Your First Electric Car · 8 June 08
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:
- What Type Of Car
- What Parts Do I Need
- What Tools Do I Need
- Can Someone Do This For Me
- Buying EV Parts
- Electric Car Safety
- Enjoy and Share
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:
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.
- DC-DC converter
- Vacuum Brake Pump
- Battery Charger
(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.
- Greg’s $800 Yugo
- Shaun’s Toyota Echo
- Peter’s Solar Electric (w/wind Gen) Electric Van
- Mark’s 95 Saab 900
- Larry’s Geo Metro
- James May’s Metro EV
- Woody’s 240SX
- Darin’s Forkenlift to Forkenboogie conversion
- Jerry’s Citicar Project
- Bob’s 1957 Citroen
- Joe’s 280Z
- Ray’s Electric Motorcycle
- Gavin’s Kiwi EV
- Pietro’s Electric Fiat
- Alvin’s Spitfire
- John’s Diahatsu
- Jerry’s (Me) second EV: Ford Prob
- Jerry’s (Me) first EV: Mazda 626
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.
- EV America – I bought the motor and many of the other parts for our first EV from Bob. Great folks.
- KTA Services – another of the “old timers” in the EV world. Parts and Kits.
- ElectroAutomotive – parts and kits.
- Electric Transportation Solutions
- Wilde Evolutions
- Metric Mind (AC Drive system)
- Canadian Electric Vehicles
- Battery Electric Energy Power Systems
- Go EV – Home of EMIS, and the WarP, ImPulse and TransWarP Motors
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.