Custom Engine Parts from a Backyard Foundry

Building a car engine can be a labor of love. Making everything perfect in terms of both performance and appearance is part engineering and part artistry. Setting your creation apart from the crowd is important, and what better way to make it your own than by casting your own parts from old beer cans?

[kingkongslie] has been collecting parts for a dune buggy build, apparently using the classic VW Beetle platform as a starting point. The air-cooled engine of a Bug likes to breathe, so [kingkongslie] decided to sand-cast a custom crankcase breather from aluminum.

Casting solid parts is a neat trick but hardly new; we’ve covered the techniques for casting plastic, pewter, and even soap. The complexity of this project comes from the fact that the part needs to be hollow. [kingkongslie] managed this with a core made of play sand and sodium silicate from radiator stop-leak solution hardened with a shot of carbon dioxide. Sure, it looks like a Rice Krispie treat, but a core like that will stand up to the molten aluminum while becoming weak enough to easily remove later. The whole complex mold was assembled, beer cans melted in an impromptu charcoal and hair-dryer foundry, and after one false start, a shiny new custom part emerged from the sand.

We’ve got to hand it to [kingkongslie] – this was a nice piece of work that resulted in a great looking part. But what we love about this is not only all the cool casting techniques that were demonstrated but also the minimalist approach to everything. We can all do stuff like this, and we probably should.

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Books You Should Read: The Car Hacker’s Handbook

I just had my car in for an inspection and an oil change. The garage I take my car to is generally okay, they’re more honest than a stealership, but they don’t cross all their t’s and dot all their lowercase j’s. A few days after I picked up my car, low and behold, I noticed the garage didn’t do a complete oil change. The oil life indicator wasn’t reset, which means every time I turn my car on, I’ll have to press a button to clear an ominous glowing warning on my dash.

For my car, resetting the oil life indicator is a simple fix – I just need to push the button on the dash until the oil life indicator starts to blink, release, then hold it again for ten seconds. I’m at least partially competent when it comes to tech and embedded systems, but even for me, resetting the oil life sensor in my car is a bit obtuse. For the majority of the population, I can easily see this being a reason to take a car back to the shop; the mechanic either didn’t know how to do it, or didn’t know how to use Google.

The two most technically complex things I own are my car and my computer, and there is much more information available on how to fix or modify any part of my computer. If I had a desire to modify my car so I could read the value of the tire pressure monitors, instead of only being notified when one of them is too low, there’s nowhere for me to turn.

2015 was the year of car hacks, ranging from hacking ECUs to pass California emissions control standards, Google and Tesla’s self-driving cars, to hacking infotainment systems to drive reporters off the road. The lessons learned from these hacks are a hodge-podge of forum threads, conference talks, and articles scattered around the web. While you’ll never find a single volume filled with how to exploit the computers in every make and model of automobile, there is space for a reference guide on how to go about this sort of car hacking.

I was given the opportunity to review The Car Hacker’s Handbook by Craig Smith (259p, No Starch Press). Is it a guide on how to plug a dongle into my car and clear the oil life monitor the hard way? No, but you wouldn’t want that anyway. Instead, it’s a much more informative tome on penetration testing and reverse engineering, using cars as the backdrop, not the focus.

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Reverse Engineering A Nissan Leaf Battery Pack

Batteries wear out. If you are an electric vehicle enthusiast, it’s a certainty that at some time in your not-too-distant future there will be a point at which your vehicle’s batteries have reached the end of their lives and will need to be replaced. If you have bought a new electric vehicle the chances are that you will be signed up to a leasing deal with the manufacturer which will take care of this replacement, but if you have an older vehicle this is likely to be an expensive moment.

Fortunately there is a tempting solution. As an increasing number of electric vehicles from large manufacturers appear on our roads, a corresponding number of them have become available on the scrap market from accident damage. It is thus not impossible to secure a fairly new lithium-ion battery pack from a modern electric car, and for a significantly lower price than you would pay for new cells. As always though, there is a snag. Such packs are designed only for the cars they came with, and have proprietary connectors and protocols with which they communicate with their host vehicle. Fitting them to another car is thus not a task for the faint hearted.

Hackaday reader [Wolf] has an electric truck, a Solectria E10. It has a set of elderly lead-acid batteries and would benefit hugely from an upgrade to lithium-ion. He secured a battery pack from a 2013 Nissan Leaf electric car, and he set about reverse engineering its battery management system (BMS). The Solectria will use a different battery configuration from the Leaf, so while he would like to use the Leaf’s BMS, he has had to reverse engineer its protocols so that he can replace its Nissan microcontroller with one of his own.

His description of the reverse engineering process is lengthy and detailed, and with its many photos and videos is well worth a read. He employs some clever techniques, such as making his own hardware simulation of a Li-ion cell so that he can supply the BMS known values that he can then sniff from the serial data stream.

We’ve covered quite a few EV batteries here at Hackaday. Quite recently we even covered another truck conversion using Leaf batteries, and last year we featured a Leaf battery teardown. We’ve not restricted ourselves to Nissan though, for example here’s a similar process with a Tesla Model S pack.

A Hot Rod Roadster From A Rusty Wreck

Within our community of hackers and makers you may sometimes encounter a belief that we have somehow regained a hold on the workshop lost by everyone else. But while it might be true that some of the general population may barely know one end of a screwdriver from the other it’s a huge overstatement to claim exclusivity. There are plenty of other scenes blessed with an astonishing level of engineering skill and from which breathtaking projects emerge, and it is a great pity that sometimes they exist in isolation from each other.

One such scene is that of car modification. By this we don’t mean the youths with their inadequately powered bottom-feeder cars adorned with deformed plastic, fake carbon fibre and farty exhaust pipe extensions from Halfords or Advance Auto, nor do we mean the silly-priced professional hotrods beloved of certain cable TV reality shows. Instead we mean the ordinary car hackers who take the unexciting and unloved of the automotive world into their garages and through a combination of vision and skill fashion it into something amazing. As an illustration of this art we’d like to introduce you to [ScaryOldCortina]’s “Mayday”. It’s a build from a few years ago, but no less impressive for the elapsed time.

A very rusty Austin Somerset indeed
A very rusty Austin Somerset indeed

If you are British the chances are your grandparents might have driven an Austin Somerset in the early 1950s. An unexciting mid-sized chassis-based saloon car that wasn’t badly designed but had all the inadequate rust protection you’d expect from a car of that era. A Somerset arrived in [ScaryOldCortina]’s garage that looked solid but turned out on inspection to be rusty enough that it could almost be disassembled with a hefty tug on some of the panels. He could have scrapped it, but instead he refashioned it into something a lot more exciting, a two-seater hotrod roadster. In a particularly impressive touch, he re-used most of the metal from the Somerset in its new body in a different form, for example its curved roof was cut in half to form the side panels of the new car.

The full build is in a very long thread on the Retro Rides car forum. If you read it from start to finish you’ll find an in-depth description of the minutiae of the 1950s British car parts bin, but if that will be a bit much for you we have some highlights.

When the car arrived, in his first post you can see just how far the rust had eaten into an outwardly complete vehicle and how easily he could strip away its panels. Fortunately the Somerset is a chassis-based car, so underneath the rusty bodywork was a rolling chassis which had miraculously escaped the worst of the corrosion. His vision for the car required the chassis to be shortened, but he was able to place the panels on the chassis to get an idea of what it might look line before getting out the cutter and welder and assembling the new body tub. A lot of hard work assembling the running gear into a roadworthy form and making its unlovely Austin “B” series engine into something a little more useful, and he was finally able to take it for a short test drive. The car passed all the relevant tests for British roadworthiness, and made a very cool piece of transport.

Happily though it’s the first to feature so much rust this is not the first Hackaday story involving the hacking of ancient automobiles. We recently had a look at the hacking potential of Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle, we’ve examined the work of professional TV hot-rodders when challenged over their authenticity, we’ve taken a look at Cuba’s surviving pre-revolutionary American cars, and we’ve featured a crazy project involving a Mini and a Toyota Celica.

From Rusty Cargo Van to Mobile Studio

Looking for a more unique living experience, [Zach Both] converted a 2003 Chevy Express Van he picked up from Craigslist into a gorgeous mobile home.

The van had 200,000 miles when he bought it. The body and frame were a bit rusty, but he saw the potential. First step was gutting the entire van, and getting rid of any surface rust with an angle grinder. It was a long and tedious process, but once it was done he had a blank slate to work with. Continue reading “From Rusty Cargo Van to Mobile Studio”

Ask Hackaday: Where are the Flying Cars?

I could have sworn that we have asked this one before, but perhaps I’m thinking of our discussion of nuclear aircraft. In my mind the two share a similar fate: it just isn’t going to happen. But, that doesn’t mean flying cars can’t happen. Let me make my case, and then we want to know what you think.

[Steve] sent in a link to a Bloomberg article on Larry Page’s suspected investment in personal flying cars. It’s exciting to hear about test flights from a startup called Zee.Aero with 150 people on staff and a seemingly unlimited budget to develop such a fantastic toy. Surely Bruce Wayne Mr. Page is onto something and tiny 2-person vehicles will be whizzing up and down the airspace above your street at any moment now? Realistically though, I don’t believe it. They definitely will build a small fleet of such vehicles and they will work. But you, my friend, will never own one.
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Hacking The Tesla Model S Rear Drive Unit

[Jason Hughes] is a big fan of Tesla, he’s spent a lot of time hacking on them to figure out what fancy things the automaker is up to. His most recent adventures are with the rear drive unit of a Tesla Model S.

[Jason] has had some fame in the Tesla community before; his most publicized hack was finding the model number for Tesla’s next edition of their car hashed away in the firmware. For this project he procured a rear drive unit from… somewhere, and with some help got it onto his bench at home.

His first steps were to hook it up to some power and start sniffing the CAN bus for commands. It took him a few hours but he was able to get the motor turning. He kept working at it until he had the full set of commands. So, he hooked up circulating water to the unit for cooling, and put it through its paces (at one point the unit announced it was now traveling at 117mph).

In the end he was able to get all the features working, including generation! He even made his own board for contrl. Just listening to the motor spin up is satisfying. Videos after the break.

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