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Your First Electric Car · 8 June 08

Leno in Baker Electric

As the price of gas soars so to does the number of folks visiting this web site. Perhaps you searched the web for electric car (EV) information and came here as well? There’s a lot of information on this web site and not all of it is organized with the first time converter in mind. This article is meant to try and help organize the information you need:

Each section will have links to other articles on the site that contain more information on the topic. As more articles are added we’ll be updating this page as well.

What Type Of Car

Most EVs are constructed from small cars or small trucks, even motorcycles. It is possible to convert a large vehicle but, barring some serious outlay of money for expensive and advanced batteries, you probably won’t get the range that you want. Here’s the best analogy I’ve come up with for choosing a vehicle to convert to electric: Gas Can

Imagine driving the car with only one gallon of gas.

You can’t stop to fill up: the gas is in a special container that takes a few hours to fill. Now, given that restriction how does your vehicle look as a conversion? Also, remember, in cold weather a car’s gas mileage gets worse and lead-acid EVs are no different, you’ll get even fewer miles from that “gallon of gas.”

I read the following the other day and thought it applied nicely to converting an electric car as well:

Fast, Cheap, and Good… pick two. If it’s fast and cheap it wont be good. If it’s cheap and good it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good it wont be cheap.”

For more thoughts on car types check out, Choosing a Vehicle and Can I use an Automatic Transmission. Also, spend some time browsing the growing collection of conversions over at the EV Album. There’s a little bit of everything being converted to electric: cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, and even boats.

Bottom line: putting an electric motor and batteries in your car doesn’t necessarily make it a better or more efficient vehicle. If you convert a heavy, gas guzzling car to electric it will most likely be a heavy, electricity guzzling EV.

What Parts Do I Need

The parts needed for an electric car are surprisingly few. Here’s a list of the major components with links to some of the current types/manufacturers.

(drop us an email if we’ve missed any)

Of course there’s a number of mechanical pieces to put this all together: adaptor plates, battery boxes, along with wiring and control relays. Here’s an article featuring a typical electric car schematic and another with an electric motorcycle schematic.

Despite the limited number of parts you still have decisions to make. We have an EV Calculator to help with some of those what-if type of questions. While it won’t provide an exact answer to the range you’ll get, it is very useful in comparing one choice to another. In other words if it calculates around 30 miles of range using one type of battery what will you get if you use another battery combination, or voltage level, or controller choice?

Here’s the calculator pre-loaded with a few popular EV configurations:

These are somewhat fictitious setups using generic part setups. You could make the same type of setups that get worse range/performance and you could also make even better setups. For example, adding low rolling resistance tires can greatly help range but might not be something you’d want on a sporty conversion.

Over the years I’ve collected the specifications for a handful of batteries which you’ll find on the EV Batteries page. The prices are most certainly wrong by now (feel free to send updated info if you find it) and the list is far from exhaustive. It’s hard to get battery manufacturers to send us this data and pouring through their specifications you’ll find that they often use different measuring criteria as well.

What Tools Do I Need

Since you are modifying an existing vehicle to take a new motor type and to hold a bunch of batteries you will need to perform some metal work. An adaptor plate needs to be created to match the electric motor to the transmission, which a local machine shop could do for you (I had mine done by EV America) along with one or more motor mounts that “hang” the DC motor off the wheel well. Batteries need to be mounted securely, which typically involves making steel frames and/or a box, all of which means doing some welding. And of course you’ll be doing a lot of electrical wiring, both low and high voltage.

Oh, and there’s the whole “removing the old engine and parts” phase, which doesn’t take any particular skillset, as long as you don’t mind getting dirty. Maybe you can outsource the job to your local High School auto-mechanic class?

Here’s my rough tool list (to own/borrow/rent):

  • socket set
  • wire stripper and crimper (low voltage)
  • big crimper (high voltage, picture here)
  • volt meter
  • hack saw
  • welding gear

I hired out for some of the welding in my first EV. After figuring out the approximate size and location of the battery boxes I brought the guy over and we brainstormed over the best approach. He then welded together a few frames and then came over and put it all together. Turned out great and didn’t cost much. I’m in the process of repeating this for the new EV and am thinking of doing it myself.

You’ll also want to have a basic understanding of electricity and/or some good wiring plans. Considering the level of voltage and current involved you don’t want to be guessing or taking shortcuts. To get some basic electronics here’s a fun series we did called, Electronics for Dogs.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Sometimes the best way to learn is to just get in there and start working, learning as you go. Seeing as converting an EV is a pretty large project you might find the job easier after seeing how others have accomplished the task, be it by reading books or web chronicles. We have had a number of great EV’ers share their experiences over the years. Here’s some of the EV conversions we’ve featured.

Conversions Yugo Greg

Books Convert It

Buying EV Parts

Which leads us to the last, big question: where do I buy all of the parts for making a conversion? With the interest in EVs on the rise the number of “fly-by-night” operations springing up on the web is increasing, as are the bogus perpetual motion/amazing battery juice/free-energy scams. With EVs, as with many other things, if something sounds too good to be true it mostly likely is … not true, that is.

The following companies have been around for a long time. They may be at the same price or slightly higher than others you find, but they’ve been around and have been supporting customers for years and will probably be around for years and years to come. That in itself is worth a few extra bucks with this kind of investment.

I should warn you that some of the EV parts are expensive. DC motors are in the $1,000-$2,000 range as are controllers. A dozen deep cycle lead-acid batteries will be close to a thousand dollars as well. And these are just for generic DC systems, when you start looking at high performance DC or AC systems or advanced batteries the prices head up above ten thousand dollars. The good news is that for all but the batteries this will be a one time investment. Unlike most of your gas automobile with tons of moving parts and corrodible exhaust system, the parts in an EV have hardly any moving parts: a couple bearings and a few brushes should be all that you need to replace down the road.

Still, not everyone buys new. Bob Hurst and Greg Coleman constructed their EVs from second hand parts or what they had on hand. Some folks turn to EBay, others to the junkyards and electronics surplus houses.

Electric Car Safety

Before heading off on this adventure I would strongly suggest reading up on safety. I’ve written a short article on Electric Car Safety and there are also good sections in the EV conversion books listed above and on our EV Resources page.

Enjoy and Share!

Once again congratulations on your decision to try and convert your own EV. It’s a rewarding journey, even if it might be fraught with ogres or delays. The EV Smile you’ll have on your first drive is hard to describe but you’ll know what we are talking about when you get it.

And of course feel free to share. Send us an email letting us know what you are up to and if you have the time to put together pictures and information we will add it to our growing list of conversions. Also, if you have any links to suppliers, new products, batteries, etc.. please feel free to pass them along as well.

Comments 39
  1. — richard desrosiers    Jun 08, 2008 11:01 AM    #

    attempting to find a good ev conversion subject. then i will attempt to get as far from an oil need as possible.
    thank you for your site.

  2. — Ben    Jun 10, 2008 01:34 AM    #

    Thanks for the info now off to ind the step by step instructions lol cant screw up the car to badly

  3. — Jim    Jun 19, 2008 00:31 AM    #

    Any suggestions for finding an S10 or Ranger glider in Southern California? I have checked ebay, Autotrader, Craigslist, wrecking yards with no luck – any advice?

  4. — Daniel Penisten    Jun 26, 2008 01:56 AM    #

    Tonight, I watched a documentary entitled “Who Killed The Electric Car?” When that was over I came to the computer and found your great site.

    I have a nice little Nissan pickup, (1986) that i would love to convert to electric. As soon as this election year is over I will. My funds are presently tied up campaigning for Mr. Nader.

    Meanwhile I will begin studying your wonderful site. Thank you for building it.

    Cordially Yours, DAN 1

  5. — todd atkins    Jul 03, 2008 08:24 AM    #

    I am interested in converting a convertible car. Is this advisable or will the weight be to much for this type of car? Has anyone done a rag top?

  6. — Jeremy W    Jul 21, 2008 20:43 PM    #

    yes it is possible to use a convertible. I plan on using an 04 mustang that i have sitting in my backyard collecting dust when i get through with my GMC Sierra pickup. Hovever you will have limited acceleration and range. I will be using marine deep cycle batteries avaible at any local autozone on both conversions. I will only be able to fit 12 batteries in the vehicle total. This will take up my entire trunk space but i still have the backseat. On the mustang i will use a Kelly 500A controller and will attach the motor directly to the rear axle shaft to achieve a top speed of about 330 miles per hour. I plan on using this as a dedicated race car when i finish.

  7. — Jeremy W    Jul 21, 2008 20:45 PM    #

    PS you will absolutely have to upgrade the suspension to the best available. I recommend going to Summitracing.com because thats where i buy all of my parts from.

  8. — todd    Jul 24, 2008 13:04 PM    #


    Thanks for the insight. I would rather have a car that has good acceleration, so I will probably skip the convertible idea. What is the range for your mustang when set up for racing?

  9. — Jeremy W    Jul 25, 2008 02:23 AM    #

    I dont know about the range in miles but I can tell you the range in hours. The total runtime at 350 amps(the max continuous current the motor can support) would be 10 hours(at 50 percent depth of discharge). the range depends on several conditions such as wind, incline, tire resistance, and several other factors.
    P.S. the 330 miles per hour is under the best conditions possible. the actual speed would be about 290(i wouldn’t be driving at that speed on any racetrack for any reason)

  10. — todd    Jul 25, 2008 07:23 AM    #

    Very impressive! Make sure to keep us up to date on your progress. Fast on sunday sells cars on monday, maybe that will work for electric cars as well.

  11. — Bob    Jul 26, 2008 06:48 AM    #

    Thinking about doing a s10 EV. Living in South Florida I don’t have to be concernsd with a heater but do need a/c. Is there a unit on the market that will operate my a/c unit?

  12. Jerry    Jul 26, 2008 07:02 AM    #

    Hi Bob,

    If your EV motor has a dual shaft you could rig up a pulley on the end to run the AC compressor.

    A quick search shows some DC powered air conditioning units (for boats mostly) but they are pricey. The Toyota Prius’ AC is run independently of the gas engine, so I think it must have its own little DC motor. Maybe you could find one at a salvage yard?

  13. — frank    Jul 30, 2008 00:50 AM    #

    The following link is a pretty impressive look at batteries. Hope you find it useful.
    NBEAA Battery Comparison(PDF)

  14. Jerry    Jul 30, 2008 06:36 AM    #

    Thanks, Frank. I’ve fixed the link for you.

  15. — Sean M    Aug 05, 2008 07:09 AM    #

    I’ve decided on a Chevy S10 conversion. Does anyone know of any major differences between using a 1997 vs 2002 as a donor? Given they would be 4cyl/5spd/2wd trucks, are there any conversion challenges? I’ve found several vehicles in my area but for a fraction more money I can get a 2002 with lower mileage (i.e. wear/tear on front end, body etc..) Also, besides additional weight, are there any drawbacks on the extended cab models vs the regular cab models? Hoping to purchase soon and work on the project over the winter.

  16. — EVdude    Aug 05, 2008 10:21 AM    #

    glad to see you getting into electric vehicles Sean. If i were you i would go with the 2002 because it is cheaper and has less wear which is a very good combination. however before you buy it you need to check the underside of the body and some hidden parts of the frame for rust because more hidden rust will probably mean a lower price on the vehicle. Just double check each place before buying and if it has no rust(or almost none) then buy it and find some way to get rid of the rust. As for extended cab vs. regular cab i can try to help but it’s all up to you. If you plan on filling the bed full of batteries then go with an extended cab because the backseat could be used to haul stuff like groceries if you have a passenger. but if you don’t plan on having passengers then go with the regular cab because it is lighter and will provide more range. but if you plan on hauling large loads then count on about 20 – 30 miles range depending on driving conditions. however there are many things you can do to extend the range. first off don’t use the transmission. instead attach to the the U-Joint at the rear axle(assuming it is a rear wheel driver). If you use a 144 Advanced DC motor then the top RPM is usually 7000. Assuming a 4.11 gear reduction at the rear transfer case and 24 inch diameter tires then the top speed under perfect conditions would be 121 but in reality would be about 100 or so. at average city driving speeds this might(just might) make up for the extra weight and give you about 40 or 50 miles of range from a single battery pack.

    P.S. if you can fit 2 battery packs then go ahead and make the battery boxes but put in the batteries as you get them so it will be driveable with only one pack but you can add on as you go to increase the range. Good luck and happy EV-ing.

  17. — EVdude    Aug 05, 2008 10:26 AM    #

    by the way to formula for determing speed and a give RPM is:
    RPM x Transmission gear increase ration x Tire Outside diameter.
    then divide this by:
    Gear reduction x 336.

    for what i suggested earlier you would say
    7000 × 24/4.11 × 336. I didn’t include the transmission ratio because i said not to use one to help extend the range at city driving speeds.

  18. — Sean M    Aug 07, 2008 21:41 PM    #

    Thanks for the information. I have not read about or considered attaching the motor directly to the u-joint. Most methods I have found attach the motor directly to the standard transmission. You are suggesting attaching it to the front u-joint on the driveshaft? Or the u-joint on the rear-end? What about weather/elements on the exposed motor?

  19. Greg Fordyce    Aug 08, 2008 04:22 AM    #

    Hi Sean,

    While a direct drive setup will save some weight and eliminate the losses of the gearbox, you would probably need to change the final drive ratio to suit your requirements. Problem is that if your final drive ratio gives you a theoretical top speed of 120 mph then at city speeds of say 30 mph your motor is going to be turning quite slowly. The effect of this is more amps required to get good acceleration. This will require a larger more expensive controller. If this is your first conversion I would recommend keeping the gearbox. You can then use the gear that is most efficient for your driving conditions. For example many people find 2nd is good in town and 3rd is good on the highway. Overall I think you would have better range and performance with the gearbox, due to the ability to select the most appropriate gear.

    Wherever you mount the motor it is a good idea to protect it from direct road spray.


  20. — Kyle B    Aug 08, 2008 17:11 PM    #

    Edmunds.com can give you figures to compare the weight of the 97 vs the 02, that may override the better condition of the 02. Then, rust is the biggest worry because of the constant weight of the batteries needs a perfect frame. If you use the calculator on this site:
    you will see that the lower gears give better range due to the motor’s efficiency at higher RPMs, so keep the gearbox and live in 2nd gear.

  21. — Kyle B    Aug 08, 2008 17:15 PM    #

    Does anyone have an insurance company that will insure my $800 donor car for the $8000 it is worth once I am done converting? The collector car companies that advertise “agreed upon value” do not want you to actually drive the cars they insure, so commuting to work is forbidden. My normal insurance company says they will only use the book value of the car.

  22. — EVdude    Aug 12, 2008 20:56 PM    #

    thanks Greg and Kyle. I completely forgot about the efficiency at higher rpms. thanks for reminding me.

  23. — Sean M    Aug 13, 2008 10:59 AM    #

    OK Thanks to Kyle and others for the direct drive info. So direct drive will take a back seat in my conversion options. I was fortunate to see an ’85 Ford Ranger conversion first hand on Monday. The glider was a little rough (even before the conversion) but the conversion itself seemed first rate. He got a lot of helpful guidance and parts from a local EV supplier. I would really like to see one or two more (preferably a Chevy S10) but most of my emails to folks on the EV Album website go unanswered. Why to people include their email in the contact info if they will never respond. Rhetorical question I guess.

    So if anyone is in the Southern NH or Eastern Mass area and knows of a willing conversion hobbiest that I can talk to (and see the car), please let me know. Thanks all,

  24. Xebra    Aug 16, 2008 02:15 AM    #

    That is an excellent, comprehensive post you put together there. I think that a lot of people are very interested in EVs right now, and are looking for facts and information.

  25. — Ike    Aug 20, 2008 18:16 PM    #

    Superb website. I’m eager to try to convert my 91 civic hatchback into an EV. I’m half way through my electromech studies and think I might make this a school project. My teachers are all romanian and russian electronic engineers so I think I should syphon their brains while I have the chance. Additionally I might be able to snag a bunch of Lithium Ion batteries 14.4V, 28V as a sponsorship/donation. I’ve heard in the forum about small power tool batteries being non-applicable because of their 1)cost 2)mounting and wiring complexity and 3)their discharge/ charge management. That said I have heard about EVs being powered by multiple banks of laptop batteries (okay the # was in the thousands I believe). I believe these cars battery discharge/recharge was managed by freeware running off an onboard laptop.

    So. If these lithium batteries were free would the car still be feasible within a 50-100km range? And where do I find the specs and drag coefficients for my 91 civic?

    I’m in Montreal, Canada. Any advise, hints or ideas?

  26. — EVdude    Aug 20, 2008 22:03 PM    #

    yes it is feasible if you have enough battery capacity. I can’t find it now but i have a popular science magazine that has an article on a guy using 6000+ laptop batteries. he was able to get about 200-300 kilometers. hope that helps.
    P.S. the tesla roadster pushes 350 kilometers on a single charge(i don’t know exactly how to convert from miles to km but it is about 1.6 km to one mile)

  27. — jjackstone    Aug 21, 2008 02:24 AM    #

    And it is the Tesla that uses over 6000 laptop lithiums for power. JJ

  28. — EVdude    Aug 21, 2008 19:45 PM    #

    oh yeah thanks for mentioning that. wish i could afford one. especially considering that 6000 laptop batteries would cost about 600,000 with a buy in bulk discount.

    P.S. does anyone know what voltage the tesla roadster is?

  29. — Dan P.    Aug 22, 2008 00:23 AM    #


    PDF Quote: The pack operates at a nominal 375 volts, stores about 53 kilowatt hours of electric energy, and delivers up to 200 kilowatts of electric power.

    The Tesla Roadster battery pack is comprised of about 6800 of these 18650 cells, and the entire pack has a mass of about 450kg.

  30. — Dan P.    Aug 22, 2008 00:34 AM    #

    PS: Might not be exactly the cell they use but the PDF also said “This cell is called the 18650 because of its measurements of 18mm diameter by 65mm length (i.e., just a bit larger than a AA battery).”

    Li-Ion 18650 Cylindrical Cell 3.6V 2400mAh Cell (LC-18650H3)
    Cost: $12.20 each, In Stock: No

    Maybe Tesla bought them all…

  31. — Grumpy    Aug 22, 2008 13:38 PM    #

    Ebay has lots of lithium batts on thier site cheap… my question is how would you wire them for both recharge and discharge ???

  32. — EVdude    Aug 22, 2008 16:12 PM    #

    thanks for the info dan. i may use the same batteries later on. according to my calculations the batteries have a combined total of 13000 amps available to the controller. if i use those same batteries i will need 3000 of them but the 45000 dollar price tag would be worth it.

  33. — EVdude    Aug 22, 2008 19:27 PM    #

    quick update
    the website says that the batteries are unreliable but i found a better one for way cheaper on the same site that would only cost me 30000 dollars and a range of about 150 miles. i wish i had the money but i am on a limited 250 dollar a month budget(talk about poor)

  34. — Roger    Oct 07, 2008 13:45 PM    #

    I have just gutted a Masserati Biturbo, and got as far as pulling the steering when I thought of going electric.The trans is easily replaced if using it is necessay as it sounds it is. I amagine the clutch pressure plate and flywheel need to be adapted to the motor. There is without a doubt some sort of controler needed for power or should the motor run at optumum rpm all the time. So next which is the best motor and batteries to make this work? Money is an object, and how are we to afford this?

  35. — Eli    Nov 17, 2008 14:13 PM    #

    Has anyone converted an AWD? I am thinking of converting my 2000 Subaru Impreza wagon. If I did it, could I ditch the clutch/flywheel? I have heard of people pinning the tranny in second gear or just shifting w/o clutch. I live in the foothills (CA) and losing AWD isn’t an option. Is regen braking worth the expense of AC system?

  36. Kustomatic    Feb 11, 2009 02:11 AM    #

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful post. I’ve been always curious on how to convert a car to EV.

  37. — RAFAEL RALPHSON    Jun 30, 2009 16:53 PM    #

    I’m interesting in to convert fuel cars in to electric cars in colombia. And I’m looking for companies in USA that has this technology. Please contact me.

    Best Regards,

    Rafael Ralphson

  38. — Bill Rodgers    Sep 02, 2009 18:15 PM    #

    I have a 1988 280 Z Nissan. I am seriously considering the EV conversion. My question..now what! The info here is great. Should I work out a system design before I begin or just piece the items together as I go. What sources are there in richmond virginia for used or low cost items (for a beginning to experiment with) Thanks for any input! B. Rodgers

  39. — ron webber    Sep 03, 2009 22:41 PM    #

    I have a 1992 ford escort with an electric motor in it. It was built at University of Illinois . It has 9000 original miles. Anyone interested contact me. rdwdkw@gmail.com