It’s been one full year that I’ve now spent with the cheapest new car I could find to buy, and feel like it has been an absolute triumph, possibly one of the very few non-awful decisions I’ve made in my life. The Changli Freeman, the $1,200 Chinese electric car I ordered from the website Alibaba, has proven itself to be so very much more than I ever could have imagined. Let’s take a look at how a year of ownership and use has affected this wonderful, ridiculous machine.
Just in case you’d like both a refresher and an alarming look at what a year of aging does to a human, here’s the first video we shot of the Changli, when I was eagerly and wetly freeing it from the cardboard cocoon it traveled halfway around the world in:
I want to note that one thing that came up often in comments on videos, articles, personal conversations, telegrams, and late-night anonymous phone calls was that while, sure, I’ve been seduced by the bare minimum of quality that the car demonstrated when new, many people did not think the Changli would age with grace at all.
People insisted that there was no way this car would last any appreciable amount of time. I was told many times that one morning after a few months or a bad rainstorm or perhaps the winter, I’d wake up to find the Changli had been transformed into a rust-colored mound, held up by four dry-rotted tires.
That has very much not been the case. The Changli is still here, still solid, still running. And it’s not like I’ve been babying it, or even been especially careful with it.
It’s not garaged; it sits out in the (often considerable) rain, it’s been covered in ice, bird shit, mud, you name it. I took it to the track and hooned the crap out of it:
...and while it was there, four big dudes crammed into it and managed to drive it around, even.
I took it on a long road trip to get it professionally evaluated by professionals:
...and I’ve even hauled my crappy canoe with it:
I use the thing on a shockingly regular basis, too, as I happen to live in a town with a lot of 25 mph-or-less streets that lead to places you actually may want to go. I get groceries in it, pick up takeout, go to the auto parts store, take the kid to his friend’s house, go to the bank, whatever. It’s actually a useable around-town vehicle.
It’s actually better than a real car in many ways, because you can park it pretty much anywhere—in an alley against a wall, in little forgotten not-quite-spots in parking lots, hidden behind trees, you name it. Our own David Tracy came out to visit and we took it out on the town one night and it was comically easy to find a place to park in the busy college-town downtown area, normally an irritating, time-consuming process. There’s a lot of great things about tooling around in a 2/5-scale car.
Battery life has likely degraded a bit, but the honest truth is it’s not been enough to really notice; maybe that first block disappears a little quicker, but I’ve yet to run out of juice anywhere.
There has been some wear, though most issues are ones I already noticed in the first three months; the only real bigger issues are that one of the tires went flat and won’t hold air, and the already crappy front bumper came apart.
Really, though, that’s it! Watch the video for all the details, inside and out, top and bottom, but the spoiler here is that the cheapest car in the world that did not, shockingly, appear to be a piece of shit when new, is still not a piece of shit now that it’s a year old.
We still have plans to upgrade the power, so, as always, stay tuned!