Exploring An Aftermarket LED Headlight Retrofit Kit

There’s plenty of debate about drop-in LED headlight bulbs, especially when they’re used with older reflector housings that were designed for halogen bulbs. Whether or not you personally feel the ultra-bright lights are a nuisance, or even dangerous, one thing we can all agree on is that they’re clearly the result of some impressive engineering.

Which is why we were fascinated to see the teardown [TechChick] did on a “Ultra 2 LED” retrofit from GTR Lighting. Apparently one of the diodes was failing, and as part of the warranty replacement process, she was informed she had to make it completely inoperable. Sounds like a teardown dream come true. If a manufacturer ever told us we needed to take something apart with extreme prejudice and provide photographic evidence that the deed was done, we’d be all too happy to oblige.

The driver itself ended up being completely filled with potting compound, so she doesn’t spend much time there. Some will no doubt be annoyed that [TechChick] didn’t break out the small pointy implements and dig all that compound out, but we all pretty much know what to expect when it comes to driving LEDs. The real interesting bit is the bulb itself.

As is common with these high-output automotive LEDs, the Ultra 2 is actively cooled with a small fan that’s actually enclosed within the heatsink. With the fan and the two-piece heatsink removed, she’s able to access the LED module itself. Here, two PCBs are sandwiched back to back with a hollow copper chamber that leads out of the rear of the module. When [TechChick] cut into the copper she said she heard a hiss, and assumed it was some kind of liquid cooling device. Specifically we think it’s a vapor chamber that’s being used to pull heat away from the diodes and into the heatsink at the rear of the module, which speaks to the advanced technology that makes these bulbs possible.

While laser headlights are arguably the future of automotive lighting, it’s going to be quite some time before they trickle down to those of us that don’t own supercars. Until then, when used responsibly, these LED retrofits can inject a bit of cutting-edge tech into your old beater without breaking the bank.

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Repair Hack Saves Tesla Owner From Massive Bill

As expensive as a new car is, it almost seems like a loss leader now to get you locked into exorbitantly expensive repairs at the dealership’s service department. That’s the reason a lot of us still try to do as much of the maintenance and repairs on our cars as possible — it’s just too darn expensive to pay someone else to do it.

Case in point: this story about a hapless Tesla owner who faced a massive repair bill on his brand new car. [Donald]’s tale of woe began when he hit some road debris with his two-wheel-drive Model 3. The object hit penetrated the plastic shield over the front of the battery pack, striking a fitting in the low-pressure battery cooling plumbing. The plastic fitting cracked, causing a leak that obviously needed repair. The authorized Tesla service center gave him the bad news: that he needed a new battery pack, at a cost of $16,000. Through a series of oversights, [Donald]’s comprehensive insurance on the car had lapsed, so he was looking at funding the repair, approximately half the cost of a new Model 3, out of pocket.

Luckily, he got in touch with [Rich Benoit] of The Electrified Garage, one of the few independent garages doing Tesla repairs and customizations. The video below is queued up to the part where they actually do the repair, which is ridiculously simple. After cutting off the remains of the broken fitting with a utility knife, [Rich]’s tech was able to cut a thread in both the fitting and the battery pack, and attach them together with a brass nipple from the plumbing section of the local home store. The total bill for the repair was $700, which still seems steep to us, but a far cry from what it could have been.

Hats off to [Rich] and his crew for finding a cost-effective workaround for this issue. And if you think you’ve seen his EV repairs before, you’re right. Of course, some repairs are more successful than others.

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CAN Bus Wireless Hacking / Dev Board

[Voltlog] has been hacking away at the CAN bus console of his VW Golf for quite some time now. Presumably, for his projects, the available CAN bus interface boards are lacking in some ways, either technically and/or price. So [Voltlog] designed his own wireless CAN bus hacking and development module called the ESP32 CanLite (see the video below the break). The board was tailored to meet the needs of his project and he claims it is not a universal tool. Nevertheless we think many folks will find the features he selected for this module will be a good fit for their projects as well.

In his introduction of the design, he walks through the various design decisions he faced. As the project name suggests, he’s using the ESP32 as the main controller due to it’s wireless radios and built-in CAN controller. The board is powered from the car’s +12V power, so it uses a wide input range ( 4 to 40 V ) switching regulator. One feature he added was the ability to switch automotive accessories using the ST VN750PC, a nifty high-side driver in an SO-8 package with integrated safety provisions.

The project is published as open source and the files can be pulled from his GitHub repository. We noticed the debug connector labeled VOLTLINK on the schematic, and found his description of this custom interface interesting. Basically, he was not satisfied with the quality and performance of the various USB-to-serial adapters on the market and decided to make his own. Could this be a common theme among [Voltlog]’s projects?

A word of warning if you want to build the ESP32 CanLite yourself. While [Voltlog] had intentionally selected parts that were common and easy to purchase when the project began, several key chips have since become nearly impossible to obtain these days due to the global parts shortage issue (it’s even out of stock on his Tindie page).

If you want to dig deeper into CAN bus hacking, check out this talk that we wrote about back in 2016. Do you have any favorite CAN bus development boards and/or tools? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tech Hidden In Plain Sight: Cruise Control

The advent of the microcontroller changed just about everything. Modern gadgets often have a screen-based interface that may hide dozens or hundreds of functions that would have been impractical and confusing to do with separate buttons and controls. It also colors our thinking of what is possible. Imagine if cars didn’t have cruise control and someone asked you if it were possible. Of course. Monitor the speed and control the gas using a PID algorithm. Piece of cake, right? Except cruise control has been around since at least 1948. So how did pre-microcontroller cruise control work? Sure, in your modern car it might work just like you think. But how have we had seventy-plus years of driving automation?

A Little History

A flyball governor from a US Navy training film.

Controlling the speed of an engine is actually not a very new idea. In the early 1900s, flyball governors originally designed for steam engines could maintain a set speed. The idea was that faster rotation caused the balls would spread out, closing the fuel or air valve while slower speeds would let the balls get closer together and send more fuel or air into the engine.

The inventor of the modern cruise control was Ralph Teetor, a prolific inventor who lost his sight as a child. Legend has it that he was a passenger in a car with his lawyer driving and grew annoyed that the car would slow down when the driver was talking and speed up when he was listening. That was invented in 1948 and improved upon over the next few years.

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Retrotechtacular: Discovering Aerodynamics With The Chrysler Airflow

When you think about it, for most of human history we’ve been a pretty slow bunch. At any time before about 150 years ago, if you were moving faster than a horse can run, you were probably falling to your death. And so the need to take aerodynamics into consideration is a pretty new thing.

The relative novelty of aerodynamic design struck us pretty hard when we stumbled across this mid-1930s film about getting better performance from cars. It was produced for the Chrysler Sales Corporation and featured the innovative design of the 1934 Chrysler Airflow. The film’s narration makes it clear why the carmaker would go through the trouble of completely rethinking how cars are made; despite doubling average engine horsepower over the preceding decade, cars had added only about 15% to their top speed. And while to our 21st-century eyes, the Chrysler Airflow might look like a bulked-up Volkswagen Beetle, compared to the standard automotive designs of the day, it was a huge aerodynamic leap forward. This makes sense with what else was going on in the technology world at the time — air travel — the innovations of which, such as wind tunnel testing of models, were spilling over into other areas of design. There’s also the influence of [Orville Wright], who was called in to consult on the Airflow design.

While the Airflow wasn’t exactly a huge hit with the motoring public — not that many were built, and very few remain today; [Jay Leno] is one of the few owners, because of course he is — it set standards that would influence automotive designs for the next 80 years. It’s fascinating too that something seemingly as simple as moving the engine forward and streamlining the body a bit took so long to hit upon, and yet yielded so much bang for the buck.

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How To Build A Turbo Car The Cheap, 90s Way

If you want to coax more power out of your car’s engine, a turbocharger is a great way to go about it. Taking waste energy from the exhaust and using it to cram more air into the engine, they’re one of the best value ways to make big gains in horsepower.

However, unlike simpler mods like a bigger exhaust or a mild cam swap, a turbocharger install on a naturally aspirated, fuel-injected engine often requires a complete replacement of the engine management system, particularly on older cars. This isn’t cheap, leaving many to stick to turbocharging cars with factory tuneable ECUs, or to give up altogether. In the 1990s, aftermarket ECUs were even more expensive, leading many to avoid them altogether. Instead, enthusiasts used creative hacks to make their turbo builds a reality on the cheap, and there’s little stopping you from doing the very same today.

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Fire At Renesas Plant Fuels Chip Supply Woes

The small city of Naka (pop. 53K), a two-hour train ride from Tokyo on the eastern coast of Japan, was thrust into the international spotlight in the early dawn of Friday morning. A fire broke out among electroplating equipment in Renesas’s 300 nm N3 fabrication facility. It was extinguished before breakfast time, and fortunately nobody was injured nor were there any toxic chemical leaks. Only six hundred square meters on the first floor of the plant was damaged, but the entire building has to be closed for repairs. It will take approximately one month to restore normal operations, and CEO Hidetoshi Shibata is “concerned that there will be a massive impact on chip supplies”.

Renesas Naka Plant Location

In a press conference on Sunday afternoon, Renesas reports that the source of the fire has been determined, but the details are still unclear:

The casing of the equipment and the plating tank have relatively low resistance to heat, and the equipment ignited due to overcurrent. However, the cause of the overcurrent and the reason for the ignition is currently being investigated.

Semiconductors are already in short supply, as we reported back in January, forcing slowdowns at many auto manufacturers. The Naka plant primarily makes automotive semiconductors, worsening an already stressed supply chain. While the news focuses on the automotive sector, this shortage spills over into many other industries as well.

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