There are few DIY projects more satisfying or rewarding than electric car conversion. The feeling you get from powering on a homemade zero-emission car is unlike anything else. That’s why here at NoFillUp, we always do our best to promote electric car conversion as a hobby for any car enthusiast to pickup.
And while it can be a bit of a laborious task to find all the right parts and install them on your own, the payoff is completely worth it. To minimize the headache involved in the conversion process, we have put together this handy guide so you can familiarize yourself with all things related to electric car conversion.
Are you ready? Fire up your engines—ahem, we mean motors—and prepare to take a few notes along the way. We’re about to get into the nitty gritty details about how to turn your old clunker into a speedy, silent electric car.
What’s Under the Hood
For the most part, electric cars are made up of the same components are regular cars. The same steering system, power-assisted brakes, transmission, and wheels are all identical to those found in conventional gas-powered cars.
However, the main difference is in the fact that electric cars do not have an engine. Rather, electric cars are powered by a DC or AC system motor that sends a pulsation force to the drivetrain which, in turn, causes the wheels of the car to spin. And instead of burning expensive and hazardous gasoline, these motors run on clean energy stored in lithium batteries.
This means that electric cars lack all components found in a regular non-electric car that are connected to the gas tank. These include the engine, crankshaft, distributor, drive belt, turbocharger, radiator, oil system, exhaust, carburetor, and muffler. None of these parts are to be found in an electric car, and therefore they must be removed during the conversion process.
What You’ll Need
The following is a comprehensive list of all the items you will need to a full gas to electric car conversion. This includes not only the electric vehicle conversion parts but also the tools and ancillary items that will be required for installation and maintenance.
- Batteries (72-120V) and Battery Tray
- DC Motor
- DC Controller
- Adapter Plate and Coupler
- Power Receptacle, Mounting Plate, and Charging Cord
- Motor Heater (Optional)
- A Donor Vehicle
- #00 Gauge Welding Cables and Heavy Bolts
Converting a Muscle Car
Electric muscle car conversion is a lot like converting a generic non-diesel car. For this reason, we will break down the conversion process in various steps while assuming one is using a classic muscle car like a Ford Torino, Plymouth Road Runner or a Pontiac GTO as their donor. However, these instructions will apply to any other vehicle unless otherwise noted.
Finding Your Donor Car
The first step to any electric car conversion is to find the appropriate donor car. If you happen to have a car with a serviceable transmission lying around the garage, then power to you. For the rest of us, I suggest heading to your local junkyard and scouring the lot for a clunker with a blown engine—it’s not like it will be of any use to you anyway!
Stripping Your Donor Car
Once you have purchased your donor car, it’s time to tear the thing apart. For muscle cars, this is usually not a one person job as large V8 engines require a lot of manpower to lift out of their compartment. After the engine is pulled out, you will need to gut the body of all things connected to the gas and exhaust system, including the radiator, muffler, tailpipe, and gas tank.
Installing the Adapter and Coupler
Congrats, you now have a stripped down muscle car. Not much “muscle” in there anymore, now is there? Well, at least not for long. Because we’re about to power it with a whole lot of electrical equipment. The first of which is the adapter and the coupler.
The adapter plate will have to be welded to the manual transmission in the donor car. Make sure that the adapter plate you purchase is specifically made for your donor vehicle. If you are using a Chevrolet ‘68 Camaro, for example, you will want to make sure that you use one of these adapters specially purposed for Chevy V8 transmissions.
Later, when the motor is set in place, the coupler will be used to safely attach the motor to the transmission. Make sure the coupler also corresponds to your specific donor vehicle make.
Mount the Motor and Controller
Using mounting brackets, secure the DC motor under the hood. Ensure that the motor is mounted precisely in the center of the compartment, with ample space for the controller and battery tray. Additionally, you will want to ensure that the weight distribution is evenly balanced among all contents under the hood.
The controller is a critical piece of machinery responsible for transferring the power stored in the batteries and converting it to a DC signal for your motor to turn into propulsion. This is a rather complicated step, so unless you’re already very familiar with the transmission system, we recommend consulting a mechanic well versed in electric conversions to handle this.
Bracket the Batteries
Time to put some horsepower in this thing, shall we? If we want to come anywhere close to mimicking a ground-shaking American muscle car, we will want to use no less than a 40 kWh battery pack. A fuel supply on this scale won’t be cheap, but it will be worth it. We recommend shelling out on two Enerdel MP320 22 kWh packs.
Using a metal tray, bracket the battery packs next to the controller in your motor compartment. This task will require the use of #00 gauge welding cables.
Install the Charging System
One of the final steps to an electric car conversion is the installation of the (re)charging system. Electric cars, especially electric muscle cars, are not exactly known for their impeccable range. This means you will have to charge the car every night, without exception.
To do this, you will need to purchase a power inlet (or receptacle) and install it with a mount where the gas tank used to be. The inlet will then have to be wired to the batteries. For a charging cable, you can use a plain old extension cord if you wish, but if you want to truly honor the muscle car we recommend going with a dedicated charging station like the Siemens VersiCharge.
Before pulling out the garage for the inaugural ride, you have a few final steps to complete. Most of these revolve around wiring and connecting the various parts to the donor car’s in-built systems.
For one, you will need to install a relay (or “contactor”) that connects to both the battery packs and controller. This device is needed for turning the car on and off. You will need a model capable of carrying several hundreds of volts if you want a high-performance ride.
If your donor car is a newer model, chances are it has power steering and braking systems. If this is the case, you will need to hook up a vacuum pump so that the brake boosters can operate with the battery power. Also, you must wire the electric motor to the air conditioning compressor if your donor has an A/C system.
Lastly, you need to install a small electric space heater in the motor compartment to replace the existing heater core. Once this is complete, install a set of potentiometer to both your accelerator pedal and your controller. This is necessary for signaling to your controller exactly how much power should be transferred from the batteries to the motor.
Converting a Diesel Car
Some gas-powered cars are fueled by diesel engines, which are alternative forms of internal combustion engines. Specifically, diesel engines differ from regular engines in that they compress the air in the combustion chamber. Therefore, they create a high-pressure environment in the engine that is not as energy efficient as normal engines, although they produce more torque.
It is important to note that a diesel electric car conversion involves the exact same steps as converting a conventional gas-powered car. However, you will need to purchase specific electric car parts that are designed for diesel-equipped donor cars.
To simplify this process, you can find premade conversion kits specifically designed for replacing diesel engines. We recommend checking out the kits for sale on Everything-EV and Canadian Electric Vehicles Ltd. Or, if you favor hybrid-electric cars, there is also a growing community of DIYers who specialize in converting diesel cars into hybrid plug-in systems.