You may recall that last week, for the very first time in my over a year of ownership and use of the Cheapest Car in the World, the mighty Changli let me down. This was a real blow to me, and, I think it’s safe to say, our entire global zeitgeist, which has been so battered as of late. But I want to say that this nightmare has ended; over the weekend, I have repaired the Changli, and it’s as mighty as ever, which is to say, not so mighty, but absolutely motile. I’ll explain.
I realize that there were many out there who saw the Changli’s failure and the resulting small electrical fire inches under my ass as a sort of justification for a lot of personal biases against a Chinese-built electric car that cost only about $1,235, with batteries.
Sure, I got stuck on the side of the road, and, yes, there were a few warm Big Gulps half-filled with melted-ice-diluted Mello Yello flung at me in rage and contempt, and of course I wasn’t crazy to hear this exchange from President Joe Biden’s recent meeting with Pope Francis:
From a leaked full transcript of the meeting I was given by an anonymous source:
President Biden: Hey Fran, did you hear about that idiot Torchinsky and his stupid cheap Chinese electric golf cart thing? Finally broke down on him! Stranded his ugly little ass!
Pope Francis: I knew it! I knew this would happen! That little man, he’s such a—how you say— dipped shit?
President Biden: Yes, yes, he is a dipshit! An ugly little dipshit!
Pope Francis: Sì, sì, molto brutto!
I’m not going to lie to you—those words hurt, especially coming from the leader of the Free World and the head of the Catholic Church. But I can’t let these cruel bigshots keep me, or the Changli down! I won’t let them. Maybe I am an ugly little dipshit, but this ugly little dipshit is going to fix his cheap-ass Chinese electric car!
It’s very on-brand for the Changli that the fix was simple and cheap, just like the car itself. When the Changli broke down, there was smoke coming from under the front seat, which houses the batteries, and I was able to trace it to a bundle of burned wires:
The shitty insulation on the wires had worn through, causing the wires to short against each other, and as these were wires coming directly from batteries, chock full of 65-ish volts worth of electrons, it didn’t take long for those shorting wires to get hot and melt everything into a huge, smoky mess.
I wasn’t sure if any other components had been affected by the short. It’s possible the motor controller got cooked or any number of other unfused electronics, but this core problem would have to be sorted before anything.
So, I disconnected the series-connected batteries from the wiring, then I just cut away the melted parts, cleaned everything up, and respliced the three wires back together, also using some striped, tough rubbery tape I had around to insulate everything.
Easy. Took five minutes. I turned the key, and like Changli magic, the dash display came on and showed a healthy, full battery, nothing was on fire, and all seemed good.
I popped it into reverse, the backup camera came on, and called my kid, Otto, to hop in with me for a test—and hopefully victory—drive.
It was fine! It appears that a short from the battery pack and a small fire weren’t enough to really damage any of the other important components, so that’s great.
Yes, the Changli failed for incredibly obvious and predictable reasons—the $1,200 car didn’t use particularly good materials and suffered from some haphazard quality control here and there—but the fix was trivial and cost me essentially nothing.
It’s hard to get any simpler or cheaper than the Changli, and while, yes, some of it is absolute crap, most of it isn’t. And we proved that, with experts.
I think the lesson here is that for longterm Changli ownership, pay attention to the really, really basic and simple stuff, because that seems to be where corners really get cut. Like simple insulation of bundles of wires.
Luckily, this stuff is easy to spot and fix or even improve, so overall I think, perversely, this failure actually made me believe even more in my ability to keep this goofy little shitbox going. Simplicity is a huge benefit to keeping things running, and that may be the one thing the Changli has more of than almost any other car.
So, yeah, shove it, Pope and President. The Changli’s back.