March 4

2013 Smart EV Hard Brakes

Smart Car

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Mark: Hi, it's Mark Bossert. I'm here with Bernie Pawlik, Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver. Vancouver's best auto service experience, 25 times voted best in Vancouver for auto repair by their customers. And we're talking cars. How you doing Bernie? 

Bernie: Doing very well. 

Mark: So today's victim is a 2013 Smart EV. Who knew Smart made EVs in 2013, that had a brake issue. What was going on with this vehicle? 

Bernie: So the vehicle came to our shop. The owner's complaint was there was a warning light on the dash and also the brake pedal was exceptionally hard to push. It was like, there's no power assist to the brakes. That was the complaint that we were challenged with fixing.

Mark: So what sort of testing do you do to find out what's going on? 

Bernie: Well, first, of course, is to road test the vehicle, verify the client's complaint. If it's something really dangerous, like the brakes barely work, sometimes just a little quick drive in the parking lot or into the shop is enough to verify the concern.

So we found that and noticed the warning light on the dash. And so that was 1st step. 2nd step is to pull out one of our scan tools, whichever is appropriate for the vehicle and do a vehicle system scan to see what trouble codes are stored in the vehicle system. 

We did pull up a fault code for a circuit fault for the power brake booster motor. So there's a vacuum pump motor and there's an electric pump that drives it. There's a circuit code fault. So that gave us a direction of where to take our next steps. 

Mark: So how does the braking system work in an EV?

Bernie: Well, I'll just talk about the Smart EV. So the Smart car EV system at best, as I can say, is it's pretty much the same as it would be in a gasoline or diesel powered Smart car. It uses a vacuum operated power brake booster. The brakes are, you know, disc brakes front, drum brakes rear. The brakes themselves are pretty much the same on the EV model as they are on the internal combustion models.

And as I said, it uses a power brake booster, but instead of having a vacuum operated pump, which would be, sorry using engine vacuum, which you do on a gasoline engine. This has an electric pump that provides the vacuum for the power brake booster. And that is actually located in the engine compartment on top of the motor. And so that basically supplies the vacuum for the brake booster.

Mark: So where'd you go next with your testing? 

Bernie: Basically looking at wiring diagrams to see how the system is wired, where there might be fuses, where there might be wiring connections. Those are kind of common fault problem. Where is the motor located? Where are the components? As I mentioned it, the motor is actually located in the engine bay where the electric drive motor is. 

We accessed that motor. We actually tested it to see does the motor actually power up. In fact, it did. And so once we were powered up the motor, like we manually powered up the motor, we verified, okay, the motor works. It provided vacuum and the brake booster works. 

So the question was, why isn't the motor turning on? So then we tested further into the circuit and we found some corroded fuses. Down in the battery compartment, the 12 volt battery compartment, which is located under the passenger floor, some really badly corroded fuses. One of which provides power to the booster motor. 

Mark: Let's, let's look at some pictures here. 

Bernie: Yes. Let's look at some pictures. So there's the Smart car, 2013. I always find these are cute little looking cars. 

2013 Smart EV Hard Brakes

Mark: So the motor is actually in the back of the vehicle. 

Bernie: It is in the back. It is basically a rear wheel drive vehicle. 

These are the fuses we took out. So the top one's a 40 amp, called a maxi fuse, quite a large fuse. I should probably think about in hindsight, have had a picture of a good looking fuse, but you can see by all that festering corrosion, that doesn't, I think to anyone's eye, that doesn't look very good.

2013 Smart EV Hard Brakes

So that fuse is completely destroyed probably some moisture got down into the battery box at some point, the battery area and corroded the fuses. There was no moisture when we looked at it. So we're not certain about the history of it, but nonetheless, that was what it needed.

And the terminals, where the fuse plugs in, we cleaned those to make sure they were all in good shape. And that 60 amp fuse sitting below that, not sure what that powered, but that was starting to look kind of ugly as well. So we replaced that fuse at the same time. 

Mark: So is it fair to say that when you see a fuse in this kind of shape, it's a good idea to replace it. 

Bernie: It is. And this is a good visual verification of our problem. Plus, of course, when we plugged the new fuse in the pump started running and working and all was solved.

Mark: So was it just a matter of replacing the fuse?

Bernie: This fuse is interesting because it's actually sort of on a wire. It's not a sort of hard mounted fuse block. It's on sort of a little wiring harness. So you had to try to locate it in a way that wasn't quite sitting on the bottom of the floor pan. So, you know, hopefully prevent something like that from happening in the future. But as I said, there was no moisture in there. So what happened? Who knows? I mean, maybe it had a water leak at some point in the past.

It's hard to know, but yeah, it all worked fine at the end of the day. Actually really at the end of the day, it turned out to be a fairly simple diagnostic and a fairly simple fix. 

Mark: So what can a Smart EV owner do to prevent this sort of issue happening in the future? 

Bernie: Well, if you happen to know there's water leaking into your vehicle certainly address it, fix it, get the leak fixed and then remove any moisture from the vehicle. Because that'll create lots of problems like this and even worse. 

Mark: Are you pretty sure that it was moisture or was it maybe somebody replaced the 12 volt battery and didn't put the connector back in properly? 

Bernie: No, no, based on that corrosion, it definitely would have been moisture of some sort. 

Mark: Okay. So you work on quite a few of these Smart EVs. What maintenance is required and recommended? 

Bernie: You know, there is a maintenance schedule. It's not a lot like you'd have with an internal combustion engine, but there's a desiccant filter, which absorbs moisture out of the high voltage battery pack that needs to be replaced once in a while.

You know, there's a cabin air filter that will get dirty from time to time. And then as a vehicle gets older, routine inspections and annual inspection just for safety, inspecting the steering suspension, the brakes, and that kind of thing is important. You know, I say older, I mean, anything over three to five years, once you get to that point, you should have it looked at every year. You never know when things are deteriorating and there are no warning lights for loose ball joints. 

Mark: And that stuff still wears out on an EV. 

Bernie: Yeah. And it actually probably wears out at a higher rate on many EVs because the car itself is heavier. So this Smart EV is a heavier car than an internal combustion engine powered one would be because of the weight of the battery pack.

So that's one issue with EVs in general is that they're harder on tires. They're harder on suspension components. And some of them are built tougher just to accommodate that. But this one is basically the same car. I mean, the other area for maintenance that may not be in the Mercedes or Smart maintenance schedule, but it's to service your brakes.

You know, the brakes on the EVs, they don't work as hard as they do on an internal combustion engine car because they have regenerative braking through the motor, but they still need to work and function properly. And over time they can get corroded and brakes can get corroded from moisture and pads start seizing up, things like that.

So it's good to have your brakes serviced at least every couple of years. More frequently, if you live in a climate where there's, you know, long winters with a lot of road salt. That would be an annual thing to do, but basically take the brakes apart, clean them, lubricate the sliding points, make sure there's no corrosion. And that'll keep your brakes lasting a very long time. 

Mark: And how are Smart EVs for reliability? 

Bernie: You know, I think they're pretty decent cars. I mean, we've had a few where the high voltage battery packs have gone bad. So that's a very expensive issue to fix. But generally, they're pretty good. And I certainly say I really like driving them a whole lot more than a regular Smart car.

The transmissions they've had in Smart cars forever it's an automatic shifting manual transmission. So it's very jerky to drive. And this is like completely smooth. It's actually quite a pleasure to drive and they're fun. So it's a good little zip around kind of car if you've got a good place to charge it. And the maintenance is pretty minimal, but you know, just be prepared you have a battery pack that can be an expensive repair. 

Mark: If you're looking for service for your EV of any kind or a Smart EV, the guys to see in Vancouver are Pawlik Automotive. You can book online at their website pawlikautomotive.com or you can call them at (604) 327-7112 to book your appointment. You have to book ahead. They're always busy. Pawlik Automotive in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Thanks so much for watching and listening. Thanks Bernie. 

Bernie: Thank you, Mark. Thanks for watching.

About the author 

Bernie Pawlik

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