If you’re looking to convert a car to run on electricity, you’ve probably got a thousand questions racing through your head. I know I did when I first started. One big question is about which are the main parts of an electric car. Luckily there are only three.
1: The Electric Motor.
This one’s kinda obvious; it’s the motor which propels the car. The beauty of the electric motor is that it has only one moving part, unlike the internal combustion engine which typically has over a hundred moving parts. This alone makes electric motors a very reliable source of motive power. When choosing an electric motor, you’ll need to find one that’s suitable for your car’s system voltage, and the car’s voltage will determine what sort of performance your car will have. DC motors are tolerant things however, and you don’t have to be spot-on with your voltage. Just keep an eye on your motor’s temperature while you’re getting used to your electric car. Expect to pay anything from $0 for a used electric forklift motor, to $3000 for a high performance motor for your conversion.
2: The Controller.
The controller’s job is to act as a floodgate between the motor and the batteries. It’s controlled by your existing accelerator pedal, so the more you press down, the more power goes to the motor. Because modern controllers have no moving parts, quality looked-after versions should last decades without needing components replaced. The popular Curtis controllers for example have less than a 3% failure rate. The controller is a vital component – without it you’d
have either full power or no power. Depending on your desired performance, expect to pay between $0 for a used forklift controller, to $5000 for a high performance, high voltage controller.
3: The Batteries.
Thanks to laptop computers and cellphones, battery technology has improved in leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, with lithium batteries being the desired choice for every converter. Sadly they’re still expensive to manufacture and buy, so for the timebeing many converters still use lead batteries, similar to the ones that start your car. Due to weight and size issues however, the only benefit of lead batteries is the cost, so let’s assume you’re on a budget.
Batteries are an area in your electric car where you have plenty of choice in makes, models and sizes. To cut costs further you could even look into battery rejuvenation, where free second-hand batteries are brought back to life through desulphation (though I’ve tried it myself with fairly lackluster results).
While I’m always looking (and encouraging) people to try new things, I’ve always mentioned that batteries are one area in your electric vehicle where you should not cut costs.
Understandably however, the costs ultimately rule our conversion outcomes. So to buy batteries you have a couple of options. How many batteries you’ll need depends on the size of your pack (which depends on how far you want to drive per charge).
Therefore if you want a usable local range of just 20 miles, then your battery pack might cost between $0 for second hand rejuvenated lead batteries, up to $2000 for brand name deep-cycle lead batteries.
There you have it. Those are the three main parts of an electric car, and it should give you an idea of what price ranges there are, and what you could aim to build your car for.
Electric vehicles are very simple things, but there’s still much to be explained, from choosing the right motor, to using lithium batteries for long range driving, to joining your motor to your existing gearbox. You’ll come across each of these questions (and more) during your conversion. Don’t be put off though, if I could do it then anyone can!