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RobertSmalls 04-14-2009 09:55 PM

Project: Zombie Insight (2000 Honda)
3 Attachment(s)
Restoring and ecomodding a salvaged 2000 Honda Insight


I needed a fuel economy project car. I decided against the Saturn S-series and the Civic, since they'd always leave me wanting more. I have purchased a wrecked 2000 Honda Insight, and I intend to get it back on the road, then improve it beyond the stock condition. By ecomodding and ecodriving, I hope to get 70mpg average (which includes winter) and a 100mpg (>1000 mile) tank. It may be unachievable, but I want to get those numbers while exceeding the speed limit.


I've wanted a first-gen Honda Insight since before I bought my first car (five years ago). It's not just the fuel economy that's attractive. I love the way the engineers were apparently set loose and told not to worry overly about cost or whether Everyman would buy one. It's fuel-sipping halo car.

I appreciate the extreme compromises that were made in the name of fuel economy. The aluminium frame is far more expensive than steel, yet it saves only a little bit of gas. The aerodynamic back means you only have two seats, and the IMA batteries gobble up your storage space. 65HP and LRR tires means this is no sports car.

But look at all the superlatives: Best EPA fuel economy ever. Lowest BSFC that I know of, with a 41% thermodynamic efficiency. Lowest CdA of any car you could ever buy. Smallest engine since the 1988 Metro (at least it was until the Smart came along).

I want one. Since good ones with high mileage go for >$6000, I bought a wreck:

$1725 on eBay. It's a 2000, with the 5mt, no A/C, with 46000 miles on it. It runs and drives, but it has no radiator, and the oil pan is cracked and leaks. It's somewhat crazy to buy a wreck on eBay, but even worse: I had never sat in an Insight before, and I still have yet to drive one outside of first gear.

Before I bought it, I went to the dealer and priced out all the parts I would need, and figured that would be $4000, list. Well, nobody pays list price for parts, and I figured I could buy most of them used, or fabricate replacement parts to save a couple grand.

Here's a closeup of the damage:

The oil pan is also the bottom half of the engine block, and mine has suffered blunt trauma:

The reason this car hasn't already been made into beer cans, is the crumple zones bolt on to the part of the frame that survives a crash of this speed. I see no evidence of the frame being bent. I was able to obtain used frame extensions and bumper rebar for $200 shipped. Radiator + cooling fan would be $200, a new oil pan is $270, replacements for the deployed SRS components are $775. So I'm $3400 into the project, and once the parts come in, the car will only be a few zipties short of being a fully-functional, roadworthy zombie. I say zombie because the plastic fenders are slightly smashed, there are many small scratches, the bumper cover is dead, the hood is wrinkled, and the radiator will be held on by zipties.

At that point, I'll pay the State of New York an exorbinant amount of money, and hopefully get plates put on it. Once the vehicle is on the road, the ecomodding can begin.

RobertSmalls 04-14-2009 09:56 PM

The vehicle leaves the factory with the following:
*high pressure, low rolling resistance tires
*rear wheel skirts and underbelly aeropan
*body tapers toward the rear - it gets narrower on the top, bottom, and both sides.
*idle engine stop and instant re-start
*breathable fabric seats to reduce HVAC load
*agressive, expensive weight-reducing measures
*synthetic 0W20 is specified

But that's not enough to reach the project goals of 70mpg average and a 1000 mile tank while exceeding the speed limit. I plan:
*Manual control of the IMA electric assist and engine kill/restart.
*Warm air intake to allow lean burn in the winter.
*Engine heater for the winter. I'm thinking about the coolant-circulating type.
*super-stock aerodynamics. This car starts out with excellent aero, but there's a litte room for improvement.
Since I'm starting with a clean slate in the front bumper cover region, why not go with a CFD-optimized nose wedge with a tiny radiator opening?
I'd also like to do front wheel skirts. Maybe I'll relocate a mirror or two to inside the door. Since this is a small car, there's room at the back for a boat tail... but I don't think I'm going to go there.
*Weight reduction. 65 BHP, remember. I've already completed my first successful ecomod: I removed the 465g (1.1lb) decorative plastic engine cover and mounted it on my wall at home, where it belongs. The 1681g (3.8lb) glove box is having a hard time justifying its existance. I'm looking at canvas replacement options. The rest of the interior is made of lightweight materials that I would swear are just plain cheap if I didn't know better.
*Reduced electrical load. LED marker lights? Probably not. They're just too expensive.

Wish me luck! I hope I can pull this off.

Deezler 04-14-2009 10:23 PM

Yes! I like it. All the best. Looking forward to regular progress updates.

MetroMPG 04-14-2009 11:32 PM

Sub-SCRIBED. Another great EM project gets underway! (Where's the popcorn?)

Daox 04-15-2009 08:31 AM

Nice project Robert. I saw that car on ebay and thought seriously about bidding myself. Keep in mind these cars in stock form can hit over 100 mpg if driven correctly so 70 mpg should really be a piece of cake. Your should mods will only enhance that.

jamesqf 04-15-2009 11:55 AM

70 mpg average shouldn't be difficult: my lifetime average is at 70.9 mpg, for the 85K miles I've driven over the nearly 6 years I've owned it. My typical drives are probably less conducive to high mpg than most, too. I frequently drive up this road Nevada State Route 431 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia for hiking & skiing, spent a couple of years travelling regularly to the Bay Area over this road California State Route 88 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and have been known to head off on desert dirt roads to places like this: Toiyabe Range - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Though I must admit, I don't always exceed the posted speed limits :-)

1337 04-15-2009 12:10 PM

Nice find! I've been thinking about buying a smashed Insight for a while now. If I do, I'll set myself a cap of like $4000, and my goal will be to make the car roadworthy without spending over that dollar amount (for the car _and_ for parts).

I'm excited to see how this goes!

SVOboy 04-15-2009 12:19 PM

Looks like it should be a good project! Keep up the good work.

theunchosen 04-15-2009 11:43 PM

Since I now stand corrected on the alternator solar swap, you should hook up with solar panels to put on your dash and rear(since you can't have passengers). The alt delete from other users is woth 10% and you can easily get enough juice during the day to keep up just using the dash and that rear window(or the surface below it so you don't block your view). Mounting it inside protects your aero and keeps the panels from getting lifted when your car is unattended.

Also since you have electric assist the PV panels could entirely avoid having to use the engine at all to power that(or recharge the batteries). I would keep it attached on a switch in case its cloudy(PV can generate small amounts of power depending on cloud thickness, but its not going to be close to enough to replace the alternator in inclement weather.)

Also depending on how often you carry a passenger you might ditch the passenger seat. yours is probably not all that heavy but its a good 20 lbs at least(mine had steel frames and "heavier" foam replaced with CF spine and lighter foam for 20lb delete per seat(two)) which is alot more than your glove box and alot more annoying than a glove box. No glove box ever held an obnoxious person that I had to haul around.

RobertSmalls 04-16-2009 07:03 PM

Thanks for the support.

1337, I'm saving reciepts and tallying up expenses. $4000 may be a difficult mark to hit. To restore this car to stock, I would need another $1000+ in body parts. I'm saving most of that amount by fabricating and repairing what I have. The result won't be pretty. ;-)

TheUnchosen, Honda took care of the alternator delete. Instead of an alternator, it has a 144VDC -> 12VDC converter, and a 144V, ~12HP permanent magnet motor that rides on the crankshaft. So I can just use regenerative braking instead of solar panels.

Converting the car to a one-passenger vehicle would indeed save weight and free up cargo space. However, I think my future ex girlfriend(s) would prefer that I just tear out the carpet and replace the glass with plastic. p.s. it sounds like you need a sedan, so you can carry obnoxious passengers in the trunk.

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