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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi there! My wife and I just purchased a 1980 Electravan from a friend in New Orleans and towed it back home to Minneapolis. We're in love with it. Short version of the Electravan story: Jet Industries in Austin TX bought the empty chassis of a few hundred Subaru Sambars and installed GE electric motors in them. The things we know we need to do before driving it are:

-repair/replace destroyed rear driver side brake cylinder. The rubber cups disintegrated, fluid pours out. I think we fixed this by taking the spring, pistons and cups from a different cylinder with the same diameter and installing them into the old cylinder body. If anyone thinks this is a terrible idea, please say so and explain why! FWIW, the other three brakes are still in good shape and the emergency brake still works.

-reline rear driver side brake shoes. The linings disintegrated along with the cylinder cups. The shoes for this van are just as difficult to find as the cylinders, so we are having them relined at a local brake shop and will reinstall the old shoes.

-replace the batteries. The current set is a mismatched bunch of ThunderSky LiFePO4 cells that were only installed by the previous owner to provide enough juice to get the van onto the trailer. They are fairly swollen and we are going to replace the whole set. We'll need to get up to 120V and would like at least 200 AH (24 Kwh). This should give us about 60 mile range, though we won't really know until we get it going. We're leaning toward 36 of the blue 3.2V bricks that seem to run about $75 each on Alibaba. Does anyone have experience with these? I'd love some input on batteries before we plunk down thousands of bucks.

Here's some information from evalbum about the van from our friend.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or experiences to share! We're extremely excited to get this guy up and bumping around town.

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I've heard some good things about Alibaba prismatic cells. Look online for "cheap lifepo4 solar cells" since solar seems to be the most common use of this type of battery.

Sounds like the previous owner didn't use a BMS with the lifepo4 cells. If you want your batteries to last and don't want to start a fire, a BMS is absolutely needed. The lifepo4 chemistry is quite safe in overcharge scenarios compared to lithium ion cells that production EVs mostly use, but they're still no toy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Cool, thanks for the reply. We are planning to use a BMS. Is there a particular BMS that people like for DIY builds?
 

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The Orion BMS is popular. There's loads of options, and they'll all do what you want just fine. Orion, Dilithium, SimpBMS are the ones I've seen the most.
 

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Pretty cool little van. I like that it's Subaru based. Do you have more photos of the motor and interior? I think it's possible to reconfigure a Nissan Leaf battery into a 120v pack. You would wire the modules in series in groups of 15 and have 3 groups paralleled using 45 of the 48 cells. That would give you 123v at full charge and a little under 80 volts at empty. that might be a cheaper option for you.
 

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Pretty cool little van. I like that it's Subaru based. Do you have more photos of the motor and interior? I think it's possible to reconfigure a Nissan Leaf battery into a 120v pack. You would wire the modules in series in groups of 15 and have 3 groups paralleled using 45 of the 48 cells. That would give you 123v at full charge and a little under 80 volts at empty. that might be a cheaper option for you.
May not be cheaper. It's reccomended that you run a separate BMS for each parallel module string.

Tesla modules might be your best bet. 22v nominal each, so 6 of them would be perfect.
 

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May not be cheaper. It's reccomended that you run a separate BMS for each parallel module string.

Tesla modules might be your best bet. 22v nominal each, so 6 of them would be perfect.
Would it be necessary for individual BMSs on a low-power vehicle like this? The original motor is only 22kw or so. There are lots of people running Leaf modules in parallel treating groups of cells as one. Orion even shows how to wire them like this in their manual (page 3): https://www.orionbms.com/manuals/pdf/nissan_leaf_modules.pdf
 

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Good find!

Yes it looks like you're right for Leaf modules. I've spent a lot of time looking through their documentation for parallel strings (particularly with Tesla modules) and assumed it would also apply to nissan leaf modules. I suppose it makes sense since each Leaf module is much smaller and has much less capacity (as well as less connections in series and parallel).

Power consumption has little to do with the need for potentially multiple BMSes though. Cells can still become unbalanced in a low current application.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for the suggestions, y'all. We will look into these battery and BMS ideas. We've been a little scared of using the proprietary packs because of our lack of experience, and thought it would be good training to do all the circuit building ourselves with clearly visible batteries. Also, we thought we could maybe trust new batteries more than taking a gamble on salvaged packs. Here are a few interior pictures of the Electravan...

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What a super cool and quirkly little utilitarian van! You can fit lots of EV parts in the back! Is that wrapping paper on the dashboard haha?
 
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