Electric vehicle conversion
In automobile engineering, electric vehicle conversion is the replacement of a car's combustion engine and connected components with an electric motor and batteries, to create an all-electric vehicle. Another option is to replace a large combustion engine with an electric motor and a small combustion engine, creating a hybrid electric vehicle or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
The general trend appears to be that ground vehicles will "go electric," and automakers have responded to public demand by producing both hybrid electric vehicles which get 5.2–2.6 l/100 km; 45–90 mpg‑US gasoline, and electric vehicles which get similar or better mileage by mpg equivalent efficiency rating.
In general, commercially-manufactured electric vehicles are inhibited by the limited range per charge of batteries (up to 560 km, 350 miles), battery charge times that are slower than gasoline filling times, apparent greater initial cost over combustion engines, and potentially high service costs for used or worn-out batteries. Electric conversions are often inhibited by either the difficult labor and specialized knowledge involved in a do-it-yourself (DIY) conversion, or the expense of a purchased conversion service with conversion components, often costing US$8-12 thousand. There is a small but steadily growing DIY community for electric conversions.
|Vehicle type||Fuel used|
|All-petroleum vehicle||Most use of petroleum|
|Regular hybrid |
|Less use of petroleum,|
but unable to be plugged in
|Plug-in hybrid vehicle||Less use of petroleum,|
residual use of electricity
|All-electric vehicle |
|Most use of electricity|
Elements of a conversion
- Almost any vehicle can be converted to electric. Many people prefer to pick a vehicle that is light and aerodynamic in order to maximize distance traveled per battery charge. There must also be adequate room and load capacity for batteries.
- If obtaining a vehicle for conversion, chose a car which has an undamaged body (unless also doing the body work).
- The battery pack, which provides a source of electrical power. The most commonly available and affordable batteries are lead-acid flooded type. Next are the AGM (Absorption Glass Mat) sealed maintenance free batteries, a little more powerful and expensive. Then there are the more exotic batteries like Ni-MH and Li-ion; more difficult to find but light and longer lasting, maintenance free, and much more expensive. The new lithium batteries are showing some promise for EVs in the near future.
- The charger which restores energy to the batteries (which may be mounted within the vehicle or at a special charging station at some fixed location)
- The power controller, which regulates the flow of energy between the battery and the electric motor(s), controlled by an electronic throttle.
- One or more electric motors and their mechanical attachment to the driveline
- Power conductors connecting the battery, controller, and motor(s)
- Accessory equipment to power auxiliary equipment such as power brakes and heating system
- Control circuitry and equipment to allow control and interlocking of the various components
- Instrumentation specific to the operation and maintenance of the conversion
Hobbyists and conversions
Hobbyists often build their own EVs by converting existing production cars to run solely on electricity. There is a cottage industry supporting the conversion and construction of BEVs by hobbyists. Universities such as the University of California, Irvine even build their own custom electric or hybrid-electric cars from scratch.
Short-range battery electric vehicles can offer the hobbyist comfort, utility, and quickness, sacrificing only range. Short-range EVs may be built using high-performance lead–acid batteries, using about half the mass needed for a 100–130 km (60–80 miles) range. The result is a vehicle with about a 50 km (30 miles) range, which, when designed with appropriate weight distribution (40/60 front to rear), does not require power steering, offers exceptional acceleration in the lower end of its operating range, and is freeway capable and legal. But their EVs are expensive due to the higher cost for these higher-performance batteries. By including a manual transmission, short-range EVs can obtain both better performance and greater efficiency than the single-speed EVs developed by major manufacturers. Unlike the converted golf carts used for neighborhood electric vehicles, short-range EVs may be operated on typical suburban throughways (where 60–80 km/h, 35–50 mph speed limits are typical) and can keep up with traffic typical on such roads and the short "slow-lane" on-and-off segments of freeways common in suburban areas.
Faced with chronic fuel shortage on the Gaza Strip, Palestinian electrical engineer Waseem Othman al-Khozendar invented in 2008 a way to convert his car to run on 32 electric batteries. According to al-Khozendar, the batteries can be charged with US$2 worth of electricity to drive from 180–240 km (110–150 mi). After a 7-hour charge, the car should also be able to run up to a speed of 100 km/h (60 mph).
In 2008, several Chinese manufacturers began marketing lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO
4) batteries directly to hobbyists and vehicle conversion shops. These batteries offered much better power-to-weight ratios allowing vehicle conversions to typically achieve 120–240 km (75–150 mi) per charge. Prices gradually declined to approximately US$350 per kW·h by mid-2009. As the LiFePO
4 cells feature life ratings of 3,000 cycles, compared to typical lead acid battery ratings of 300 cycles, the life expectancy of LiFePO
4 cells is around 10 years. LiFePO
4 cells require more expensive battery management and charging systems than lead acid batteries.
On-board solar cells can be used to power an electric vehicle. The small power generated by solar cells mounted on a vehicle means that the other components in the system must be special to compensate for this.
Most conversions in North America are performed by hobbyists who typically will convert a well used vehicle with a non-functioning engine, since such defective vehicles can be quite inexpensive to purchase. Other hobbyists with larger budgets may prefer to convert a later model vehicle, or a vehicle of a particular type. In some cases, the vehicle itself may be built by the converter, or assembled from a kit car.
A two-stage vehicle is a vehicle that has been built by two separate manufacturers. The result is a standard, complete vehicle. In this process, vehicles may be converted by a manufacturer (as was done by Ford Motor Company to create the Ford Ranger EV). Alternatively, in a process known as "third-party (power)trainization", an independent converter will purchase new vehicle gliders (vehicles without a motor or related equipment) and then perform the conversion, to offer a two-stage vehicle.
In some countries, the user can choose to buy a converted vehicle of any model in the automaker dealerships only paying the cost of the batteries and motor, with no installation costs (it is called pre-conversion or previous conversion).
An electric bicycle is a conventional bicycle that has been fitted with an electric motor. Most often electric bicycles or "e-bikes" are powered by rechargeable batteries however some experimental electric bicycles run directly on or recharge their batteries via solar panels, fuel cells, gas generators or other alternative energy sources. Using an on-board generator may impact the legal jurisdictional definition of an electric bicycle. A few types of electric bicycles are able to re-capture a small amount of energy from braking and can re-charge the batteries while braking or traveling down hills (regenerative braking).
Some electric bikes have features where the motor can move the bicycle by itself (immediate start) if the rider chooses not to pedal with a button or throttle controller, while others require the rider to pedal at all times (pedal assist). This latter type may in some jurisdictions allow the vehicle to be used on bicycle trails that otherwise prohibit motorized vehicles of any kind (See motorized bicycle).
Many battery technologies are available for powering electric bikes. The most common and least expensive battery technology is sealed lead acid but LiFePO4 is fast becoming the battery of choice for the e-bike.
Converting one's bike to electric with a conversion kit is an easy and affordable solution for most people interested in learning more about electric vehicle conversion.
Registration of converted and newly constructed vehicles
The ease of registration will vary by state. Some states require safety inspections, usually to ensure body integrity in areas subject to severe corrosion from winter road de-icing materials. In any case, for general registration all functional safety equipment should be operating – turn signals, brake lights, headlights, horn, etc. The windshield should have no running cracks (small stone chips and "stars" may be acceptable if not in the driver's principal line of vision). If the vehicle has been reconstructed from a salvage vehicle (a vehicle whose registration has been forfeited) inspection may be more severe to ensure compliance and the legitimacy of sources of salvage components by presentation of proper purchase receipts.
Registration procedures will vary by state and will usually be more difficult in states with strict emissions requirements.
On the other hand, changing the registration allows a conversion to qualify for tax incentives available in some states, such as Oregon, for either the vehicle, the charging system, or both.
California (US) conversion registration and taxation
Registration of a converted existing, or newly self-constructed electric vehicle in California is no longer difficult.
This falls into two categories; First, if the vehicle is built from new frame components and possibly some salvage parts, (i.e., it has never been a previously titled motorcar previously, but it has brakes or axles that were obtained used/rebuilt.) In California if you "create" a car from scratch and want to register and title it with DMV, you need to go through the "Specially Constructed Vehicle Emission Control Program" or SPCNS for short, this is also called California "SB100" program. Or Second, a previously registered vehicle converted to electric propulsion.
SPCNC: In the past, the process of registering an SPCNS vehicle required meeting with an outside referee at a community college or one of the states mobile referee stations to verify the vehicle. The current process happens at the DMV with the inspection being done by A DMV inspector. The inspector will need to be able to see the motor and batteries and verify that there in no internal combustion engine. The vehicle will still need a brake and light inspection By an outside inspector to verify its compliance with other vehicle codes.
Currently Registered Vehicles: If you are converting an existing vehicle and it is older than 1975, you may opt to not bother to get the vehicle converted to the "E" code unless you are looking for the Diamond Lane stickers, since these vehicles don't require a smog inspection. For vehicles newer than 1975 you will need to go the DMV and have the vehicle inspected as a conversion. The batteries and motor will have to be exposed so the inspector can see them and verify that there is no internal combustion engine.
The next step requires the clerk at the local California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to call the Sacramento office. Only the Sacramento office can make this entry into the computer system. If the local clerk tries, the system will default to the "Q" code for hybrid. (These procedures are in place to inhibit fraudulent registration of ICE vehicles as Electric in order to avoid smog inspections.) A hybrid is not exempt from smog inspection. Before you leave the DMV make sure your printout has the proper "E" code or you will have to go back to do it again.
There is weight fee of $87 for vehicles under 2,700 kg (6,000 lb) or $266 for vehicles from 2,700 to 4,500 kg (6,000 to 10,000 lb). This is in addition to any regular registration fees.
In Spain, the conversion (called transformation) is regulated by Real Decreto 866/2010, de 2 de julio, por el que se regula la tramitación de las reformas de vehículos.
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