How Much Does It Cost to Build an Electric Car?

July 2, 2012

It's possible to build an electric car from scratch, but most of what's called "building an electric car" is using a conversion kit, which is simple.

Electric Car Charging

2000 Toyota Tacoma Pickup. If you can find one with a blown engine, you should pay between $1000 and $2000 on average. More often than not, the largest single expense when you build an electric car is going to be the car. Rear wheel drive and manual transmissions are highly recommended to simplify the process of installing the new components. Here's the average price found for four popular conversion cars:

  • 2000 Chevrolet S.10 pickup-One with a blown engine should be between $2000 and $4000
  • 2000 Honda Civic.This has the lowest acquisition cost, at between $500 and $1200 with a blown engine
  • 2000 Toyota Camry. With manual transmission and blown engine, the average price range for this car is between $500 and $1500

Conversion Kit Costs
How much your conversion kit sets you back depends on what kind of car you'll be converting and what sort of power range you desire. The more the conversion car weighs the more expensive the kit is going to be because a bigger motor is needed just for basic locomotion. A kit with a moderately powerful motor will cost significantly less than a high performance, high speed motor. It is important to remember that on top of the cost of the kit and the car, batteries and a rack will have to be purchased most of the time. Prices of five of the most popular electric car kits are:

  • The Deluxe Universal from Electro Automotive runs about $6400. This kit doesn't include batteries or racks
  • The 144 Volt Car Package from Electric Vehicle America comes with everything you need for your conversion at $6235, plus shipping
  • The 74 Volt Car Kit from EV America is much lower in cost at $3365 and contains everything you'll need
  • The 144 Volt WarP Kit from EV Source will run you $8500, minus batteries and racks
  • The small Car Kit from KTH Services contains everything you need to convert your Camry or Civic into an electric car and will run $7188

Piece-By-Piece Conversion
Below is a partial list of some of the more expensive components required for a conversion.

  • Controller.This is what tells the motor how fast and on some models, even what direction to spin. This will run an average price of between $400 and $1500
  • Motor.The motor is by far the most expensive component--will cost between $500 and $2000
  • Battery charger.These are specialized chargers and will run between $800 and $1500
  • Batteries.These have to be matched to the motor. Figure almost $1000 for these, if not more
  • Output-input shaft coupler.This couples the transmission to the motor and will run about $250
  • Throttle box. This acts like the accelerator on a gas powered car. A good one will cost around $75 to $100

It is highly recommended that you purchase a kit that already contains everything you'll need to complete the conversion. This way you'll be sure that everything will work together properly.

How to Build an Electric Car

Lots of resources for parts, supplies and step-by-step instructions are available for your project. Before you begin, you will first need to determine if an EV will fit your needs. Their average range is just 30-70 miles and you will need easy access to charge your vehicle. Your project will need a suitable place to build your conversion and it may take from two months to a year to complete.

Several books on EV conversions are available. Many can be reviewed and ordered online. For example, a 40 page preview of Bob Brant's book Build Your Own Electric Vehicle is available to read online.

The EVA/DC website could guide you through building your own EV. Their step-by-step process takes you from selecting a car to final testing of the completed vehicle. Be sure to read their disclaimer before beginning your own project.

Choose a Kit
There are dozens of companies selling hundreds of electric car conversion kits. In order to decide which of these is right for you, you need to know a few things:

  • The year, make and model of the car you're going to convert
  • Whether you want something that's just going to get you around town or something with a little soul of hot rod in it
  • If you're going to buy what you need as a complete kit or if you're going to piece a kit together on your own
  • Where you're going to do all the work. You'll need about 100 hours to perform a conversion

Convert It
There are four basic steps to converting a gasoline powered car to electric.

  • Prepare the donor car for conversion
  • Mount the battery rack and batteries
  • Install the electric motor
  • Mount the rest of the parts

Preparing to Convert

  • Gather all the tools you will need. Don't forget rags and hand cleaner
  • Rent a cherry picker to pull the old gasoline engine out
  • Drain all the fluids from the car into approved containers
  • Pull the engine out of the car
  • Remove the exhaust system and discard, recycle or sell
  • Thoroughly clean the engine compartment and undercarriage. Pressure washing is best
  • Repaint the engine compartment
  • Carefully remove the previously drained gas tank

Batteries and Rack
The best place for the battery rack is where the gas tank used to reside. Cut the trunk floor to fit and weld the rack in.

Install the New Parts

  • Install motor mounting brackets. These, in combination with the transmission adapter, keep the motor secure
  • Mount the controller on the firewall, remembering that a cable needs to go from the accelerator pedal to the controller
  • Install the motor-transmission coupler/adapter on the transmission input shaft
  • Mount the new vacuum pump and route wiring to power and vacuum hose to power brake booster

Install the New Motor and Transmission
This step will require the use of the cherry picker you used when removing the engine.

  • Lift the motor into the engine compartment and position properly
  • Attach the electric car motor to the transmission using the supplied adapter plate
  • Bolt the motor in properly. Make sure it is secure
  • Connect the driveshaft to the output shaft of the transmission and then attach to the differential
  • Use of threadlocking fluids is highly recommended

As long as you purchase the right kit for your donor car, it isn't hard at all to build your own electric car. The process will take just about 100 hours with the help of an additional person. If you are mechanically inclined, you can finish the project in about half the time.

Related Questions and Answers

If I Build a Hybrid Car by Myself will it be Street Legal?

If you build a hybrid car yourself, it will be street legal, provided an approved kit is used. Kits are available from several online sources. However, these kits can be quite expensive because they contain complex components and hardware. When turning your standard fuel burning vehicle into a hybrid that incorporates the use of an electric motor, be prepared to perform alterations to your vehicle. Placement of the electric motor and its associated electronics and wiring can be tricky, and as such, should not be performed by the do-it-yourselfer.

Where Can I Download Electric Motor Plans?

Electric and/or hybrid electric motor plans are not available for download. While you can find plans to build a simple "science-fair" motor, the types of motors used in automobiles could never be built from scratch at home. The windings used in the motor require specialized equipment to build. Moreover, along with the specialized equipment, specific knowledge about electricity, magnetism, and torque are required to generate motor windings capable of propelling a vehicle. Add to that the precision motor encasement, shaft and bearing tolerances, and electronic components, and you will have a task that cannot be performed at home.

Are there any State Regulations When Making an Electric Car?

Some state and federal regulations need to be considered when making an electric car. The vehicle must weigh less than 3,000 lbs., can only be operated on streets with maximum speeds limits of 30mph, must be able to travel 30 miles per charge, and must have seat belts, mirrors, headlights, and turn signals. These types of electric vehicles are within the means of most people, and are called NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicle). This is because they are generally small and can only reach (top) speeds of about 25 miles per hour. As the name implies, they are for use around the neighborhood, and are not allowed onto the highways.

Where can I Buy Electric Vehicle Components Online?

Electric vehicle components can be purchased online at a variety of places. However, most specialize in selling conversion kits. The companies listed below not only sell conversion kits, but sell parts as well. Additionally, several sell parts and kits for other interesting projects. evparts.com: Sells kits and parts; PowerTronX: Sells parts and equipment for auto, electric vehicles, industrial equipment, marine, and home products; Electric Vehicle Components and Systems: Sells kits and parts.

What are the Most Common Problems with Hybrid Cars?

There are a few problems with hybrid cars that some believe are drawbacks. Indeed, these problems vary according to the type of hybrid vehicle. Hybrids that use electric motors have expensive battery packs. Depending on the amount of discharge/charge cycles, and city type driving, these packs may only last 5 years. Hybrids using LPG will introduce you to the problem of finding LPG, and paying the (now) higher LPG prices. Hybrids of all kinds have extra components, connections, and equipment that will need to be repaired. This entails finding a mechanic/service station that can competently work on the vehicle.

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