2002 GEM eL rebuild project

I picked up a 2002 GEM el xd. I paid $275 at the municipal auction and had it flat-bedded home a few weeks ago. It was cheap but it was a big risk too. Completely unknown what was wrong with it. It had been sitting for 2+ years and had only 2 front batteries.

Progress report as of 2/24/13

Replaced batteries with 6 Exide Nautilus 115 AH deep-cycle NG-31’s for a little over $700.

Individually charged each battery and connected all the well-marked cables, spraying with terminal protector afterwards.

Pulled out the key switch and bypassed temporarily with a pull-on toggle and gingerly turned on the disconnect switch. Switch on the key and; wonder of wonders, its alive!!! Drives but has a dragging rear wheel I’ve got to work on. Rode up and down the neighborhood hills and it does 15 MPH up the steep hill to my house with 2 people on board. Ride is very stiff - like the shocks are stuck or something. Might take one coil-over shock off the rear on each side to improve the ride. Plugged it in and the on-board Zivan charger works. So far, so good.

Fixed a dead short in the light circuit caused by backing into the license-plate light and squashing it.

What’s left to do: Replace the license plate bracket and light. Add a guard around it like the new truck-bed GEMs. Make some battery hold-downs out of composite decking boards for the 4 under-seat batteries. Clean it inside and out and add soft doors and rear window.

I’m considering changing to off-road all-terrain wheels & tires. I know Ride-4-fun sells them but it looks like some of the ones from side-by-side ATV type vehicles will fit. Anybody done this?

I’m considering buying the second, less complete, GEM from the guy who won it at the auction to strip for parts. Anybody ever converted one of these to 4-wheel-drive? It looks like the wheels hubs are the same for the rear but have stub axles in them instead of the half-shafts. Might be able to put a whole driveline in it and add a second controller and wiring to get on-demand 4wd. Would certainly help with the tendency to spin the front tires…

Bob in MA

Thanks for moving this thread. It turns out I had an incorrect idea of which model GEM I own. Since they’re all marked as E285 in these model years it’s a bit of a trick to know exactly what you’ve got.

Bob in MA

There ya go :yo:

See my list of alternative parts if you need a new key switch. The OEM switch is more than $160. Check the parking brake cables and mechanism inside the drum for binding. Where did you find six new batteries for only $700.


Bought the Echlin key-switch from my local Napa. Doesn’t have the push-on terminals like the Medeco but that’s alright. I’ll just put ring-terminals on the wires.

As soon as some of this snow melts off, I’ll get the GEM in the garage where I can work on the brakes. I expect the drums to be stuck but I’ll get them off somehow. I’ve seen the method of drilling and tapping the face of the drum for 1/4-20 bolts to aid in future removal. I’ll definitely be doing that.

Man does this thing ride rough. Is there any common problem that causes this or is it just the nature of the beast when an xd is not loaded? I’m considering removing one of the two rear coil-overs on each side.

Bob in MA

Check to be sure your Zivan charger is set for the correct battery type. Be sure to check all of the suspension bushings for dry rot. Pre-2004 GEMs can also be hard on tires. If there is anything you need, post it on here before going to the dealer.


There are 4 listed settings on the label of the charger. 0-9 and A,B are blank. C and D are for Gel and AGM (I think) and E is for one flooded-cell while F is for another. The GEM came with 2 of the Trojan group-31 batteries (which were dead as door-nails) and I put in 115 AH deep cycle ones. Without taking the dash cover off and under-dash panel I can’t remember exactly what was different between E and F on the Zivan but I think it might have been the charge current.

Maybe the 2002 XD had optional 150 AH batteries - I don’t know. But the chemistry of wet-cells should be the same so it may just be the initial charging current. If I switch it from F to E it will make a change, but I don’t know exactly what that change will do without measuring things unless you have some insight.

I don’t know if this Zivan charger has the latest updates to charge every week or two either. It does eventually turn the status LED off completely (or it did the first time I recharged it overnight). Does this indicate anything?

Bob in MA - 2002 eL XD

I thought the xd was a much newer model that has five lug wheels? If the Zivan charger has been upgraded, there will be a label on it saying “micro upgraded.” I recommend having this done. A call to Electric Conversions, the Zivan distributor in the US, will provide the correct switch setting for your batteries.


[QUOTE=GEMmechanic;14343]I thought the xd was a much newer model that has five lug wheels? If the Zivan charger has been upgraded, there will be a label on it saying “micro upgraded.” I recommend having this done. A call to Electric Conversions, the Zivan distributor in the US, will provide the correct switch setting for your batteries.

Daniel[/QUOTE]I think you’re right. I thought it was an XD because it had 4 rear spring/shock units. It’s listed as a 2300 lb GVWR so I guess that makes it an eL as opposed to an eL XD

There’s a blue round sticker on the front of the Zivan charger but nothing that says micro upgraded. What’s the upgrade do? Just add the 7-day recycle timer or does it change the charging profiles or more?

There is a change in the software algorithm. The early NG1 units had a tendency to undercharge the batteries. The cost is reasonable and they will inspect the rest of the circuit.


Update: The Gem is running but I managed to blow up something on the accessory board/12volt converter while hooking up the cab-mounted brake lights. Apparently this board is designed to only work with a single bulb on each rear brake/turn signal channel. It looks like a component has shorted (probably a diode) and now my right turn signal doesn’t work. Time to get out the soldering iron I guess.

Another update. My Zivan charger is set to position “E” which is apparently for the 12 volt flooded cell batteries. Position “F” would be for the larger capacity 8-volt batteries.

The rear suspension on this mini-truck is VERY stiff - too stiff. It may have rusted or jammed shocks. It definitely needs a re-design like the new ones have. The swing-arm is rigid across its entire width and welded solidly to the axle meaning it cannot twist relative to the frame. This means if one wheel goes up, so must the other; and with 4 coil-over-shock units it’s way too stiff in my opinion. Might as well weld the axle to the frame.

My plan is to remove the bed anyway to pound out some dents in the rear and polish it up. While it’s off I’ll cut the trailing link suspension apart and remodel it similar to the newer eS, eL and eL XD with rubber mounted axle with upper and lower links. This will allow the suspension some limited independent movement and help to soften the ride. I’ll also work on an adjustable mechanism by which one of each pair of springs/shock units can be disengaged by rotating a linkage accessible from the outside with a 1/2 inch extension and breaker bar. We’ll see… Might be easier to replace one spring/shock on each side with Timbren overload bumpers. We’ll see in the springtime if this snow ever melts.

Progress report 3/31/13:

Well, the Easter Bunny has been here and gone and so has almost all the snow. I’ve been fighting a strange electrical gremlin on the GEM for a week or so and finally tracked it down to a bad AUX board/DC to DC converter. Now I’m just waiting for a replacement from the OEM manufacturer (SPS Electronics).

Should have the GEM on the road, registered and insured, by the end of the week I hope. Next project is softening up the rear suspension.

Wow what a hassle getting the GEM registered today. The local MassDOT office was a sea of people waiting for their turn to be called. I waited about an hour for my turn and then another 20 minutes while they figured out how to do the paperwork for a Low Speed Vehicle and searched the back room for an LS plate. At one point a supervisor asked me if it was a moped or a scooter (while holding the manual in her hand clearly showing a GEM e2 on the cover). Sheesh!!!

Finally got the plates though so now I’ll have to fix the DC converter and find an inspection station within driving range and speed limits that will take the time to call MassDOT and find out how to inspect one of these things. I’m sure that’ll be fun.

Today I reprogrammed the T2 controller in my GEM and also removed 2 of the 4 rear shocks. 2002-2004 long-bed GEMs have, for some inexplicable reason, 4 rear shocks. Maybe the XD model needs the extra springs but certainly not the lighter eL. I pulled off the rear-most of each pair, leaving the front set intact. It changed the ride significantly and I doubt it reduced the load-carrying capacity much. I can’t imagine the need to have 4 coil-over-shocks in the rear of a long-bed GEM.

Next step - cut off the two outside links from the swing-arm and weld on brackets and bushing-sleeves to reconnect to the bottom of the axle. This will give a little more play in the axle to allow the left and right sides to be more independent of each other. The stock setup is so rigid that there’s zero play in the suspension when one wheel goes up and takes the other with it. This causes the whole vehicle to rock on uneven ground, unloading the front tire on the high side, causing the front wheel to spin.

On the 2005-2007 eL they went to 4 separate bushing-type links and 1 shock per side using square-tubes. 2008 and up use round tubes for the axle and linkages.

I can’t exactly duplicate the more modern rear suspension but I can make improvements to what I’ve got. I’ll keep you all posted.

As the title says, today I bought the first ‘bling’ for my GEM eL. We have several auto recyclers (junk yards) in this city and I decided to go there to see about getting some upgraded wheels and tires today. By chance, they had a set of 4 universal alloy wheels in 13 inch size with just a couple of dings and scratches and 4 175/70 SR-13 tires for them. I got two matching tires for the front and the rears got different brands but all 4 are in pretty good shape with plenty of miles left in them.

And, drum-roll please, I got the whole set for $135 plus tax. Talk about being in the right place at the right time, huh. Apparently, nobody wants 13 inch alloys anymore since most of today’s cars come with larger tires/wheels than that from the factory. That’s why I got such a low price on them I guess.

I installed them today after buying a set of the narrow, spline-type lug nuts and the driver for them. The offset is a little less than the OEM wheels so I’ll be looking for a set of 1 inch wheel spacers but otherwise they fit and looked great. On bumps with the wheel turned left something was rubbing and I found that the brake line from the rear section of the brake master cylinder was a little too close to the left front tire and rubbed over bumps. A little judicious bending by hand and I’ve got plenty of clearance now. Well - actually I need some wheel spacers to get the new wheels out another inch or so. Measured the outside edge to outside edge and it’s down to 46 inches (from stock 48 inches).


I have a 2002 eL similar to yours and as you know, the ride is extremely hard. I also removed one set of rear shocks but it doesn’t seem to help the ride. Have you thought of putting standard auto shocks on the front and rear to soften the ride? Do you know of any reason why one couldn’t ?

Thanks for your time.


I suppose the biggest issue with trying to source another shock is that coil-over-shock units are pretty rare except on Macpherson struts these days.

The way to soften the ride would be to put in longer but slightly less stiff (lower pounds per inch) springs on the existing shocks. That would take care of the front but the rear has another problem too. It’s got a “piano hinge” type rear suspension in which both wheels must go up and down equally all the time. The only way to solve that problem is to cut the axle assembly apart and add 4 bushings and appropriate mounting flanges on the top and bottom of the axle tube. This would free up te rear suspension and allow some limited individual movement between te left and right side.

It’s on my list of things to do. Right up there with getting the dents out of the diamond plate and polishing all that wonderful aluminum with its 11 years of neglect and abuse.

[QUOTE=bob.peloquin;14669]Finally got the plates though so now I’ll have to fix the DC converter and find an inspection station within driving range and speed limits that will take the time to call MassDOT and find out how to inspect one of these things. I’m sure that’ll be fun.[/QUOTE]

Did you get sorted with this Bob?

Yes, finally. The GEM has a couple hundred miles on it now since I got it registered on April 1st (April-Fools Day).

I’m not 100% happy with the range but I made the choice to go with the cheaper Group-31 batteries so I guess I can’t complain much. I’ve got to do some more tweaks to the motor controller to see if I can get the SOC meter to read more accurately. Right now it shows 100% for the first 5-10 miles and then begins its slow drop. I got down to pretty low charge last week after playing with the programming for a few hours and accidentally used too much of the remaining charge. Almost didn’t make it up my hill and the SOC still read over 60% so there’s definitely something not quite right.

Love the looks I get in it though. In the city I can drive the GEM just about everywhere and have made some round-trips of over 18 miles but the multiple short trips is where I get worried. It needs a trip meter!!!

Hi Bob

It sounds as though you like living on the edge with your journey range lol

Is that the modifications finished now or do you have more in the pipeline?