SALEM — Three years in the past, in his driveway in Salem, Wealthy Benoit rigged some ropes and pulleys and did one thing that would modestly be described as a nasty thought.
He pulled a 1,300-pound, 400-volt battery out of a Tesla that had been underwater.
After which, with no actual clue of what he was doing, he opened it and tried to repair it.
“It was terrifying,” Benoit says now.
It was additionally the start of what has change into one of many extra fascinating narratives in these early days of the fashionable period of the electrical automotive, one which asks and solutions quite a lot of questions and has turned the 36-year-old Benoit — a father of three who works in IT in Boston — into certainly one of its early superstars.
The Tesla that began all of it, a Mannequin S that Benoit refers to as Delores, was bought from a salvage yard after it had been caught in a flood in New Jersey. Benoit had a pal who owned a Mannequin S, and the second he pulled it into Benoit’s driveway to take him for a trip, Benoit was obsessed. The way in which it was whisper quiet. The inconceivable acceleration from zero to I-feel-like-I’m-on-a-roller-coaster-and-about-to-throw-up immediately. The way in which he may really feel the entire work that went into creating the automobile, a historical past of progress that mixed to create this sense of the longer term.
“It was like a laptop computer on wheels,” he says. “The right combination of my two issues: tech and vehicles.”
He needed to have one, however a brand new Mannequin S begins at $76,000 and might run as excessive as $133,000. That wasn’t taking place. So he bought Delores for $14,000, with the concept that he was going to do one thing no newbie mechanic had finished earlier than. He was going to rebuild a Tesla.
“I felt like a trailblazer,” Benoit says of pulling all the pieces within the automotive aside and determining the way it labored. “We’re in a society the place if you should know one thing you Google it, however there was nothing on the market, nobody who knew repair them.”
It was the last word DIY venture, with no steering from Tesla. Benoit says the corporate skirts the state’s Proper to Restore Initiative, which was handed by voters in 2012 and requires producers to permit automobile homeowners entry to the identical diagnostic and restore info made accessible to dealerships and approved restore facilities. “They get away with this as a result of they don’t have any dealerships,” Benoit says. “You order your automotive on-line.”
Undeterred, Benoit stripped the automotive, tore out the entire ruined electronics, and pried out the seats, which had rusted in place, due to the saltwater. Then he contacted Tesla to order the components he wanted for the rebuild, and it was right here that Benoit hit one other impediment, one that will outline the arc of his story:
Tesla doesn’t need anybody engaged on its vehicles in addition to Tesla, and it refused to promote Benoit the components he wished.
A Tesla consultant, in an announcement to the Globe, stated “there are important security considerations when salvaged Teslas are repaired improperly or when Tesla components are used exterior of their unique design intent, as these automobiles may pose a hazard to each the mechanic and different drivers on the highway.”
Benoit says he understands their level. He additionally believes that folks ought to have a proper to restore issues they personal. “That’s once I determined that the identical factor that received me into this mess was going to get me out of it,” he says.
Benoit discovered one other Mannequin S that had been totaled in a collision however whose electronics and batteries have been nonetheless good, purchased it for a little bit greater than he’d paid for Delores, and started the lengthy means of turning two damaged automobiles into one good one, figuring all the pieces out as he went alongside and posting movies on a YouTube channel he’d created, Wealthy Rebuilds, to log his progress. The movies would generally get a number of hundred views.
After greater than a 12 months of tinkering and of problem after problem, Benoit had proudly restored Delores almost again to showroom high quality, and in video #61, she handed state inspection.
Six days later, he posted video #62, by which he informed the lengthy story that answered the query everybody wished to know: How a lot did this factor find yourself costing? The reply was $6,500 (after promoting off a bunch of duplicate components, together with the whole shell of the second automotive).
“I gave the video the title ‘World’s Most cost-effective Tesla,’ and within the snap of a finger it had 1,000,000 views,” he says.
Wealthy Rebuilds now has 423,000 subscribers on YouTube, and his ongoing video collection, by which he continues to doc his DIY work on Delores and different rebuilds, is approaching 40 million views. He nonetheless drives Delores and has labored on different rebuilds, however he spends most of his tinkering time serving to different Tesla homeowners who don’t need to cope with, or await, Tesla. There have been complaints of lengthy strains on the restricted variety of service facilities — there are simply two in Massachusetts, in Watertown and Dedham — and studies of components shortages. The corporate, which has acknowledged these points, just lately introduced it might be rising its funding in its service system.
Which brings us to the subsequent step in Benoit’s story: He’s making ready to open the primary restore store on the East Coast devoted to electrical automobiles, with the objective of servicing automobiles whereas educating homeowners look after the vehicles themselves. The store is underneath development in Seabrook, N.H., and he has enlisted a former Tesla mechanic to hitch him.
It has been a protracted, sophisticated, unusual journey since he opened that waterlogged battery, questioning if he was about to electrocute himself. And regardless of the entire ups and downs, he insists he isn’t at struggle with Tesla. “Perhaps I used to be for a number of weeks after they wouldn’t promote me the components,” he says. No, this can be a love story, of how a person who says he has gasoline in his veins determined to go electrical.
“I’ve all the time been a automotive man. I’ve received a Corvette. I’ve received a truck. I’ve received a racecar. I’m not some tree-hugger,” he says. “However after driving [Delores] round each day, it has made me suppose that is how a automotive ought to be. I don’t get a wierd feeling driving the Tesla anymore. I get it once I get again right into a automotive powered by gasoline.”