I am the High Voltage Battery Killer

5 years ago by Marc Lee 23

Crated HV Batteries Waiting to be Installed in my Focus Electric (Kent Shockey/Richmond Ford)

 

About two weeks into ownership of our Ford Focus Electric I asked the wife to take the Focus Electric to work because I needed to pick up a manhole cover and it would be easier to get it into and out of the Volt.  Yes my day job is that glamorous.

This would be her first time to drive the FFE, so of course when she hopped in and pressed the power button it didn’t start.  It came up with a “Stop Safely Now” which seemed odd since we weren’t even moving yet.  I had read that some owners had experienced this issue, and had managed to clear it by power cycling the vehicle.

Now you have to understand that my wife was not exactly enthusiastic about the FFE in the first place.  Electric vehicle with a backup engine was an idea she could cotton to, but battery only… not so much.  Having attempted to power cycle three times and still no joy, she stepped out of the car announcing “done with that car.”

 

This is not a message you want to see from your 2 week old car.

 

Of course when I plunked down in the driver’s seat and pressed the power button it gave the “ready to drive” icon right away.  In retrospect, her opening the door was probably the magic ingredient that was missing because like many cars today, the FFE doesn’t fully power down until you do that.  I drove the car for a number of days after that without incident, but one morning it gave me the “stop safely now” as I was backing out of the garage and I decided I better stop rolling the dice and get the thing looked at.

 

What ensued was something of an eye opener.  I was concerned about having the vehicle towed, it being electric and only two weeks old.  Thus my thought was to drive it to the nearest dealer.  Calling said dealer, they informed me it would be next week before they could even look at it, and I would have to figure out my own transportation.  This was something of a shock because when I had an issue with my Volt, I called my Volt Advisor and they arranged everything with the dealer, including a loaner car to drive.  There was none of this next week business, instead it was “what time tomorrow morning would you like to bring it in?”

 

Then I called the originating dealer Richmond Ford and though they wanted to be helpful it was pretty much the same story.  You are outside the 35 miles… if you can drive it up here… not sure we can help with a loaner.  Yikes.

 

Hoping it would turn out to be a minor issue I decided to tow to the closest dealer, Bowditch Ford, and though they said it would be next week before they could look at it, they called the next day and said it was beyond their ability to fix as they were not yet fully EV certified.  What came next was something of a circus of phone calls to Bowditch to Richmond Ford to Ford Roadside Assistance, the Roadside Assistance Dispatch, and the Tow Truck driver.

 

The first tow truck driver they sent went to pick it up and when he found how far it was going, he refused the job.  In hindsight I can laugh about this, but you can imagine I was less than amused at the time.  The highlight of the phone calling extravaganza was when the second tow truck driver called me up to explain that despite arguing with Bowditch for half an hour they refused to turn the car over to him because he had a tow dolly and not a rollback.  Rest assured he told me, he was going back up in the morning to argue some more.  I had to admire his gumption.

 

At some point, the corporate run around ended.  I knew this when I called into Ford Roadside Assistance and suddenly there was a new menu option, “if you are calling about an Electric Vehicle press 3.”  To whomever at Ford or Richmond Ford made this happen, I thank you a thousand times. Truly was not looking forward to going through the whole spiel about the car again.

 

From that point on the service was exceptional.  All arrangements for transporting the car were handled for me, and most importantly going forward there would be only one central contact at Richmond Ford, Kent Shockey, which made communicating about the car much easier.  Richmond Ford also drove a loaner car to my house, a brand spanking new Focus Sedan.  I almost felt guilty.

 

That guilt was tempered by the FFE spending 3 weeks being repaired.  At first they replaced some cables, but the cables ultimately did not solve the issue, and so they replaced the High Voltage batteries, which took some time to bring into the dealer, and once there a full eight hours to swap out.  Apparently Ford does not yet have guide lines on this procedure so it was left to the Service Tech to charge what he felt was appropriate.  Thank the good lord we are still under warranty.

 

I should divulge that we also had to have the HV batteries replaced on the Volt, although in that case it was not so much to fix a problem as it was the desire of GM engineers to have a real world specimen to examine.   This clearly indicates to me that any manufacturer wanting to put their battery to a real world test should send their BEV my way.  Um yeah, I am looking at you Tesla.

 

The exact nature of the problem with the FFE was a Battery Energy Control Module failing to communicate,  which prevented the bottom HV battery from engaging.  I suspect this module could have been replaced, but being early days perhaps Ford wanted to have a look see to determine exactly what was going on, or perhaps they thought, instead of mucking about in the battery, best to just replace the whole works.

 

When the car was finally “finished” it drove home from Richmond without event, but charging it up triggered a charging fault, and eventually a yellow wrench icon with the message “See Owner’s Manual.”  This is not want you want to see after your car has just spent the past three weeks sitting at the dealer.

 

This time Ford arranged for Devon West, the DC District Field Service Engineer to meet me at the closest dealer.  In short order he retrieved the codes from the car and I was on my way.  Within the hour Devon called with a solution and offered to drive to my place of work where he fixed the problem on the spot.  It was half a gallon low on coolant.  He hooked up a laptop to the OBD.  Then he used a program which induced the three coolant system pumps to run and helped purge air from the system, which undoubtedly entered the system when the HV batteries were replaced.

 

The OBD Port is Conveniently Placed and Labeled

Opening the Cover Reveals This Port... No Word Yet on the Availability of FocusScan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was an important take away from this low coolant level situation.  For those who wonder if liquid cooling is necessary in a temperate place like Virginia.  The ambient temperature was around 80f when I was trying to charge the vehicle.  It appears that a high temperature in the batteries induced the in vehicle charger to shut down.  So no, you need don’t live in Arizona to need liquid heating and cooling for your HV battery.  Indeed the coolant system has been heard running even on days in the 70s when charging immediately after driving.

 

Ironing out situations like this BECM fault is certainly one reason Ford chose a go slow approach.  Despite this issue, I still rate the Focus an excellent vehicle.  The shame is that it appears that Ford only intends to build the FFE if someone orders it, which will certainly put a damper on sales.  Some people like having an “exclusive” vehicle.  That is not me.  I want a car that is sold by the millions because I like to keep my cars a long time and I want parts to be readily available and cheap.  Fortunately such will be the  case for all the chassis parts since they are identical to the gasser parts.  Thus, it only becomes a question of how durable will the powertrain components prove.  My experience with electrical equipment is that if it makes it through the first year it will last a long time.

 

On an MSRP basis the FFE is about $2k more than the LEAF SL, but of course the reality is that LEAFs are now selling substantially below MSRP, and leasing for the crazy low price of $219 in some markets.  And with Smyrna set to come on line the LEAF pricing is expected to go even lower.

 

In fact, ran into a LEAF owner in Richmond, who happens to work for a Nissan dealer.  They gave him a $279 lease rate with no money down and agreed to allow him to charge the car at work for free.  His trade in car was costing him $350 a month just in gas!

 

A LEAF and FFE Charging At The Science Museum of VA...the EVSEs Once Free, Now Charge 75 cents per hour

 

With the robust sales of PHEVs like the Volt and the plug-in Prius and modest sales of battery only vehicles like the LEAF, Focus Electric, Model S, and iMiev, Ford is perhaps justified in taking a conservative approach with the FFE.  In time, I believe many of these PHEV will realize that the statistics don’t lie, 80% of us drive less than 40 miles per day and therefore not every vehicle in your fleet needs to have an engine.

 

When you have a vehicle that has this much new technology in it, it perhaps to be expected problems will show up, especially in the early going.  All that one can expect is that Ford and its dealers will do what they can to mitigate the inconvenience and it appears that Ford is putting measures in place to help with that, and undoubtedly they are learning how to refine the process and avoid these issues altogether going forward.  Hopefully, all Ford dealers will adopt the same “full service” approach that I experienced while dealing with this issue because as the Prius has demonstrated the early bird certainly can get the worm when it comes to establishing a reputation in a ground breaking vehicle category.

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23 responses to "I am the High Voltage Battery Killer"

  1. Mark H says:

    Marc,
    You should quit your day job and become a writer. This was both informative and a joy to read. You are right about the 40 miles but the “perfect” mix is what you have achieved already. One BEV and one PHEV per household IF the miles are there for the savings. In the not so distant future the miles for both will matter less. My wife and I combined drive less than 15,000 miles per year in our retirement thus we share our Volt. And when I pick up something like the man hole cover ( and I do (honey bees don’t do well in a hatchback)) , I still keep a Ford F150 for that.

    1. Marc Lee says:

      Thanks for the bon mot. Yup have a 92 Nissan Pick Up, with ladder racks that the wife has been trying to get me to sell for 10 years…”but honey I just got it broken in.”

      Had a swarm of wild bees come onto the property some time back, it was fascinating watch the beekeeper come and collect them.

  2. Frank Carter says:

    @Mark H – Im curently looking at used VOLTS cause my wife and I fight over who gets to drive the one we have that day!

    @Marc – I agree with Mark, well written and funny. My wife can have the same “done with that…” attitude. She won’t even drive my old Cummins 1 ton.

  3. Stoaty says:

    Great article, even handed, very well written, and definitely funny! Still, they will get my Leaf when they pry it from my cold dead hands.

    1. Marc Lee says:

      Clearly at this point, if you live in a temperate area and are therefore not worried about the battery getting too hot, then better deals can be had on the LEAF.

  4. Wood Foss says:

    Hi Marc,
    Nice summary of the Focus issue you experienced. Perhaps this is the reason for Ford’s slow go approach. I have been so lucky to have a trouble free vehicle however in your circumstances, I am not certain I would have had the patience you displayed Marc…. Plus my dealership is 200 miles away. We paid a lot of money to be test babies for the FFE.
    Wood

    1. Marc Lee says:

      But wait there’s more! Sadly, you are not going to believe this, but sadly I must report that as of today Oct. 12th it is back in the shop again… I am ready to be off this ride.

      On the plus side, there was a CMAX on the lot at the dealer this morning so had the chance to look at that.

  5. Turbofroggy says:

    As an owner of a 2000 Ford Ranger EV, welcome to my world! I have 62,500 miles on my original NiMH battery pack, you know the one that was so good Chevron/Texaco sued Panasonic to stop making them? On my Ranger I have had two stock water pumps die (terrible off the shelf ones that Ford put in them, replaced with a brushless pump like the Tesla has), 3 onboard charger failures (blown fuse, fan circuit quit finally complete breaker tripping failure), inverter pre-charge circuit failure and I am on my 3rd set of rear wheel bearings. Oh and all of this work was done with the help of the Ranger EV community and done by myself, no warranty and no dealer support. Our Leaf sure does look good plugged in next to the Ranger in the garage though… 🙂

    1. Marc Lee says:

      Is the water pump on your Ranger EV for the batteries?

      1. Eletruk says:

        The water pump is for the electronics and the motor. The batteries are air cooled.

  6. Bonaire says:

    I drove to Philadelphia last night – 45 miles one way. Parking garage there indicated they had 4 Blink chargers and one Chargepoint charger. Hurray – get to public charge for free (as indicated on Plugshare). I get there, find the chargers. Four Blink chargers have Philly Car Share Volts in front of them, very dust-covered. The Chargepoint charger is next to them. Ready to charge! However, there is not one EV parking place and there is an ICE in what would be the two available parking places. If I had a BEV – I’d have been really out of luck given the round-trip was 90 miles. Glad I have a Volt. Until this public charging “fiasco” on the east coast is figured out, Volts will be the EV of choice. Public charging in places like Philadelphia, center city, can’t be as bad as it is now – with some places charging $3.50/hour for charging and others unavailable or ICE-prone. The Volt is about the only “practical” EV outside of California (just my opinion…)

  7. Marc Lee says:

    I agree, anyone who buys a BEV banking on the availability of public chargers is setting themselves up for disappointment. But if your commuting and driving patterns are conducive to a BEV there are reasons to go that route, not the least of which greater efficiency achieved by NOT lugging around an engine that is not needed.

    Also, all things being equal, larger battery packs tend to last longer.

  8. Mark H says:

    No doubt any extra weight effects efficiency, but range is not the only thing the extra engine brings. It also provides heat as a bi-product to making energy. Of course the Volt missed this in the first generation but PHEVs will soon discover that staring on gas in the winter, heats the person, heats, the battery thus extending range, and makes more electricity.

    Much changes with the EV. Heated seats become a more efficient method, but that is still burning energy, thus requiring a bigger battery, thus weighing more, thus effecting efficiency. As battery technology rapidly improves extending range and weighing less these issues start to fade away. For now, that extra engine really isn’t that bad.

    And larger may lean longer if all things are equal, but typically they are not such as Nissan and Ford running without a liquid cooled battery and charging to 100% thus effecting the chemistry. The Volt engineers certainly got this one right.

    1. Bonaire says:

      Then, there is always a hat and gloves to assist the high-tech heating devices 🙂

    2. Roy_H says:

      “the extra engine brings. It also provides heat as a bi-product to making energy. Of course the Volt missed this in the first generation but PHEVs will soon discover that staring on gas in the winter, heats the person, heats, the battery thus extending range, and makes more electricity.”

      The Volt (right from introduction) does do that, it has internal temperature monitors and if cold enough will start the engine right away just for those reasons.

  9. Dave K. says:

    My garage holds a Leaf and a Prius, the latter with a trailer hitch. For the 3-4 times a year the hatchback won’t cut it the 17year old 4X8 light duty trailer does fine. The Prius used to be an aftermarket PHEV conversion but some kid rearended my wife and totaled that one. So I must be satisfied with her only getting 53mpg! Hopefully I will soon replace that gashog with a PHEV of some description, I was thinking about a Ford but this gives me pause… Seriously it is now very feasible to reduce your liquid fuel consumption to 10-20% of what it was a couple of years ago, and it’s not hard.

  10. Marc Lee says:

    “I will soon replace that gashog with a PHEV of some description, I was thinking about a Ford but this gives me pause…”

    Reading between the lines it appears to me that Ford anticipates that PHEV will be the volume leader in electrified vehicles in the near term. I expect that their pre-production efforts on the CMAX Energi and Fusion Energi will therefore be more extensive.

    “Seriously it is now very feasible to reduce your liquid fuel consumption to 10-20% of what it was a couple of years ago, and it’s not hard.”

    No doubt… on our Volt we are averaging 92.5% electric vs. 7.5% gas.

  11. John says:

    I’d probably argue about the robust sales statement but none the less I’d love to have an EV in my carport. Unfortunately, I’m 40 miles from the nearest city so todays current technology is pretty useless to me. Until we can get more range from these vehicles, I’ll be driving my gassers. still, it’s good to hear that Ford is stepping up to the plate. Sorry your back in the shop again. One of my neighbors had a Prius last year but had so much trouble with the batteries that they traded for a high mpg gas car. 40k for a Volt is just plain crazy. When the range improves and the price gets reasonable, we will see folks, even those of us out in the sticks, make a move toward EVs. Until then, it’s you urban folks who are going to have to suffer the growing pains for the rest of us!

  12. Jim I says:

    But the real question is:

    Will your wife get back into the Ford???

    🙂

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  14. Robert says:

    I have the same issue “Stop Safely Now” when trying to make it go in the morning. This started christmas morning and we had to use another vehicle instead. Wife won’t touch the thing now and I won’t ask her to. Later in the data after maybe 10 power cycles – I got it moving again.

    Next morning (today), same thing. I have an appointment at dealer in morning and am keeping a meticulous log in the event a suit becomes warranted. Better be a good and permanent fix coming down the road short term. This car simply has to work.

    Hmm. It is technically a lease. Time to review the contract I guess.

    1. Robert says:

      It is frequently sending me ‘fault while charging’ emails also. One every two minutes for an extended period of time once, but now – just once in a while. This is occurring while it is “waiting to charge” – waiting for the 8:00 PM time where rates decrease when on a “time of use” electric plan with LADWP. I have the ford recommended Leviton charger which was installed by the same guy that did the one for the ford dealership here.

      1. Marc Lee says:

        Sorry you are having the SSN issue. Hopefully it gets sorted out. Also the “fault while charging” issue has been noted by others. There has been discussion on fordfocuselectric.com and myfocuselectric.com.

        If I understand you correctly, and you have the Ford “branded” Leviton charger, then that would be the first time I have heard of that issue with that charger. Seems to me there was a work around.