What Goes Into Converting a Car to Electric?

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More and more electric vehicles available on the market these days, and with each passing year, more consumers are making the switch to save money on gas and long term maintenance. Electric cars are increasingly available at similar price points to their gas-powered counterparts, from cheaper no-frill options to expensive luxury models. Did you know, however, that DIY-ers can convert gas-powered vehicles into EV’s for as little as a quarter of the standard sticker prices? This article will talk about what goes into converting a car into an electric vehicle, including basic steps and costs.

The Right Car For Electric Conversion

When choosing what kind of car to convert, there are a few factors to consider. A lighter car will go the furthest on a full charge, and will be more energy-efficient than heavier vehicles. Space for batteries is important—where can they be stored properly and safely? Once batteries are installed, the car will be heavier, so it's best to pick a car known for good chassis design that won’t roll easily. This may be a no-brainer, but finding one that’s in good shape is vital—you don’t want to spend money and time on a conversion if the car is a lemon.

Remember that you’ll be taking out the motor and any other gas-related features, so you can find a deal by purchasing or saving a car that has engine or fuel-line problems.

Conversely, consider skipping over cars with power steering and brakes. Those are expensive features, and since they run off the engine, they'll be inoperable post-conversion. They also add extra weight to a car.

Voltage System

You’ll have to choose between a DC or AC electric motor (there are advantages and disadvantages to both). Cheap, used DC forklift motors are readily available for sale which makes them a popular choice, but there are more AC motor options if you're looking for something specific. The voltage system you choose will also dictate your battery needs. You’ll need a controller that’s compatible with the motor you select, as well.

electric car battery

Batteries

EV batteries are expensive and heavy, but they are the propeller of your EV. They'll need to be replaced at some point (one of the downsides), and their lifespan depends on quality and size. Determine what kind of charge times and mile-range capability you're looking for, and balance those needs with your budget. Stay away from cheaply made batteries as they may cost you more down the road, literally.

Step-by-Step

Once you’ve got a car and voltage system parts figured out, start by removing the engine, radiator, starter, exhaust and fuel systems, and the gas and coolant tanks. Getting rid of the unnecessary parts reduces weight and clears space for the new parts. You can sell the extra parts to help pay for the conversion.

The electric motor will have to be placed into a prepared mount. Before that happens, some jury-rigging may be necessary, depending on how you decide to connect the system—there are numerous ways to make this happen, depending on your design. A popular choice is to get an aluminum adapter plate (made by yourself or a machinist) to connect the engine to the car’s transmission. Attach them to each other first, and make sure they're centered and tested before mounting inside the vehicle. This will save you from lifting a heavy piece of machinery in and out!

Installing the controller will also depend on your desired design, but it usually happens after everything else is in place. Once all of the parts are mounted properly, the new system will have to be wired together.

Lastly, prepare mounts and install the batteries. Charge them up and test out your new electric vehicle in a safe area before taking it to the streets.

electric car engine

Overall Costs

A very general estimate for converting a gas-powered car to an electric vehicle is between $5,000 and $12,000. Batteries can be found for $1,000 to $2,000, depending on how many you need. An electric motor and controller will also be around $1,000-$2,000 for each; however, you might also find a very good used forklift motor for under $500—it all depends on how much time you can take sourcing cheaper parts.

An adapter plate is a bit less, from $500 to $1,000. Miscellaneous items like wiring and switches will also run around $500-$1,000. This doesn't take any labor into consideration, nor the cost of the vehicle you are converting. Hiring someone to do the conversion would run from $12,000-18,000, including parts and labor.

More conversion kits enter the market every year, and new advances in electric motor technology are popping up regularly. Decide your budget ahead of time, and calculate how much DIY work you can do, as the kits can sometimes cost as much as a new car. Remember to check municipal regulations regarding driving electric vehicles, and think twice about converting a “classic” car if it's an antique investment—its resale price might change once it’s electric.

With a multitude of options available, an increasing number of car enthusiasts are considering electric car conversions. Maybe you're among them! Remember, any car can be converted. It’s up to you to decide whether it's worth the effort.

If you do take on a conversion, show off your work to the world on our Projects page! This is a hot space, and our readers love hearing about adventurous new creations. Best of luck!