One of the main obstacles you might face in making the switch is availability. There simply aren't too many factory-fresh electric vehicles you can buy today. While that is slowly changing, a way to get around this obstacle is to build your own. We have featured conversions of all size and shape previously here at AutoblogGreen and believe that most people, even with little or no experience, can convert a car from a gas burner to one powered by batteries. Hit the jump and we'll tell you how.
Photo: creative commons by carabou
The first step on your conversion journey is deciding on what sort of vehicle you wish to convert. While you should keep in mind factors such as passenger and cargo capacity needed, it is said that the best conveyance to convert is one that you like. After all, this could be a project you'll spend many hours toiling over so it's a good idea to choose something that you will enjoy driving and owning. Small pick up trucks are a popular choice since there is lots of room for batteries and the suspension is often able to deal with the extra weight. A manual transmission is also preferred.
If you need some inspiration, the EV Album has hundreds of conversions with pictures and information about batteries and other components used, as well as performance. It's probably to a good idea to begin with a car that was recently in running condition. If a vehicle sits for too long many parts, like tires and bushings, may have to be replaced. You can get some more inspiration here and here.
Out with the old
Once you have your vehicle in your garage, the fun part begins. It is time for gasser-rectomy, that is, the removal of all parts related to the burning of liquid fuel. The engine must come out, along with the exhaust system, fuel system and cooling system. Where you and your EV to be are going, you won't be needing a radiator, mufflers or gas tank. Instead, you'll need room for your motor, controller, batteries and charger and DC to DC inverter.
The choosing of the donor vehicle is only the first of several significant decisions. You must also decide what kind of batteries to use, whether your motor will be AC or DC and what voltage to run it at. If you want to keep costs low, it's best to keep with the tried and true. That means lead-acid batteries, specifically golf cart batteries and a DC motor. It's also a good idea to keep the voltage relatively low (144 volts for a smaller car is plenty) as the motor controllers that can take advantage of higher voltages are somewhat pricey.
If you do decide to go with lithium batteries, make sure you are well informed about installation and battery management systems (BMS) as some folks have ruined new and expensive packs by making easily-avoided mistakes. The good news for those who want to go the lithium route is that prices are falling and quality is improving. Probably the most popular brand choice for lithium conversions is Thunder-Sky. They can now be found as low as $1.10 per amp hour.
The best thing about converting nowadays has to be the huge amount of information available on the internet. Sites such as the Electric Vehicle Discussion List (EVDL) and the DIY Electric Car Forums offer a wealth of information and are full are great people willing to answer reasonable questions from newbies. Lots of individuals who have already traveled down the conversion path have websites replete with videos. One of the better ones is Kiwi EV. Of course, there's nothing quite like the old-fashioned method of meeting people in real life and talking to them and last years soaring gas prices really spurred on the creation of many new chapters of the Electric Auto Association. Chances are there are people in your area already driving electric cars who wouldn't mind the opportunity to show off their handi-work.
Speaking of showing off, we'll leave you with the first in a series of videos about DIY electric cars called, "A Convenient Response to an Inconvenient Truth." Although the actual conversion process isn't shown, Marion Rickard has a beautiful electric Porsche 356 Speedster replica that he uses to illustrate and answer almost every conceivable question one might have about electric cars, from the parts and pieces used to how you actually shift an electric. Have fun and good luck.