gives details, but you can see the system status from aross the room merely by looking at the color...great idea!

A complete beginner might be a bit confused as to how to put their little kit together. But I managed to have it work on the first go (took more skull sweat than it should have, but I'm cautious with that much money at stake and that much power to fry stuff), so it's not really bad at all. I'll see about improving their documentation for them. They've earned it in my book.
Posting as just me, not as the forum owner. Everything I say is "in my opinion" and YMMV -- which should go for everyone without saying.
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