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Build Your Own Electric Car

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Building your own electric car is a big endeavor, but it's not impossible. It's all a matter of having the right know-how and materials. Most people who are at least marginally competent with tools can make an electric car.

Know Your Expectations

Be realistic and know your expectations first. Building your own, it's not likely that you'll be able to design the car from the ground up nor will it be a high speed racer like a Tesla Roadster or a powerhouse like the Balqon. Most likely it will be a lower-speed (25-40mph) vehicle with a limited range (25-50 miles).

What you build will depend entirely on your budget, of course. If you can afford to spend a lot of money, then you'll be able to have higher speeds and longer ranges.

Another thing to remember and budget for is the registration costs. Most electric conversions require that you re-certify the vehicle with your state and county motor vehicle's divisions (DMV and DOT). This can cost hundreds of dollars in many areas.

Building From a Donor

Nearly all electric vehicle builds are conversions of former internal combustion vehicles. So you'll start with a "donor vehicle." You'll want to tear this down to a rolling chassis by removing the engine, fuel system (and tank), exhaust system, etc.

Depending on your intended conversion, you will also remove the rest of the drive train (transmission, drive shafts). If you plan to utilize these in the rebuild, they can be left in place.

The vehicle should be in good working order (except for the engine, since you're just removing it). Many donor vehicles are older, but still in good shape (no rust) or are purchased at auction as "not running" (engine blown or otherwise inoperable).

Conversion Kits

There are a myriad of merchants out there selling conversion kits for electric vehicle builds. These range in price according to what you are intending to do, so you could spend $500 or you could spend $5,000 or even more. It's a good idea to get at least a basic conversion kit (sans any parts you source yourself if you can), since there are a lot of little switches and such that you aren't likely to have planned for.

Conversion kits also make it easy on the first time DIY electric car builder because they include everything in one package. Usually all you'll have to add are the batteries.

Batteries

This is a major concern and likely the biggest expense in your conversion. You'll need ample room to place the batteries, easy access to a charging unit and connection to those batteries, and likely a cutoff switch or other safety device so you can turn off all power (physically) when working on the car.

Most people plan to put the batteries where the fuel tank was, but this isn't always easy to do because batteries should be protected from the elements and fuel tanks usually aren't. Most will fill the engine compartment and possibly the trunk with batteries instead.

With lead-acid conventional batteries, you'll save a lot of money in battery costs, but will have to replace them more often and are limited in versatility in terms of size and shape for placement on the car. With lithium-ion batteries, the possibilities in those terms are nearly limitless, but the costs are much (much) higher.

Do Your Homework

Finally, before you actually tackle the job, you'll want to make sure you understand everything there is to know about it first. Know the base vehicle in and out and what you'll need to facilitate things you might need like heat (required for safety), air conditioning (optional), power steering (likely optional), braking, and so forth. Then have a mechanic go over the vehicle BEFORE you do the conversion and certify that everything is in proper order and in good shape. Now is the time to replace bad brake lines or other components while most of the stuff is out of your way.

Good luck and have fun!

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This site follows the emergence, application and development of transportation innovation. Reference to manufacturers, makes and models, and other automotive-related businesses are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement by FutureCars.com.

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