A friend of mine has had a couple of electric cars, and I’ve always been curious about them, especially since used examples have gotten so cheap. A used Nissan Leaf can be had for as little as $5,000 now! So while not being able to sleep, I got sucked into a wormhole about one of the most primitive early EVs you could be driving right now: the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
The i-MiEV (“Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle“) is an egg-shaped EV, one of the first attempts by a mainstream automaker to sell an EV that wasn’t lease-only, or outrageously expensive. The i-MiEV started life as a gas-powered Kei car (tiny), popular in Japan from the year 2006 to about 2012. When it was converted to an EV, Mitsubishi added a 16 kWh battery and a 70ish HP rear-mounted electric motor. The car also got some extra inches added to the width and length, since we Americans tend to be, um, more rotund than the rest of the world.
I’d spent hours looking at video reviews and informational material about the i-MiEV when I stumbled on the BenjaminNelson YouTube channel. The host seems to be a DIY efficiency enthusiast and the channel is about “Electric car and motorcycle conversion videos. Alternative Energy and homebrew DIY can-do videos!” per its own description. I found myself particularly fascinated with the saga of a brand-new i-MiEV he bought at a salvage auction back in 2013. The catch being: The car had been flooded up to nearly the window line during Hurricane Sandy. What’s the worst that could happen?
On YouTube, there are plenty of salvage title rebuilders. To me, it seems like flood damage would be easiest to rebuild, no? At least with a gas car, standing water shouldn’t be too much of a threat to an engine, lest it somehow makes its way inside the engine. I can’t imagine that a flooded electric car would be much harder. Just gotta rinse everything off, then set the whole damn car in rice. It’ll dry out, then you’ve got a new, working i-MiEV for dirt cheap! Right?
The sixteen-part video playlist chronicling the flooded i-MiEV story outlines how damaging saltwater is to automotive electronics. Although the body and interior are generally clean-looking, nearly every electrical connection or control board that the seawater flood touched, had been destroyed.
The Mitsubishi battery is advertised as “watertight” but it was also air-cooled. The battery has ducting for air to pass over the lithium-ion cells, cooling them down. Water from the hurricane made its way into the air ducting, flooding and ruining the battery.
Although the interior looked fine, the I-MiEV’s brains are mounted underneath the rear seat, which had been completely submerged with water. All of the connections and logic boards are fried.
A closer inspection revealed terrible corrosion from the vehicle’s main battery, to the motor controller.
Logic boards with fancy microprocessors manage the 22 battery modules that make up the i-MiEV’s battery. Saltwater has caused corrosion on all of the very tiny connections on most of the logic boards, rendering them all useless.
After more testing, Nelson called it quits, and sold the broken i-MiEV to someone else in search of a parts car. Woof. Nearly everything the saltwater touched, was ruined. The project’s documented on the site 300mpg.org too, if you’re curious about some more specifics.
After watching those videos, I’ll think twice before I screw around with a flooded vehicle! But it was still pretty interesting to see the partially dismantled i-MiEV and see what, exactly, a hurricane bath would do to a small EV.