Okay, I’m publishing this, but it’s a work in progress– very early in progress.
I intend to list out all of the common problems that I have seen with Thinks so that owners can be prepared to deal with them.
Far and away the most serious and frequently occurring issue is the overheating and failure of the precharge resistor located on the Master Lithium Energy Controller (MLEC) in the traction battery assembly.
In second place, this problem is less likely to leave you stranded and in immediate need over a tow, but will effectively kill your car until you can have it towed in for a rather expensive repair:Blown charger fuses inside the Power Conversion Unit (PCU). The symptom of this problem is that the car will simply not charge when connected to an Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE). Unfortunately to access and replace the fuses requires removing and reinstalling the PCU, a 7-hour job. I’ve designed a retrofit that replaces the fuses in the PCU with higher amperage fuses and installs the original 20 Amp fuses in the EVSE wire harness under the hood. Unlike the precharge resistor (MLEC) problem, this issue doesn’t occur frequently enough for us to have invested any time in finding the root cause of the failure.
And here’s one problem that I would give the bronze: Occasionally some Thinks will intermittently not shift into Reverse or Economy. To be more specific, when the gearshift lever moves one notch back from Park– the position which should indicate Reverse on the center console and cause the car to move backwards– the center console indicates Neutral instead, and indeed the car functions as if it is in Neutral. Similarly, if the gearshift is moved one notch back from Drive– which should cause the center console to indicate Economy and reduce your top speed and acceleration and increase regenerative braking– the center console instead continues to indicate Drive and the car effectively stays in Drive. This is the usual incarnation of the problem, but there are variations. I’ll write a separate post to detail this problem. Just don’t leave it in supposed-to-be-Reverse while you get out to swear and kick the tires because it is truly intermittent, and it might just click into actual-Reverse and drive off without you in it!
And other problems I will list from front to rear:
Not really a problem, but something for everyone to be aware of: Perhaps if your Think’s original home was in a state that does not require front license plates, you might have a blank front bumper with no means of attaching the required front license plate for Oregon. We have a quick and easy fix for that. Please just schedule an appointment– I suspect Jim and Liz won’t mind if I do it for free– or if you’re too far away I can send instructions.
Otherwise, the front bumper has one main issue: It appears from the service manual that there should be a small bracket that fastens the bottom of the radiator to the bottom of the bumper. (Technically, it’s the bumper cover that I’m talking about. I think the actual bumper is the Styrofoam structure just behind the ABS plastic bumper cover that is design to absorb energy from an impact. For brevity I’m just going to refer to the bumper cover as the bumper.) Some Thinks front bumpers tend to hang down quite a bit making them susceptible to catching on parking/curb stones. Once your bumper gets caught on that curb stone and you back away it will probably break the bumper and maybe the fender where they are fastened together at the wheel wells. Some Thinks don’t have this problem at all. I hypothesize that the ones that do hang down may do so because they were hauled cross-country facing backward and air flow deformed them or they are exposed to higher temperatures more often and that causes them to soften and yield to gravity. Anyway, for anyone who has been in for any reason in the last several months I have drilled two small holes in the bottom of the bumper and zip-tied it to the radiator fan shroud. (Sorry, I don’t have a good system for documenting whose I’ve done. If you need to know, you can just reach under the front of the car and see if it flops around loosely or feels secure.)
The image above is from the service manual. I have not seen any Thinks equipped with the any of the three brackets shown (the two white-ish L-shaped brackets between the fans, or the black thin vertical one on the right side of the image (and probably a matching one on the left if we could see over there)). I’ll try to remember to get a photo of a Think with the zip-ties installed in case any do-it-yourself-ers out there want more detail.
Proceeding rearward, we encounter the headlights. I have a separate post detailing issues with the headlights. I’ll also mention here that we have seen a few instances of the headlight switch (on the dash to the left of the steering wheel) not functioning correctly (headlights only turning on when brights are on).
Also, a few cars have come in with the brights turned on (by pulling back on the left/turn signal stalk), so be sure to look for the blue icon on the instrument panel (it doesn’t really jump out at you– you almost have to look for it) to make sure you are operating with low beams while in traffic.
Also, just something you may find curious, and because this is a blog and blogs are made for droning on and on and on: Your headlights only have one filament. When you turn on high beams/brights the output of your headlight bulbs is exactly the same, but a reflector/shroud moves within the headlight assembly to cast the light above the normal 0.5% down angle that is used for low beams. I know that Prii with High Intensity Discharge headlights also operate this way, but I think it is more common that cars have either one bulb with two filaments or two separate bulbs for low beams and high beams. Now you know.
Kind of in the same plane as the headlights, but under the hood we encounter the A/C condenser. This is where hot, high pressure refrigerant passes heat to the surrounding air (hence the big fan on the front of it) and condenses from a gas to a liquid so when it evaporates (in the also aptly named evaporator) it will get really nice and cold. (The condenser is a heat exchanger with small fins that looks and functions just like a radiator (except that there should be no gas-liquid phase change in a radiator). It took me an embarrassingly long time to discover that Thinks even have radiator (which cools the coolant that flows through the traction motor and the Power Conversion Unit) because it is cleverly hidden under the frame/front bumper. (Please forgive my overuse of nested parentheses.)) Anyway, back to the condenser: It looks like the outlet and especially inlet fitting are cast aluminum that was never machined or polished. I notice several Thinks that have a bit of oil spreading from the left (port) upper corner of the condenser which may indicate a slow refrigerant leak. For Thinks that had inoperative A/C I have polished those fittings, recharged refrigerant and we will have to see how long (hopefully never, or at least several years) it takes before it will need a recharge. Otherwise, my opinion is that the A/C works really well (especially compared to my 2001 Prius).
Aft of the condenser, still under the hood, the vacuum pump that powers the brake booster can be quite noisy. Just the fact that an engine-less vehicle has to have such an annoying noisemaker is very frustrating to me, but occasionally I will encounter a Think with the lower windscreen trim pieces (I’ll call them the rain tray) that are installed in such a way that the vacuum pump rattles against them like a sounding board. The design and quality of the rain tray is one of my least favorite parts of this car. At least it’s not very consequential. Also related to the vacuum pump, I notice that some vacuum pumps run more frequently than others. If, for example, you were to start your Think and let the pump pull a vacuum on the brake booster and then not touch the brake pedal at all– the vacuum should be sealed in and the pump should virtually never have to run again. But some cars I have observed the vacuum pumps running just briefly once very five or ten minutes. It’s harder to quantify brake boosters that are more efficient/better sealed than others during actual braking, but I suspect some are better than others in this way, too. Short of a vacuum hose clamp missing or incorrectly installed, it would be very difficult to locate a vacuum leak or replace a brake booster.
The side mirror covers fall off. Unfortunately this problem is so pervasive that we no longer have any more right side mirror covers left for replacement. It’s not good, but at least its only an aesthetic problem. I may eventually get around to trying to cast and mold more side mirror covers, but I would advise no one to hold their breath.
This is just a list off the top of my head that I will flesh out and add to later:
There is no interlock to preventing shifting out of Park while connected to an EVSE. The car is smart enough to know that you shouldn’t be allowed to start up the car and drive away while it’s still plugged in. (That reminds me of a friend who has twice driven away from a gas station with the pump still in his fuel filler neck– they should make an interlock for that, too.) But if you happen to be parked on a slope, you can still put the key in, turn it as if you were starting the car, and shift out of park, and roll away from your EVSE. This can break the little door that covers the EVSE port or it can break the port itself. We all do dumb things sometimes; we should have interlocks to prevent our dumbness resulting in too much pain.
Roof leaks/headliner stains. We haven’t seen very many cases of water intrusion, but it can happen.
Headliner sags. Jim and I paid a visit to an automotive upholstery shop to ask about this phenomenon. We were told that the Thinks’ style of thin plastic foam headliner is especially susceptible to sagging when exposed to high temperatures (like the kind of temperatures you might expect in a car sitting in the sun with the windows up). We have replaced some of the severely sagging headliners with new ones, and we have also tried making some thicker foam “beams” hot-glued to the top side of the headliner to stiffen it. I know that at least one of our attempted repairs failed but I’m not certain whether it was due to the glue or the beam material. We are working on a new design and a procedure for implementing it, but we’ve got many issues on our plate, and this one is often back-burnered.
A-pillar trim pieces loose. T
Rear hatch does not latch/does not latch easily
No rear sidemarkers
Door ajar light does not indicate when rear hatch release button is pressed
Rear tires rubbing on fender liner
Rear struts working their way off their bushings
Waistrail outside window seal comes loose
Side mirror glass is loose
Various rattles and plastic-on-plastic squeaking
Key emblems missing
12V draw while plugged into EVSE after charging complete
Rear hatch release actuator fails
Headliner rear hatch plastic stiffener missing