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VIDEO: Hack of 2011 Nissan Leaf Provides Faster Charging, But is it Safe?

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2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

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Charge Anxiety, the fear that your electric car won’t charge up as quickly as you need it to may be one step further away if you’re a 2011 Nissan Leaf owner willing to throw caution to the wind and hack your $25,000 bundle of joy. 

At least that’s the message coming from a select group of 2011 Nissan Leaf owners who feel that the included portable  Level 1 Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE to those in the know) that comes with the electric five seat family hatch isn’t quite up to the job. 

In a move as predictable as the changing of the seasons, a group of hardcore EV enthusiasts have taken the standard 110V Level 1 ‘portable EVSE’ that ships with every Nissan Leaf and hacked it to support 220V Level 2 charging

The Desire to be Free

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

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In an ideal world, EV charging points would exist everywhere, from freeway rest stops through to the local grocery store.  But while dedicated Level 2 and Level 3 charge stations are still being implemented, owners keen to take their Leafs outside of the urban jungle are stuck with a question. Where to charge? 

While their Tesla-owning brethren have been enjoying the freedom to access reasonably fast charging wherever power presents itself courtesy of the $1500 Universal Mobile Connector, drivers of the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevrolet Volt have been forced to charge from domestic 110V outlets when a specialised charging station could not be found. 

For the Leaf, that equates to little more than a few miles for every hour plugged in, and a total charge time expressed in double digits. 

An Impatient, Yet Functional Solution

In a short few months, several firms are promising factory-built portable EVSE that can charge an electric car at level 2 up to 32 Amps.  

For now though, the lack of portable Level 2 EVSE on the market prompted the investigation. Could a factory-built portable EVSE Level 1 unit be hacked to produce a portable Level 2 unit? 

If initial tests are anything to go by the answer is a resounding yes. By adding appropriate ‘pigtail’ connectors to a modified EVSE, Leaf owners have the chance to charge up wherever they find a 110V or 240V outlet, regardless of the socket type presented.  

Void Your Warranty, Screw Your Insurance

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

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Let’s be completely frank. We knew it would only be a matter of time before someone somewhere hacked their factory-built EV. 

But while we’re fans of the traditions of electric vehicle ownership where people tinkered in their workshops late into the night to produce some truly amazing and versatile converted electric cars, factory built EVs are a whole different matter.

Just like anyone who converts their Toyota Prius into a plug-in Prius there are inherent dangers to modifying an EVSE.

Not only is it possible to do harm to the EVSE unit, but an untested modification like this could even destroy all or part of your car. A single error in execution in such a modification could result in a very expensive paperweight.

As a hobbyist, mistakes and errors are part of the fun of building an electric car. They’re an inevitable part of the process, something this author has learnt many times.

But while most do-it-yourself EV projects are reasonably simple to fix even without a warranty, the Nissan Leaf is a complex and expensive car to fix when things go wrong - especially if you just voided your warranty

Conclusion

If you want an EVSE you can take with you for your 2011 Nissan Leaf that costs a whole lot less than the ones predicted to come to market soon, or you just want to satisfy some nomadic instinct the modification is just for you. 

But, and it is a big but, you risk voiding your car’s warranty, damaging your car and even perhaps yourself.  We think waiting for a commercial unit would make more sense, unless you are an accomplished electric engineer or are willing to take the consequences if things go wrong.  

Modifying your EVSE? It seems to work and it's cheap. But don't expect Nissan to help you if things go wrong.  Consider yourself duly warned. 


[MyNissanLeaf]

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Comments (27)
  1. I think they'll be ok as long as they're not increasing the power through the cable and connector beyond spec. My guess would be that they've taken advantage of the fact that the EVSE is designed for 240V for european use and so they're still using it within the design spec. If not, then part two of the video would be them scraping melted plastic off of the front of the Leaf where the J1772 connector has over-heated.
    If it is in spec, well, they've just halved their charge time. Not a bad upgrade.
     
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  2. I'm very interested by this as it always impresses me how little patience people have with waiting for "official" and "safe" solutions for charging their EV. There were similar reports early on for hacking the Tesla roadster which made sense as there wasn't much infrastructure for charging stations yet. But with Level 2 chargers popping up everywhere (They even have them at Buffalo Wild Wings here in Orlando) it seems a bit risky for the extra juice.
    I've been trying to win a Nissan Leaf through a video contest they are running and I'm excited at the prospect of having a vehicle that I can charge at anyones 110v outlet while I'm shopping. The hack seems to aggressive for my needs. If you have a moment, please vote for me:
    http://goo.gl/jITAw
    and tell your friends to vote:
    http://HankHillNeedsALeaf.com
     
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  3. As the engineer who developed the EVSE upgrade, I'd like to point out that it's highly unlikely that this modification could damage ANY part of a car, let alone destroy "all of your car" as mentioned in the article.

    Additionally, in the US it would be difficult for Nissan to attempt to void your warranty for using any EVSE, just as it would be if you used a different brand of tires. (see the Magnuson-Moss warranty act.) Of course, the warranty would be void on the EVSE itself if it is upgraded, but this cannot affect the car.


    For those that don't know; the EVSE is basically a "smart" power cable, it is not a charger! This means that there is no processing of the input power, rather, it is simply passed through to the car. The EVSE's job is safety; it is mainly to protect the humans that connect and disconnect the cable, sometimes in wet or other dangerous environments. It also instructs the real charger which is located in the car, to adapt to the power capabilities that the local electrical system can provide. In other words, if the local power supply is only capable of 10 amps, the EVSE "tells" the car charger to only use up to 10 amps.
    (continued below)
     
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  4. (continued)
    Our EVSE upgrade has been thoroughly tested and meets all the safety standards as originally designed. None of the critical power handling components have been changed.
    I'd like to also be clear, you cannot put voltages over 120V into the stock unmodified EVSE, as it will fail and you will be left with a dead unit.
    Also, just to be inform; Power systems in the US use 120v or 240v, and have been that way for a long time. "110 volts" hasn't been in use since before WW2. (disclaimer: you can find 208v in certain industrial power systems, but our EVSE upgrade will auto-adujst for this voltage as well.)
     
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  5. As far as this L1 EVSE upgrade damaging the car is complete nonsense for many reasons, in fact while operating at 240V the car is even more protected than 120V. Incidentally, those are the real voltages we have in the US not 110 and 220V as the writer claims. Besides, it can not void your warranty in the US based on the Mag. M. act.
     
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  6. It's true that the entire vehicle warranty would not be voided. However, in addition to the cordset warranty being voided, any problems caused to the vehicle by charging it in this manner would absolutely become the financial responsibility of the customer under typical OEM policy. This is no different from any other modification done to a vehicle, whether new tires as Ingineer points out, to having an alarm system installed. If you change something and it causes problems, it's your responsibility.
     
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  7. As has been pointed out this cannot damage the pack or the car. Worst case scenario is the EVSE becomes non functional and the car shows an error and fails to charge. However it's simple to implement correctly and obviously has been done so. The fear of damage simply arises from a poor understanding of what's actually involved. It might be a good idea to have more technically minded people write these types of articles.
     
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  8. JRP3,
    I know from first hand experience what happens when a stock vehicle is modified or connected with a modifed EVSE without full safety measures being implemented: a non-functioning vehicle with an expensive repair bill.
    Just like playing with a gasoline engine if you don't know your stuff, playing around with an electric car can be dangerous.
    If you re-read, we're saying that for most consumers it may not be a smart move. For those who like to tinker, or understand what's happening then it's perfectly okay.
     
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  9. I'm in the MINI-E program (like Michael Thwaite above)and I know some of the other MINI-E drivers that have done the same thing. The portable level 1 charger that comes with the car does work when you feed it 240v. From what I'm told, and I have never done it (I really haven't the need to) is that the portable EVSE equipment(made by Clipper Creek) gets pretty hot, but does handle it. I'm not a fan of overheating electrical components myself, but I suppose once in a while in a pinch, as long as you monitor it and it's not inside your house. I'd like to know the wire size in Nissan's portable level 1 EVSE that he was using though.
     
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  10. Hmm, perhaps we shouldn't meddle... openly anyway, whilst the engineers amongst us understand the boundaries & the effects of higher current through cables & connectors, the fire on the "Pearl of Scandinavia" was probably caused by an overloaded or dirty connector. http://bit.ly/ifxHU5
    If Joe 'Have-a-go' starts hacking we may have a PR nightmare; the EV will get the blame not the hacker.
    @Tom; didn't know the MINI E portable charger could do that - nice, & congrats on getting the last word on the BMW vid!
     
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  11. As the first to order and use this modification, let me just say that it works well and makes the portable EVSE provided with the LEAF a much more versatile piece of equipment. Furthermore, I have used it several times now, with both 120v and 240v charging, and I haven't killed the car or myself in the slightest.
    Oh, and if you would be so kind as to not use my (non-public) YouTube videos without express permission.
     
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  12. Actually, it will not void the warranty on any part of the car, this has been proven and tested by the Mag. M. Act and the entire aftermarket parts industry. As far as it harming the the car Nikki you are confusing the facts a bit. The EVSE will only supply what is demanded by the charger (even if it fails in any way), it is NOT a charger. There is no way it will damage any part of your car, one would need to go to great lengths to make this happen including changing the power feed to the EVSE, it's simply a false claim. Adding an aftermarket charger to your EV without appropriate protection or BMS, etc is a much different issue, even a proper AM charger installed could fail and cause pack issues but AN EVSE supplies AC power and the charger does the control. It's unfortunate when blogs like this spread fear based on inaccurate comparisons likely due to a lack of technical knowledge. It's almost fear mongering since the entire article stresses issues that simply can't happen. These are facts not speculation.
     
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  13. Michael,
    We're sorry to have caused you any upset over this, but would like to point out that as you had publicly published the video on a public Internet forum before we embedded the video (and had not prevented re-embeding the video from Youtube) that you had decided to make the video public.
    We would very much like to formally ask for your permission to embed as we feel our readers would be interested in your experience.
     
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  14. To be clear, no person should modify their EVSE or any electrical device unless they are extremely experienced and competent in this area. An incompetent person could get shocked, cause a short on the AC side, blow up the EVSE, etc. An EVSE is a smart power cord that turns the power on and off and tells the charger it's current supply capacity. In addition the AMP load on the unit is the same on 120 or 240V so the wire rating is the same. The real danger is unqualified people tinkering with the EV power electronics not using a properly upgraded EVSE like the one used in Europe. People have been upgrading EVSEs since the AVCON.
     
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  15. Nikki, you did the right thing by bringing this story to light as it's created a very lively and healthy debate.
    If the author didn't want people watching and talking about his hack, he shouldn't have put it on the slightly popular and open thing called the internet.
     
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  16. Nikki....not upset in the slightest. But the video shows a couple of things that I did not intended for a widespread audience, and which could easily be misinterpreted outside the context in which you found it. Therefore, I must respectfully decline your request in this case.
     
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  17. @Michael Thwaite,
    More likely the Pearl fire was the result of the BMS not shutting off the charger when the batteries were full. That specific BMS caused charging problems in another Qashqai from the same conversion company, the one that went around the world. In that case I believe the BMS would not allow the charger to operate at it's rated capacity, causing long recharge times. (Of course that's a better failure mode than what might have happened on the Pearl.) I don't think they use that BMS any longer.
    Other than an over heated plug from a poorly made connection I'm not sure the EVSE hack could do anything other than either work properly or throw an error code and prevent charging. Certainly if you can't properly wire a plug you have no business messing about with electricity.
     
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  18. Until the promised ubiquitous public L2 and L3 charging finally arrives, a 220 volt portable cord set is essential to the utility of my EV. But I will use a purpose designed device rather than modifying the cord supplied by Nissan.
     
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  19. Embedded link isn't working, here is the direct link to the video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzwgkfj43PE
     
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  20. None of this seems difficult; once you understand the circuit in the unit, modifying and testing can proceed easily. This ain't Voodoo just EE work. I expect one of the next mods for the Leaf would be to increase the power of its charger to take advantage of the J1772 spec. I think then the EVSE would be worth the price.
     
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  21. @lad "I expect one of the next mods for the Leaf would be to increase the power of its charger to take advantage of the J1772 spec."
    That would be some serious mod. You have to change the charger and bms control firmware.
     
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  22. This is very interesting for me because I have a rather unusual requirement... I want to limit the carge rate to 6A @ 240V. I am in the UK and have a solar PV system that can only supply a max of 6A and if I use the standard EVSE at 10A then I will need to buy from the grid even on sunny days. If anyone knows how I could limit the charge rate with the standard EVSE to 6A please get in touch @nissanleafowner
     
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  23. This is very cool - hopefully Nissan and other EV manufacturers see this and use it to inspire them to make their cars even more efficient. Another announcement by Siemens shows they have a new way for smartphone users to get the most out of their electric car charge, and it will work with the new charging stations that will be installed across the US; http://bit.ly/fzpYZP
     
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  24. Nikki: I know you had a bad experience with modifying your Prius, and I'm sorry that had to happen to you.
    However, as other smart people have pointed out here, there is no way an EVSE can overcharge or even put more current into the car the the car's intelligent charger dictates. To be ultra clear: the EVSE simply is a safety device that just insures people don't get hurt and breaks power for connect/disconnect so the connector life is not impacted. It does not modify or process power in any way, it simply passes it through. The real charger is in the vehicle and it has all the intelligence. The EVSE does indeed request that the car to limit it's power usage to whatever is safe for the local power supply.
    In our upgrade to the Nissan L1 EVSE, we did not modify the pilot signal request that's sent to the car, so the amperage has not been increased. Also; the relative voltage over ground is still only 120v. There is almost zero chance or anything bad happening. I bet my livelihood on it! =)
    Shame on you for disseminating false information!
     
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  25. @Ev Now Now:
    Yes you are right about the need to replace the charger and we know that; however, the Leaf doesn't have a separate BMS, the charger takes care of over charging, etc. Adding a 6kw charger and removing the current 3kw charger plus a understanding of the associate circuits to allow a hack is all you need. And believe me it will be done. Also, I expect to see someone build a tow-along trailer to increase the mileage, perhaps with a genset. If one wants better performance, a different motor and or a upgraded controller would do the job. The Leaf is a platform just crying to be purpose engineered.
     
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  26. @Lad - actually the Leaf has a significant BMS. There's a controller in the battery box that does diagnostics, data collection, and cell balancing. Data is sent to the main car controller via CAN buss. The car's first priority is protecting the battery and there's a redundant nest of systems to make that happen.
     
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  27. I've just received my Leaf and would like to know a little more about what you all are talking about. The video has been removed. Could somebody point me to the salient facts. It's looks like you just provide 240v to included "charger." I'd like to know how it tells the car to draw 3.3kw rather than 1.2kw.
    Thanks.
     
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