11 Things You Need to Build an Electric Vehicle

Even though electric vehicles and electric cars are going mainstream with more major automakers building them and more companies manufacturing EV components, it seems like building your own electric vehicle would be too much of a hassle.  Even with all the options on the market there are still not enough choices to satisfy certain peoples demands in a vehicle.  What's the solution to this problem?  Building your own electric vehicle of course.

While this might not be an attractive option for everyone for those that are on a tight budget and want an EV this could be an ideal solution.  Also instead of saying you bought an electric vehicle you can say built an electric vehicle.  How awesome and cool does that sound?

If you are looking to build an electric vehicle (EV) here are some things you NEED if you are going to do it.

1. Electrical Knowledge

This kind of common sense but I'm stating the facts here.  If you don't understand the basics of electricity, electrical systems, circuits, Ohms Law, etc. you might find it hard to build your own electric vehicle.  You will have to understand how the basics of how electricity works to setup and get the electric motor, amp meter, batteries etc. connected  and running properly.

My recommendation is to check your local community college and see if they offer a basic Auto Electrical class.  This will help you immensely since it is applied skills and knowledge you can apply to building your electric car.  Generally this classes are geared toward not only understanding and repairing automotive circuits and electrical systems but gives you a basics.  It is like a physics and engineering class though so be prepared for a lot of hard work and studying.

2. Vehicle Repair or Auto Repair Skills

Your going to need to know how to take apart and fix vehicles and cars or you will need to get comfortable fast.  Even when you take out an internal combustion engine and associated components you still will want to know how to take apart and repair your car somewhat.  The car you use will still use brakes, a steering and suspension system, HVAC (heating ventilation and air condition), and hopefully a radio and sound system .

I'd recommend purchasing Automotive Technology by James Halderman's which is the textbook that is used in most auto technical colleges and schools nowadays since it covers so much information regarding auto repair and servicing a car.  The book is a bit pricey so you could consider getting the 3rd edition which is a few years old but still is packed with great information.

The internet is obviously a great resource for getting and finding repair skills and people that can help you.  Repair forums and communities about with knowledgeable DIY and professional mechanics.

Again taking some classes at your local community college might be a good idea for gaining additional repair knowledge as well.

3. Budget

You will need money to do an electric vehicle conversion but I assume you don't have unlimited funds.  (If you do, I'm happy for you!)  Setting a budget is important as it will determine what sort of electric vehicle you will build, what the range will be, and a lot of other factors.  Will you use an off-the-shelf EV conversion kit or mix and match your own components?

Set a budget for and try to stick to it.  This will be hard as anyone who's done restoration work or done an EV conversion will tell you that you will likely go over your budget.  If you are careful and smart though you can stay within it.

4. Extra Money (when You Go Over your Budget)

You will probably go over the budget…. sooo plan accordingly. 🙂

5. Good Shell Vehicle

You need to pick a good shell vehicle to convert to electric.

For building electric motorcycles typically older Japanese bikes that have a seized motor but a good frame are popular options.  These are usually fairly easy to take apart and don't take up too much room.

Popular electric car conversions shell vehicles are usually small older hatchbacks or sedans that are light and have ample trunk space for batteries.  Geo Metros, Old Corollas, Ford Festivas are all popular choices from what I've seen.

When you are looking to buy a vehicle make sure to ask the owner a lot of questions.  If it's not running or needs work make sure you understand that and factor that into the price and how much work it will take you.  I'd steer clear of a vehicle that has rust and needs a lot of paint or bodywork.  Even if you want to tackle and learn paint and bodywork yourself, this can eat into your budget as body and paint supplies get expensive fast.

I'd recommend searching in odd places to get a good deal.  Communities and forums around a specific vehicle are good places to start.  Check out out my 6 Craigslist Alternatives.

Remember you can resell a lot of the parts you take off the shell, like the engine, radiator, etc.  If they are not you can always try to get money through them at a scrap metal recycling center.  This way you make back some of the money spent to buy the motorcycle or vehicle. \

6. Space

You will need a good garage or workspace to do an EV conversion.  You are going to have to store a lot of components and tools you will need for the project as well as space to store your shell vehicle when it's being worked on and taken apart and put together.

Doing an EV conversion will likely take you several months to 1 year depending how many hours a day you can devote to the project.  So keep this in mind when you are utilizing your garage or wherever you are going to be doing your conversion.

7. Tools and Equipment

You can never have too many tools.  At least that's what the tool companies have us believe.  Seriously though I'm always buying tools for a new job or for certain tasks that I wouldn't have excepted.  Tools and equipment you will definitely need are;

  • Good Floor Jack, preferably this Arcan Floor Jack
  • Motorcycle Lift (if you are doing an electric motorcycle conversion)
  • Jack Stands, preferably 2 sets
  • Small-Medium Sized ToolBox
  • Basic Hand Tools like wrenches, vice grips, pliers, ratchets, sockets, etc.
  • Fender Cover

These are just the basic tools and equipment I recommend you purchase.  I don't really consider most of this purchase as part of the electric vehicle conversion budget as tools can be used on your gas-powered cars and for a lot of other things.  For basic hand tools Craftsman and ordering online should work well for most of what you need.  A lot of people like ordering tools on eBay, Amazon, and other retailers nowadays.  If you want to upgrade to professional tools Matco and Snap-On good brands but expensive.

If you don't have any tools and want to do an EV conversion you better start buying.  Once you start buying tools, you will never stop by the way.  🙂

8. Good Multimeter

This should already be in your toolbox if you like to work on cars and vehicles but most people own bad or cheap mutlimeters.  You will need to buy a high quality Mutlimeter such as the Fluke 88 which is the standard in the automotive repair field.  If you buy a Fluke 88 it's definitely worth the price due to the fact it auto-ranges and comes with a lifetime warranty.

I'd recommend getting the kit as you can use it for a lots of different applications.  Doing an EV conversion this should be good for most of your needs.

9. Friends

For taking out the internal combustion engine it would be a good to have friends to help you.  If you need help repairing the braking system or getting all your electric vehicle running properly it would be good to have knowledgeable friend to help you.

Make sure to know when to ask for help and seek the answers you need.  Everyone gets stumped or needs help sometimes and that is important to remember when doing an EV conversion.

10. Electric Vehicle Components

You will need electric vehicle components which includes;

  • An Electric Motor
  • Amp Meter (sometimes called Amp motor)
  • Batteries
  • Converters
  • Lots of Wires
  • Charger
  • Gearing Adapter Kit

There are probably some EV components I'm missing here but these are the basics.  A lot of people buy used electric motors from forklifts or other industrial equipment and used converters as well.  You also save money on batteries buy using standard Lead Acid batteries you find in your car.  They are not as good as Lithium-Ion batteries but work well for budget EV conversion builds.

11. Patience

Patience is a virtue my friend.  You will need patience with a project like this is it will go take more time and resources than you think.

When you get it all done though you have the benefit of looking at your own electric car and saying, “I build that!”

Revenge of the Electric Car a Fascinating Documentary

Revenge of the Electric Car

Today I got something pretty cool in the mail, “Revenge Of The Electric Car.”  It is the sequel to the 2006 documentary, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”  Revenge Of The Electric Car follows the 4 men who have essentially led the resurgence of the electric car.  Famed car executive, Bob Lutz; Co-Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk; A man who builds his own electric cars, Greg ‘Gadget' Abbott; and CEO and President of Nissan and Renault, Carlos Ghosn.  Each has made a different contribution to developing, designing, and building electric cars.  I watched some of the movie today and found it interesting, but won't give too many details.  You will have to wait for my review!

Chevy Volt on display at Inner Harbor

A few weeks ago I was walking around the Inner Harbor.  When I was walking by the National Aquarium I saw something interesting… a Chevy Volt!  The Chevy Volt is GM's media-darling electric car that also has a regular gas engine.  It can go for 40 miles on the electric engine, but then you can use the gas engine to go further.  It is great place because of the high foot traffic.  (Of course, I was the only person interested enough to stop and look at the car.)  If you want to check-out the Chevy Volt, go down to the Inner Harbor.  I am not sure if it is still there though!