February 2010

The Dolphin passed a 17psi coolant system pressure test in the truck today.
It’s running very nicely now. Since I have to spend to much time under the hood I
added a toggle switch to the power steering pump relay. Man it’s a lot quieter
in the garage!

So now it’s time to test drive this 1 of the 4 boards that are here with the new
Classic Dropout mod. So far it’s worked perfectly.

Some wonderful people sent me a pair of Dolphins to repair. Someone before them
had been into both of them deeply and did some serious damage. Pins were not put
back into connectors properly. The fets on the charger board were not even
parallel to the base plate. Both main boards and chargers were toasted. Even the
GFI hardware was missing from both units. Parts were missing from one of the
dc-dc boards. So when these systems arrived they had one board out of 6 running.

The one charger was the very latest revision from USE as it had a new board and
revision I’d not seen before. Only one fet was shorted, the other was fine. My
standard rebuild is to replace both fets, both relays and the diode weather they
are bad or not. So that’s what it got. I was very happy to see that the T1
current transformer survived the onslaught of failure.

One main board had the standard shorted bridge rectifier that goes along with
the shorted charger fets. The fet driver pwm output was fine however. But it had
happily open circuited the traces that usually just get shorted to other things
and cause a whole other set of issues. So some jumpers were added to the new
bridge rectifier. The board made it through my long QC list of tests and runs
well in the truck. Both boards got the regen upgrade (I modify the Dolphin to
increase the regen output by 40%) and the Classic Dropout mods for vastly
improved reliability and a better driving experience.

Once the charger was supposedly rebuilt, and the main boards repaired, It was
time for a test run. The Dolphin booted fine. But as soon as the throttle was
pressed the Dolphin faulted with a sizable thunk and gave an IGBT fault. It
turned out that the large diode on the charger board, when shorted, ties the
motor’s neutral line to the pack negative. That’s essentially a short across the
output of the Dolphin. It was odd at the time that none of the Dolphins IGBT
fault circuitry was triggered. All of it was normal. Yet I got an IGBT fault. It
turns out that the software looks for a reasonable load at various throttle
positions. Since the load was nearly infinite at low throttle it protected
itself by disabling the IGBT’s by not energizing them rather than the IGBT
circuitry sending a fault.

Then there are the mice that got in these Dolphins. They love eating insulation
off of wiring. Especially teflon wire. Then of course they have to use the HV
section of the Dolphin board as the bathroom.

After all of the repair work, and the passing of the many bench tests, it was
time for a test drive. The first board had dropouts so badly, that it could not
even pull itself back into the garage. I would say a dropout every second. The
next board dropped out every 15-20 seconds. After much studying and testing over
4 years, this really bad board made it a little bit easier to diagnose what was
causing the classic dropouts. Thankfully I figured out the dropout issue as
these boards were destined for the scrap bin! I pulled a 3rd board out of
mothballs that had bad Classic Dropouts, and it too was cured of dropouts with
the mods I had made to the other two boards.

After performing the Classic Dropout mod, I took both Dolphin boards for another
ride in my truck. Zero dropouts at very high regen or very high acceleration.
Nice improvement! I went for a walk at the park to enjoy the rare sunshine. I
noticed a bad coolant leak as I walked back. The bottom plate on the Dolphin
chassis is just .125″ thick aluminum glued and screwed on. The glue is very
brittle. When I used my cooling system pressure tester on the radiator, the
Dolphin cooling plate squirted coolant all over. It’s almost impossible to get
the tiny red-loctited screws out. It takes quite a while to scrape all of the
adhesive off too. I’m about 60% done. Makes me think this is another ticking
time bomb. This is the second Dolphin I have had that has cooling plate leakage.

Time to get to it!

Better charger fets were ordered today. The wattage rating is double that of the original fets. The rds of the IXFH44N50P-ND is .140 ohms. Rds on a IXYS IXFH26N50Q-ND is 0.20 ohm vs 0.25 on the original IXFH21N50.

The original MR826 charger diodes are too hard to get. So I found an equivalent at Mouser. 625-GI828-E3, 5.0 Amp 800 Volt.

I found that all of my spare charger boards have a bad T1 transformer on them. The secondary is open circuited. Rick had rewound his 5 years ago. So I am ordering wire and going to rebuild all of mine as well. They hold 407 feet of either 40awg or 41awg. Rick rebuilt his with 40awg. My math shows that it should be 41awg.

Since I am swapping around complete Dolphin systems for testing, it made it very
easy to reach down and pull out a water pump brush. Was I surprised. The brush
still had about 85% of it’s length left after over 10k miles were put on it. The
originals only lasted a total of 10500 miles! What an improvement! If you look
at my photo album there are pics, descriptions and part numbers of the brushes I
bought and mdified for my water pump. They were only around $15 or something
compared to the $75+ factory brushes.

I thought for sure I’d be replacing them again. Some day I’ll pull the motor out
to check the commutator for wear since these are obviously harder brushes. Rough
math shows they will last about 60-70k miles.

Seriously. It’s freakin’ solved after 4 years of research….

One of the boards that arrived for repair last week, was by far the worst I’ve
ever seen for dropouts, and it flashed the fault indicator in a very radical
fashion. It is now perfectly drivable!! No dropouts under acceleration or regen!
I was in total disbelief!! It works? Must be a mistake!! So I grabbed the second
board in for repair. Dropped out every 15-20 seconds. Made the same
modifications to it. Now it’s smooth as glass too! Zero dropouts under
acceleration or regen!! I had a third board laying around for years who’s only
crime was having massive repetitive dropouts. The modifications completely
stopped all traces of dropouts on it too. All 3 of these boards drive perfectly
now! Am I dreaming!!?? Feels like the Twilight Zone around here!!

Three boards saved from the junk pile. I have seen many more just like them.
That feels so good!! Many owners have this problem right now.

The Dolphin hardware has component values that are just barely within spec. With
miles of driving, time, and thermal cycles, the hardware goes out of spec, and
the Dolphin starts faulting, usually without any faults shown in Dolcom/Dol7.
I’ve posted this in the past. But the faults are felt as a sudden shudder in the
drive train. An instant loss and then instant return of power lasting only a
split second. It can rattle your fillings loose!! Some do it rapid fire, one
dropout after another. It’s all the same problem with the hardware going out of
spec. I found the faulty hardware!! Finally!!

During this research, I found an old quality control document from USE. It was a
long list of things that needed to be checked on their test fixture after each
board was assembled. The items on that list were very telling. So I have figured
out the procedure for checking most of the items on that list on my test
fixture. This ensures that the board gets thoroughly checked. I use it on every
board, just like the factory did.

Since it’s still very cold over most of the country, now is the best time to
have the offending boards with dropout issues repaired. The cold always makes
the dropouts worse. It’s the best season to ensure that the boards work in the
worst conditions of the year. Dropouts are less common in the warm months.

Send me your board and I’ll make the classic dropout modification and put your
board through the checkout list on my test fixture for $50 + shipping. Pack your
board very carefully, like it was your first born baby.