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Our Fiat E-Ducato stopped moving at a fast-charger
About six months after we’d received our brand-new Fiat E-Ducato in September 2021, after a delay of several months, our van build was finally nearing completion. We’d just had our van wrapped, showing off our Green Travel Journal logo and colours. Our plan: to finish the build as quickly as possible and finally depart on our year-long, full-time road trip through Europe. We were in good spirits, but this all changed when Jurrien parked the van at an Allego fast-charger in Groningen, the Netherlands, on the 25th of February 2022.
He was driving home to his parents in Leek, where we’d been staying and working on the van, when he decided to make a stop because the batteries were getting low. Jur pulled up to the Allego fast-charger and charged our E-Ducato to about 80 percent, like we’d done many times before. After charging, Jur started the van like he always does, and he could hear the batteries connecting like they always do (five consecutive ‘clicking’ sounds). But when he tried to put the van in reverse, it wouldn’t move. He then tried to drive forward, but this didn’t work either. He turned the van on and off several times, but it still wouldn’t move an inch.
Roadside assistance by Fiat Professional
Jurrien then called me (Sara) to ask what to do, and I looked up Fiat Professional’s roadside information. Since the van is so new, we knew we still had the manufacturer’s warranty — five years for the whole van and ten years for the batteries. This meant that getting roadside assistance from Fiat Professional wouldn’t cost us anything and any repairs or labour costs would also be taken care of. I passed the number for Fiat’s roadside assistance on to Jurrien and via Fiat Professional’s customer support, a tow truck was called.
When the truck arrived, the driver tried the same things Jur had done to see if he could get the van to move, but no luck. The driver then towed our Fiat E-Ducato to our dealer ESA Trucks’ workshop in Groningen, giving Jur a ride, who then got a replacement car to drive home to his parents and me.
Trying to get readings: everything’s new
Several tests were conducted and at first, it seemed there might be a battery issue, since one of the traction battery modules showed signs of having been exposed to high current. To us, this made sense since the van stopped moving after charging at the fast charger — so something could’ve gone wrong there. After a couple of days, Fiat Professional’s technical service in the Netherlands as well as Fiat’s engineers in Italy were involved as well, but after testing all the battery modules separately, they concluded that the batteries were fine. In fact, the whole van seemed to be, except for the fact that it just didn’t want to move.
Fiat ordered more tests and after several weeks, with the mechanics in Groningen passing on the readings to Fiat’s engineers in Italy every day, it seemed that they finally found the problem: they thought the fault lay with the coolant components of the batteries. New parts were ordered and — after a delay of two more weeks — a new cooling element and a compression pump were installed in the final week of April, almost two months after the van broke down. But unfortunately, swapping out these parts didn’t fix the issue: the van still wouldn’t move.
Three months after our E-Ducato broke down, it’s still not fixed
At this point, we were feeling more and more disheartened. We were supposed to have started our travels months ago, but we were still in the Netherlands, still crashing at Jur’s parents’ place (having given up our own apartment months earlier because we expected to move into the van fulltime really soon). And it was starting to become clear that Fiat didn’t have the answers. What if they weren’t able to find out what was wrong with the van? What if they’d end up taking ours back, supplied a new van, and we’d have to start on the van build from scratch again, after months of work on the conversion?
In May, almost three months after our van broke down, Fiat finally decided to involve SolarEdge E-Mobility (formerly SMRE), the Italian company that designed all the electric components of the Fiat E-Ducato. The first thing SolarEdge did was to ask the mechanics at ESA to redo all the initial testing. This took another week, but it did lead to them finding something new: the batteries’ internal resistance wasn’t equal.
We’re getting new batteries
Although the batteries had been checked separately before, this time through more thorough testing, a huge difference was found in the internal resistance of each of the five battery modules. SolarEdge then made the call to replace them all. A decision that probably wasn’t made lightly because the battery modules are by far the most expensive components of the Fiat E-Ducato.
We were feeling quietly optimistic again, although we of course weren’t happy with the fact that the batteries, not yet a year old, had to get replaced — and that the fault seemed to be with the batteries after all, which was our initial hunch right after the van had broken down. But we were mostly thankful that a solution finally seemed to be near, after losing so much time already. The batteries were supposed to arrive soon too, on the 31st of May.
Our breaking point
The mechanics at ESA’s workshop prepared the van, taking out all the old batteries, ready to install the new ones. But the 31st of May came and went, and still no batteries. Fiat’s customer service in Italy, who we’d been in constant contact with over the phone ever since the van broke down, weren’t able to find out what was going on. It wasn’t their fault, but the processes set up by Fiat were, to us, just completely failing at that moment. Nobody at Fiat seemed to be able to tell us anything and they were also unable to try and contact SolarEdge themselves.
Somehow, this — the complete inability of Fiat to let us know what was going on and move things along — was just too much for us. Three-and-a-half months after our van stopped moving, I ended up breaking down and crying for two days out of sheer frustration. As someone who likes to be in control of my own life, the fact that we were completely at the mercy of Fiat, having invested almost all of our savings into this van, having given up our home for a big electric vanlife adventure, only for our E-Ducato to break down within the year and leave us stranded, having to wait for a solution for months on end, was just miserable.
One final push
Finally, when I was done crying, with the help of Jur, who’d been incredibly patient through it all, I picked myself back up, and decided that if Fiat wasn’t going to find out what had happened, I’d do it myself. I searched for SolarEdge E-Mobility’s contact info online, called and emailed them, and in hardly any time at all they came back to me, saying that they had the batteries and they were getting shipped that same week, the second week of June. It felt so good to have some semblance of control again, although we still didn’t know what went wrong with the initial shipping date.
On June 14th 2022, ESA finally received all the batteries and the mechanics got to work installing them right away. They worked through the evening and at 10pm, we got the call we’d been waiting almost four months for: our van was fixed and driving again!
A new set of batteries fixed our van
The mechanics reassembled everything, did a software update, and the next day, we could pick up our E-Ducato. We were so excited to see our van! ESA had done a thorough cleaning inside and out, which we thought was very sweet. We brought them a pie, gave back our replacement vehicle — a Fiat Doblo — and we were off! Back to Jur’s parents’ driveway, where we’ll continue our van build and then leave on our travels across Europa as soon as is humanly possible.
If you made it to the end of this article, thanks so much for reading our story. The messages and encouragement we got from our friends, family and even total strangers on the internet have meant so much to us these past couple of months. And if you have any questions or have experienced something similar yourself, we’d love to hear from you! You can contact us here or reach out via Instagram.