There are a lot of terrific electric vehicles on the market. But what about building your own electric car? It’s not as difficult as you might think. And there are a number of ways to do it. In addition, there are more resources available for enthusiasts than ever before. Who wouldn’t want a great car that lets them keep more of their money than a gas guzzler? Let’s have a look at the process; then you can decide which option is best for you.
How to Build Your Own Electric Car
When it comes down to it, there are two well-traveled paths to building your own electric car. You can buy a kit, or you can convert an existing vehicle to electric. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. But ultimately, the decision comes down to you. Are you the type of person who likes to build something from the ground up? In this case, a kit might suit your fancy. On the other hand, if you prefer modding and hacking something basic into something spectacular, then converting an existing vehicle might be for you.
Building Your Own Electric Car from a Kit
Kit cars are famous for their often eccentric appearance. Builders love to trick out their creations with all the bells, whistles, and unique touches that let people know that the vehicle didn’t roll off some assembly line. These are the cool kids on the block. Everything, down to the last detail, is custom.
With a car kit, builders purchase a customized body (or the parts to assemble one) and build it around the engine block of a donor car. Kits have different levels of customizability. You can buy a complete body and just choose the paint color. You can assemble the body bit by custom bit, having tweaked every inch to your unique tastes. A lot of builds are somewhere in between.
How much does it cost to build an electric car from a kit? That’s a question with a number of answers. And the answer depends on what you intend to do. However, looking at different electric conversion kits for the car you want to build, prices range from about $6,000 to over $50,000.
What’s in an Electric Car Kit?
A basic car kit contains the things you’ll need to create an original body style to fit onto an existing chassis. Purpose kits contain everything you need to build the car. In-between these two options, you have to consider things like paint and finish, wheels and tires, and special tools you might need. And remember, an electric engine, battery, and associated hardware may add to the cost.
Axle Addict has a list of five bargain basement car kits. The prices for the final build range from $8,000 to $15,000. The truth is, depending on the kit, and the level of customization you want, you may end up spending almost as much as you would for an assembly line car. But kit car enthusiasts would say there’s no contest.
Check out this cool electric kit car.
Finding Electric Car Kits to Build
So where can you find high-quality electric car kits to build? EV West is a good place to start. They carry a wide array of kits, conversion kits, and parts. In addition, they have some excellent resources to help you start your build. Conversion kits for various models cost just under $7,000.
Mills Extreme Vehicles is a kit designer, and their designs are gorgeous. They have two electric vehicle kits.
You can also check out this fun, low cost, easy to build EV kit featured in Make magazine. The Switch DIY kits cost $27,994-$38,994 and — for educators — come with a curriculum for building electric cars as a class project. The Switch is street legal and can be build with standard tools.
Potential Pitfalls of Building Your Own Electric Car From a Kit
Building a car from parts and a set of plans isn’t for everyone. You may encounter unintelligible instructions or long lists of parts that are hard to find. Your kit might be less “complete” than you thought it would be. You might find, part of the way into the project, that you have grossly overestimated your skills. The project may take a lot longer than you thought. And it might not turn out the way you intended. If it’s your first time, you might consider working with an experienced friend. You might also seek support from other builders online.
Also, be aware that flashy kit cars are often a target for thieves. In addition, kit cars require special insurance. So look into theft prevention and kit car insurance before you begin your build.
KitCarLinks has an exhaustive list of kit car clubs in the United States and Canada. Look for clubs based on car makes and models, as well as groups in different parts of the country. In addition, you can find support from builders’ clubs, and forums where people discuss their builds. CarClubs.com has a similar listing. Also, check out local car shows and conventions.
Converting an Existing Vehicle to Electric
At the most basic level, building your own electric car through conversion involves removing the fossil fuel powered engine, and replacing it with an electric motor plus batteries. Instructables has a basic explanation of the process. You can do this yourself, or you can pay someone else to do it. In addition, you could choose which parts you want to do, then hire professionals to take care of the rest. In any case, when you’re planning your conversion, there are a number of factors to consider.
- Vehicle: The weight of the vehicle you choose to convert will affect a number of factors. Most importantly it will dictate the size of your motor and battery pack. A smaller car will need a smaller motor and battery pack. Smaller motors and battery packs cost less, but won’t give you the same performance.
- Range: Range means the distance an EV can travel between charges. Greater range means a larger battery pack. And this means your conversion will cost more. On the other hand, a smaller, cheaper battery pack will mean that your car will not be able to travel as far between charges.
- Performance: Engine performance means three things: the amount of energy the engine puts out, how efficiently the vehicle uses that energy, and the engine’s durability. Higher performance means — you guessed it. — a higher cost for your conversion.
- Budget: You will have to consider parts, tools, batteries, the cost of your donor car, and the cost of labor, either your own or someone else’s. It’s always good to budget in more than you think you’ll need. Because things don’t always go as planned with a project.
How Much Does it Cost?
How much does it cost to build an electric car? That depends on a lot of factors. And the total conversion price can vary by a lot. Electric Cars are for Girls describes a VW conversion that cost $2200 total, including the price of the donor car. And most of that cost was for batteries. On the other hand, you could spend three times that much on a conversion kit alone. Meanwhile, EV West offers conversion kits for a wide variety of cars that’ll set you back just under $7,000. They also provide resources to get you started.
Think about what you want to achieve from building your own electric car. Do you want something that can travel long distances? Or go fast enough to be safe on the freeway? Do you want a little runabout for zipping around the neighborhood? Or perhaps a fun project for your family? Ultimately, the cost of your final build will come down to what you want in a car, and how you go about achieving it.
Here’s a helpful video to help you plan your EV conversion.
Potential problems with building your own electric car conversion
First, building or rebuilding a vehicle can take a long time, even for someone who does it for a living. Think months. The idea of starting a big project might fill you with optimism, but in the end, success comes down to discipline. Do you have the discipline to work on a project, even when it’s not much fun? Can you see yourself coming home after a long day at work, and putting in more hours in the garage? You can do it, but make sure to set yourself a schedule, and to budget in plenty of time. Push yourself to finish, but don’t push so hard that you lose your motivation.
Second, budget in enough money to cover unexpected costs. What if a part breaks? What if you order the wrong part and can’t get a full refund? One builder describes his conversion as a terrible financial investment, but a satisfying labor of love.
Finally, seek the support of experienced builders. The Electric Auto Association has a wealth of online information about building your own electric car. In addition, they have chapters that meet in person across the United States, and across the World. You can also check out online forums like DIY Electric Car Forums. Also, by attending local auto shows and technology expos, you can meet people who have built their own EVs, and stay up to date with the latest developments.
How to Get Started Building Your Own Electric Car
First, determine what you want from your build. Then, do your research. Read first-person accounts of builds and conversions, to get a taste for what to expect. Matthew Redd chronicled his EV build in a series of articles in Wired Magazine, for example. In addition, find people to talk to who have done this before. Then, plan your build. Good luck.
Featured Image CC BY 2.0, by Brian Snelson, via Wikimedia Commons.