Info

An EV conversion requires a significant time commitment. Plan on several months of weekends and evenings to complete your conversion. The table above shows an abbreviated list of what needs to happen and how long you can expect each step to take.

Do you have the time?

Finally On the Road

Turn the key, and all you'll hear is silence. Get up to speed, and you'll be amazed by the quiet ride. The only sound you'll hear is the tires on the road, and a subtle whine from the running gear. Driving an EV is great fun, but it's not without differences—slower acceleration, lower top speeds, and shorter range. Other quirks will arise, but they tend to be trivial— for example, electrical currents in an EV can interfere with AM radio reception.

Acceleration from a stop will be perky, but short-lived, in first gear. Most EV drivers start out in second gear and accelerate past 30 mph before shifting into third, then fourth gear. From there, you will gently reach top speed, which may range from 60 mph to 86 mph, depending on the number of batteries on board. Long, steep hills may be a challenge. If your top speed is too low, you may need to steer clear of high-speed roadways. Your battery pack's capacity will limit the range that the vehicle can travel. The ideal daily range is 20 to 30 miles to avoid overdischarging the batteries, which shortens their life.

Does it fit your lifestyle?

Maintenance

One beauty of EVs is that they require little maintenance—no more oil changes and no more trips to the shop for timing belts, water pumps, etc. The only significant maintenance requirement is the battery pack, which will require your attention on a monthly basis to keep the electrolyte level up and the terminals and battery surfaces clean. You will need to take voltage readings with a digital voltmeter regularly and, based on those readings, equalize the pack as necessary. Depending on vehicle use and battery type and care, you will also need to replace your battery pack every three to four years.

Will you do the chores?

IS You Can't DIY, Just Buy

If you don't feel up to a do-it-yourself conversion project but you still like the idea of driving an electric vehicle, consider buying a new or used factory-made EV instead. Here are a few worthy of a test drive.

Buying New

EXV2 & ECV4. Minnesota-based E-ride Industries offers the EXV2 (a utility EV akin to a small pickup) and the ECV4 (a neighborhood electric vehicle, NEV, that resembles a mini-Hummer). A 72-volt lead-acid battery bank delivers a maximum range of 55 miles and a top speed of 35 mph. www.e-ride.com

GEMs. Global Electric Motorcars is well known for its curvy and futuristic fiberglass bodies. GEM vehicles have a range of about 30 miles and a top speed of 25 mph. Prices for GEMs range from $7,000 to $20,000, depending on passenger seating and options. www.gemcar.com

Tesla Roadster. The 2008 Tesla Roadster is newly in production—a great relief to those on the waiting list. The lithium-ion battery pack gives this all-electric sports car a purported 220-mile range on a single charge, with a top speed of 125 mph—but the $100,000 price tag is not for everyone. www.teslamotors.com

Buying Used

Factory-built rides. Chevy S10s, Ford Rangers, Toyota RAV4s, and Th!nk Citys are reliable and well-made vehicles that were manufactured during the mid-1990s through 2003. Vehicles in good working order can command prices between $30,000 and $40,000—or more.

Small-company production cars. EVs converted by small companies—including the Lectric Leopard and the Solectria Force (formerly the Renault LeCar and the Geo Metro, respectively) and Ford Escorts and Couriers converted by Jet Industries—have some operational quirks but make decent vehicles with some upgrades and reconfigurations.

Kit-built conversion cars. Vehicles converted by individuals with universal kits or custom kits—such as converted Chevy S10 trucks, Geo Metros, Dodge Neons, Volkswagen Rabbits, and Porsche 914s—range in price from a few hundred dollars to $10,000, depending on condition.

Custom-built EVs. A mishmash of old and new components come together in owner-built EV conversions that range in size, quality, and reliability. These can make great fixer-uppers, but it's typically easier to do a conversion from scratch than to upgrade one of these cars.

Where To Shop

Craigslist • www.craigslist.org

eBay • www.motors.ebay.com

Electric Auto Association • www.eaaev.org

EV Finder • www.evfinder.com

EV Tradin' Post • www.austinev.org/evtradinpost

For more information on used EVs, see "Finding & Buying a Used Electric Vehicle," in HP119.

Operating Costs

The average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline ranged from $3.08 to $4.05 during the previous year and, while it takes a dip now and then, the overall trend has been an upward one. EVs offer you an opportunity to save money on fuel costs and declare your independence from oil by plugging in—instead of filling up at the pump. Your savings will largely depend on the source of your electricity—some folks even charge their EVs with homemade electricity from their own RE systems (see "EVs & the Environment" sidebar).

The cost of replacing the batteries every few years adds up quickly—they're not cheap. You could spend $1,500 to $3,000 on new ones every few years. That may seem like a lot, but remember that you're saving quite a bit of money on repairs and fuel. One visit to the repair shop to replace a timing belt on a gasoline-fueled vehicle can cost between $500 and $2,500. Even with the regular expense of battery replacement, an EV still seems to come out ahead. With ever-increasing gasoline prices, it's a safe bet that an EV will save you money over the long haul.

Access

Mark E. Hazen ([email protected]) converted his Chevy S10 pickup truck to an EV and created www.evhelp.com to assist others with their conversions. He is also the author of Alternative Energy: An Introduction to Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources.

Access

Mark E. Hazen ([email protected]) converted his Chevy S10 pickup truck to an EV and created www.evhelp.com to assist others with their conversions. He is also the author of Alternative Energy: An Introduction to Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources.

Electric Auto Association • www.eaaev.org • Listings of local EV groups

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