A question as old as time itself, “how much will it cost to do an EV conversion of a gas car?” Good thing for you, the answer is somewhat complicated. Get ready to research batteries, AC vs. DC motors, converters, chargers, battery managers, and even regen braking systems!
First, there are many factors in converting a gas car, the most important of these is the donor car, and how many amenities it has that you want to keep. An older car, especially one without many modern technologies, will be much easier to adapt to an electric. Rich Rebuilds, a Youtuber who focuses on Teslas and EVs, has a video addressing this.
For instance, an old VW Beetle will be specifically very easy to run off of batteries. Not only do they not have touchscreens, sat-nav, and complicated bells and whistles, but there are already kits for sale from multiple vendors. These kits will have old cars running electric in no time, for a premium price, usually around $20,000 – $30,000, and that’s before labor.
While we are on VW, let’s talk about those kits. EV West is a company out of California that has become the main player in electric conversions. They specialize in Beetles, Porsches, and other VW classics. Since parts need to be tailor-fit to a retro powertrain, they have sorted a large amount of the headache by narrowing their scope to these vehicles, and offering one-stop-shop crate kits.
Basically, you can mount a motor right on the transmission, with a mounting plate. Then hook up batteries depending on your range needs, add a controller unit which acts as the brain between your foot and the motor, and for the most part you’re good to go. Of course there are also parts like the charger, and all kinds of wires, fuses, and fire boxes, but EV West will include those in the kit. Keep in mind, while the kits cost $8,000 – $12,000, those don’t include the batteries.
As for batteries, that’s where the bulk of your cost will come in. One could easily rack up a bill for tens of thousands by purchasing Tesla cells. You could also source salvaged Nissan Leaf batteries, or even get extra crafty and take the individual cells from laptop batteries if you know what you’re doing.
As a reference point, the 50 kW – 100 kW range will suit you just fine for a daily driver. Expect somewhere between 100 and 250 miles depending on the kind of vehicle you’re converting.
While many opt for brand-new powerful motors that cost thousands of dollars, you could also go to a junkyard and utilize an old forklift motor for a fraction of the cost. Make sure to note if it’s DC or AC, as that will determine if you need a converter from one to the other. Also know that a kW equals roughly 1.34 horsepower. So if you’re looking to run a little classic car off of a salvaged motor, you’ll want to check the identification plate. They do have much more torque than gas engines, so keep that in mind.
Youtuber, Botts Fine Vids, has a very concise overview of his Karmann Ghia conversion. This wasn’t his first conversion, seeing as how he had done a Beetle before the Ghia. While this build is impressive, it’s very pragmatic. Botts knows just what will be necessary, and does a great job of breaking down his process. This would be a fantastic reference point for someone who wants to use a combination of older and brand new components, and who doesn’t need their car to be an immaculate show car.
By doing the work himself, keeping everything to the bare necessities, and not trying to get 200+ miles of range from Tesla cells, the Karmann Ghia conversion costs under $20k and dramatically improves the performance of the original. Importantly, he shows how he had to upgrade the suspension, since the batteries weigh about 500 pounds!
Okay guys, while this will surely not act as the definitive guide to build an EV, at least it can point some people in the right direction. If you were considering building a completely restored Land Rover with 300 miles of range and air conditioning, expect it to cost $100k.
If you have a lot of technical know-how, and are sitting on an old Miata, well maybe you could get it going with 150-miles of range for $15K. It all depends on how dirty you want to get your hands, and if you’re comfortable going to a junkyard and pulling out some components.