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The yard mechanic who’s taking up Tesla

SALEM — Three years in the past, in his driveway in Salem, Wealthy Benoit rigged some ropes and pulleys and did one thing that might modestly be described as a nasty concept.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 develop into one of many extra attention-grabbing narratives in these early days of the fashionable period of the electrical automotive, one which asks and solutions numerous questions and has turned the 36-year-old Benoit — a father of three who works in IT in Boston — into considered 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 buddy who owned a Mannequin S, and the second he pulled it into Benoit’s driveway to take him for a experience, Benoit was obsessed. The way in which it was whisper quiet. The not possible acceleration from zero to I-feel-like-I’m-on-a-roller-coaster-and-about-to-throw-up instantly. The way in which he might really feel the entire work that went into creating the car, a historical past of progress that mixed to create this sense of the long run.“It was like a laptop computer on wheels,” he says. “The right combination of my two issues: tech and automobiles.”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 occurring. So he bought Delores for $14,000, with the concept he was going to do one thing no newbie mechanic had performed earlier than. He was going to rebuild a Tesla.

“I felt like a trailblazer,” Benoit says of pulling the whole lot within the automotive aside and determining the way it labored. “We’re in a society the place if it’s essential know one thing you Google it, however there was nothing on the market, nobody who knew how you can repair them.”It was the final word DIY challenge, 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 car house owners entry to the identical diagnostic and restore data made out there 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.”

Tesla lover Wealthy Benoit’s refurbished automotive.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Employees

Undeterred, Benoit stripped the automotive, tore out the entire ruined electronics, and pried out the seats, which had rusted in place, because of the saltwater. Then he contacted Tesla to order the elements he wanted for the rebuild, and it was right here that Benoit hit one other impediment, one that might outline the arc of his story:

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Tesla doesn’t need anybody engaged on its automobiles apart from Tesla, and it refused to promote Benoit the elements he wished.A Tesla consultant, in a press release to the Globe, stated “there are important security issues when salvaged Teslas are repaired improperly or when Tesla elements are used exterior of their authentic design intent, as these autos might pose a hazard to each the mechanic and different drivers on the street.”

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 bought 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 had been nonetheless good, purchased it for just a little greater than he’d paid for Delores, and commenced the lengthy strategy of turning two damaged autos into one good one, figuring the whole lot 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 couple 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 elements, together with the complete 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 sequence, 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 house owners who don’t wish to cope with, or look ahead to, 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 elements shortages. The corporate, which has acknowledged these points, lately introduced it will be rising its funding in its service system.Which brings us to the following step in Benoit’s story: He’s getting ready to open the primary restore store on the East Coast devoted to electrical autos, with the objective of servicing autos whereas instructing house owners how you can look after the automobiles themselves. The store is underneath development in Seabrook, N.H., and he has enlisted a former Tesla mechanic to affix him.

It has been an extended, 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’s not at warfare with Tesla. “Possibly I used to be for a couple of weeks after they wouldn’t promote me the elements,” he says. No, this can be a love story, of how a person who says he has fuel in his veins determined to go electrical.“I’ve at all times been a automotive man. I’ve bought a Corvette. I’ve bought a truck. I’ve bought a racecar. I’m not some tree-hugger,” he says. “However after driving [Delores] round on daily basis, it has made me assume that is how a automotive needs to be. I don’t get an odd feeling driving the Tesla anymore. I get it once I get again right into a automotive powered by gasoline.”

Wealthy Benoit inside one of many Teslas that he has refurbished.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Employees

Billy Baker may be reached at
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