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Question: I would like to know about alternative recharging methods for a rechargeable toy car.

Synopis I have the Fisher Price Shake n Go Xtreme car and track set. The cars are problematic in two key areas with regard to the electronics:

  1. Recharging takes 40 minutes and provides 10 minutes of runtime
  2. The recharging station is not AC powered, it operates off of 4 DC batteries

I would like to find an alternate way to charge the NiMH 3.6V 170 mAh batteries in the cars so that they can recharge faster, incorprating AC charging. I believe the red and white wires simply supply power, while the yellow wires are connected to the bottom of the car and provide the positive and negative for charging

I am open to replacing the batteries with a higher amperage so that they hold a charge longer

Car schematics

Here are the pictures from the charging base, which takes 4 D-cell batteries. I want to rewire this charging system to use AC power for charging more efficiently, and hopefully faster.

Charger 1 Charger2

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please scale / crop the image to more useful sizes and removing 'open' space. Say 640px wide max. \$\endgroup\$ – jippie Feb 24 '13 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I updated the image, is that better? \$\endgroup\$ – RussellW Feb 24 '13 at 19:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that yellow wires are for the "temperature sensor". If I understood correctly, the green battery pack is the power source for the car, which is 3.6V 170mAh, 10 minutes is a good runtime, it seems like you are driving down the hills :) You have to replace the batteries with high amperage if you want to enjoy a longer ride. Charging time can be decreased with use of intelligent (not so hard) charging, which can be achieved with an IC and some resistors and capacitors, nothing fancy.. \$\endgroup\$ – abdullah kahraman Feb 24 '13 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perfect picture. \$\endgroup\$ – jippie Feb 24 '13 at 20:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given that the charger is regulated, it should be possible to just replace the 4 D batteries with a 6V supply, which will save you batteries. \$\endgroup\$ – pjc50 Feb 24 '13 at 20:32
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The battery charger chip seems to be On Semi MC33342 (chip is labeled 33342). This is a NiCd/NiMH "smart charger" chip, which means if you feed it power in the right input range it will handle battery charging, controlling the big power transistor on the yellow circuit board. In brief, it looks at voltage and temperature of the battery and turns the power transistor on or off to charge or stop charging the battery. It uses "negative slope voltage detection" charge termination, where during charging the battery voltage will rise until it's almost full, then start going downwards. Where the voltage goes from upwards to downwards (looks like the peak of a hill if you graphed voltage during charging) is where fast charge ends. The current into the battery must be limited somehow, so there will be some control on the power transistor to limit the current through it, either inside the package or external to it. I haven't tried to trace out the schematic from the circuit board but you may try to figure it out yourself from the example schematic in the data sheet. http://www.onsemi.com/pub_link/Collateral/MC33340-D.PDF

The yellow wires are for a negative-temperature-coefficient thermistor (labeled NTC on the yellow circuit board), probably a 10kohm resistor that varies resistance with temperature, a lower resistance the warmer it gets. The chip uses this to see if the battery temperature is rising too quickly or above/below a safety threshold. Technically you can replace this with a plain resistor and the circuit will still mostly work, it'll just be blind to the battery temperature (will always think it's ok), which is unsafe and so a bad idea. NiMH can get very hot if fast charging is not stopped when they're full, hot enough to burn your hand.

Because there's a proper regulated battery charger between the 4 x D cells and the NiMH battery, it would almost certainly work if you just put a 6V DC source with sufficient current capability at the +/- leads of the DC battery compartment, or associated wires. Because the NiMH battery is so small, 6V 500mA may be more than enough. Check the actual current draw from the D cells when the NiMH is almost full to get a more accurate picture, then overspecify by 2x or more and it will probably be ok. Also note that 4 x D cells are not going to be 6V all the time, they will be closer to 4V when almost dead, so it's very likely that a 5V 500mA regulated source will also work, for example a cell phone USB wall adapter if you have an extra one. An in-line fuse would be a good idea. Depending on how the circuit board is designed it may be able to take an input voltage quite a bit higher than 6V; the chip specifies 18V max but you'd have to understand the rest of the circuit also. It may be possible to use a 12V rechargeable lead-acid motorcycle battery instead of the D cells if you need to recharge away from a wall outlet, but beware that trying it may or may not fry the charger circuit depending on how it was designed.

As to swapping out for a bigger battery pack, this is probably possible, as the smart charger chip can handle a variety of cell configurations, but you may have to alter the charger circuit so it knows to run a higher current into the battery pack, or set a longer timeout period, etc. This may require soldering tiny resistors (changing their values) which you may not have on hand. It is not recommended to increase charge current (decrease charge time) on the pack you've already got as 40 minutes is already a pretty fast charge time. There may be NiMH out there that can charge in 15 minutes but if you had such a battery they would have designed the charger to take advantage of it. Anything under 1 hour charge is already "fast charge" and charging it faster may severely shorten the life of the pack, or worse, create safety issues. If you do try a different battery pack you'd want to keep the same cell configuration, which appears to be 3 cells in series. Also cut the NTC thermistor loose from the small pack and attach it to the new pack with thermally conductive adhesive, or possibly buy another one if you can figure out which one it is.

The proper way to change the battery pack to a larger one would be to reverse-engineer the circuit board so you have a schematic you can compare with the reference schematic in the chip data sheet. Try to understand the circuit fully before you modify it. It'd help if you post another photo showing what's printed on the face of the big power transistor on the yellow side of the charger board.

The battery pack seems to connect to the inside of the car, and the wires pass through somehow to different wires before going to the battery charger board. You'd want to disconnect the battery from the car and wire it directly to the charger board before testing any modified charger/battery design so you don't blow up your car, then wire it back when it works. If the wires only pass through then it should be easy, if something in the car circuit board modifies the power path then you'd want to understand that as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ By the way, you don't necessarily have to build a bigger battery pack, you could try to buy or build several more like the one you've got, and recharge them all ahead of time. Looks like you'd have to cut the wires to the battery pack and add a connector. \$\endgroup\$ – Matt B. Mar 2 '13 at 5:52
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I work with batteries daily (I design battery chargers and BMSs) and so I feel compelled to tell you that this isn't something you should do without proper research, especially if you don't want Nickel exploding everywhere. Batteries are dangerous things, even small ones.

As the other users suggested, getting a battery with a wider capacity would be good (although heavier and there is a trade-off there) but if you look at the supplier data sheet you should be able to find the maximum charging current and voltage (current is far more important here in terms of safety). The easiest thing to do would be to have a simple desk DC power supply (you can get them for ~$50-100 on eBay and then just set your supply to be current limited (NOT voltage limited) then set the voltage to the charging level. Also, use a thermocouple or a multimeter to check temperature, NOT your finger.

Too many people want to speed up charging times and the only real safe way to do this is with smart charging algorithms (i.e. constant voltage transitioning into constant current) and even these don't shave off that much time. While using a standard consumer rechargeable battery, safety is paramount and unless you are willing to spend the time and money (time being far more important here) I would keep your current setup while maybe switching to a larger battery instead of 4 D batteries (but double check the maximum discharge of whichever battery you use and compare it to the maximum charging current of the battery).

Good luck and sorry if I was a downer.

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I got a couple 180mah lipo batteries, ripped the guts out of the charging base and connected a usb charger (for the lipos) into the base. Now the cars charge faster, have more capacity, and can use usb. Two of the wires from the car are for the temp sensor and will not be used (the temp sensor slides out of the batter and has the 2 yellow wires). The red/black pair go to the battery. Works great!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep a fire extinguisher handy. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Alexeev Dec 22 '15 at 0:39

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