DIY Electric Car Conversion
So you're considering an electric car conversion? Well done! If you would like to
share your story as you do your conversion, we would love to hear from you here.
Avoiding sending your old chassis to the car graveyard and at the same time, cutting out the need for another new chassis to be made for you, is environmentally double-great!
Everything we make comes from the earth's resources and puts a strain on them---even environmentally-friendly stuff, like electric cars. They still need to be made in a factory, with energy and water and lights and some chemicals and some by-products and some emissions.
In the West, we have thought for too long, that just because we have the money to buy something, we should. For too long, we have overlooked the environmental costs that we, as individuals, don't have to pay for. The less unnecessary stuff we buy, the less we take from the earth and the less we impose on our planet's fragile eco-system. Recycling and cutting down on consumption used to be the way of previous generations who did not have our wealth. Now we don't need to be frugal like they did. But we should be!
So, converting a gas vehicle puts no additional production strain on the environment. You can even recycle your old gas engine when you rip it out by selling it to a parts dealer! Win win!
Electric Car Conversion ---The Practicalities
Going DIY on an electric car conversion is possible and popular----if you know what you're doing, I hasten to add. If not, I urge you to get an electrician to do the final wiring and check everything! You also need someone who can weld and fix things in place with brackets and stuff! Now, if it was me, I'd need a lot help in those departments!
Converting your existing car means you can make any type of manual transmission car into an electric one and therefore you have almost unlimited choice.
So, if you're really attached to that sports convertible, but would like to drive electric, well you can!
Joe Harris took this photo of his cool Mazda Miata after he spent 10 weeks converting it. Now, you don't need to spend as long as Joe did. He put in all sorts of hi-spec stuff that you might like, but won't need. But isn't it lovely?
The Best Cars for Electric Car Conversions
The car you are using to convert to electric is called the donor vehicle.
If you are the lucky owner of a VW Rabbit, Porsche 914, Chevy S-10, or Geo Metro, you'll find your conversion easier than the rest of us, because you can buy a ready-made electric car conversion kit with everything you need, tailored for those exact cars.
Otherwise, a donor vehicle with a light, roomy chassis is best---if that isn't a contradiction in terms! You need space to put all the batteries in. But you don't want the shell of the car to weigh so much that it's a drain on those batteries!
Hatchbacks are good for electric car conversions. So are medium sedans. Light trucks are also okay. Pick-ups have less driving range. But they have plenty of space for batteries and are designed to take weight at the back.
Using a donor vehicle with manual transmission is simplest. In theory, you can convert automatic transmissions, but nobody recommends this.
So what's the cost of an electric car conversion?
Not including the price of the donor vehicle, a conversion can be done for about $5,000. (That's just for the parts, not including any labour you have to pay for). If you need to buy more expensive parts, or a longer lasting battery, costs can be up to $10,000. Hiring a mechanic to do the work will probably set you back between $3500-$8500, depending on what's involved.
What kind of speed will I get?
Usually 55-65 miles per hour. But it is possible to get higher speeds by optimizing for this, up to 90 miles per hour.
Where do I start with an electric car conversion?
First, check with your traffic authority regarding regulations and safety requirements that may be relevant to your conversion.
When you're ready to convert, a good thing to begin with, is buying your battery, otherwise you're going nowhere! Most conversions use 6V flooded lead-acid golf-cart batteries. They are affordable and long-lasting.
Unfortunately, the type of specialized electric car batteries used by electric car manufacturers are not generally available to DIY-ers. But they should be! Manufacturers, please take note. There is a market for these!
When converting, you can trade-off acceleration against driving range. If getting the most distance out of your batteries is more important that doing 0-60 in 3 secs, then you can optimize for that---and the other way around. This is one of the advantages of a conversion.
If you don't have a lot of space in your chassis, or if you need fast acceleration, the more expensive, smaller, 12V sealed, lead-acid batteries may be more suitable. They won't carry you as far however. And you will need to replace them sooner than the lower voltage versions.
What about balance? Does the weight of all those batteries destabilise my car?
The heavy weight of electric car batteries means that DIY-conversions should take account of this. The weight should be kept low. Many conversions build the battery pack into the floor.
The weight should also be centered. You will also need to adjust your suspension accordingly. Make sure you install power steering and heavy duty brake pads when doing your conversion.
What else is involved?
When you've got your batteries sorted, you'll also need to get other stuff like an electric motor, electric controller, small electric water heater, volt meter, charging system, potentiometers, contacter etc.
When you have everything you need, you get to the fun part----gutting your old gas-guzzler. You won't need that greasy engine, fuel-tank, radiators, or exhaust anymore! Rip 'em out! Then you install the electrical stuff, wire it up, do all the little fiddly things I haven't time to mention here and that's basically it.
Depending on how competent you are, it can take anything from a few days (professionals) to a few weeks, to a few months (amateurs and perfectionists!)
Then comes the bureaucracy…
Make sure when you have completed your conversion, that you take a little time to deal with the boring stuff…..
Inform your insurance company that you have changed to a converted electric car. There shouldn't be any problems and if your agent says there are, try another agent. There are no issues with insurance. The only difference is, if you have a claim---because there's no Blue Book for electric vehicles, you may need to provide documentation about the cost of EV kits or values of used electric cars. But that's easily got, from dealers if you need it. In the meantime, keep all the receipts you get when buying parts and have them ready if necessary.
You may qualify for some tax incentives for converted electric cars. Enquire from your friendly taxman!
You will need to register your car as electric to be exempted from emissions inspections and get other benefits. When you're officially electric, you may be eligible for free parking, recharging and bus lane use, in some enlightened districts. Lobby to get them introduced to your area if they don't exist!
They're clean!They're green!