Instructables
Picture of Build your own Electric Car!
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The "Electro-Metro" Project.

Can't afford a Nissan Leaf? No Problem!

Build a cheap electric car yourself by removing the the car engine, replacing it with a forklift motor, and adding batteries.

I have plenty of videos about this project at:
http://www.youtube.com/user/BenjaminNelson
and 300MPG.org

The primary "build blog" for this project is at:
http://ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/ben-nelsons-electro-metro-build-thread-848.html
but watch out! That is a good read for when you have WAY too much time on your hands.

For a good intro to basic electric car construction, stick with this Instructable.

For more in-depth construction information, check out the instructional Video DVD available at 300MPG.org

 
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Step 1: Get a car.

Picture of Get a car.
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The first thing you need to do is get a car. They are not all equal.

I was looking for something lightweight, with no power anything.

Heavier cars need more energy to push down the road, thus limiting your range on batteries.

Things like power steering and power brakes run off the engine, which is going to be removed anyways, rendering them useless. Power windows and locks add weight and complexity to the vehicle.

I ended up finding a Geo Metro for sale, for $500. The engine ran fine, and the body wasn't too bad, but I couldn't drive it home because the clutch was messed up. Oh well, this conversion isn't going to use a clutch anyways!

Make sure the car doesn't have anything major wrong with it (other than maybe a blown engine!) You want to do a Conversion, not a Restoration!
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nv1zyesterday

A company in Arlington, Mass. [which is not there anymore] sold Geo Metros which were converted to all-electric. I love this stuff. I want to do this with an AWD Subaru. I know the AWD will reduce range, but I envision a stripped-down wagon with manual everything would be a good candidate.

Has anyone thought about getting a hold of a "cash-for-clunkers" vehicle? The engines have to be destroyed, but you would be getting rid of the engine anyway. I have been to a boneyard in Kingston, NH, when they were "disposing" of many such vehicles and most of them looked better than our vehicles. A compact 2WD pickup might make an ideal conversion, as a battery cradle might be constructed under the bed between the frame rails, and a pickup is designed to carry the extra weight.

Oh, and @Ken Myers, a neighbor of mine converted a Mazda MX-3 to all-electric. Actually he lives about 2 miles away. Let me know if you want me to look into this by checking out the Subaru High Mileage Club FB <B><I><U>group</U></I></B>. Also if you have any ideas about Subaru EV conversion let me know there as well.

radeq8 months ago
Hello, super inspiration and my big dream for many years! BUT, what about technical licence? I don't know US laws, but all european police patrols strictly check the "papers" of a car and "conersion" like this is direct order of very big fine :-(.
If it's easy or free in the US, I'm quietly envying, but I'm afraid, nor there is it possible...
bennelson (author)  radeq8 months ago
No matter where you live, make sure to check your insurance, title, registration, and any other legalities you need to take care of before doing an unusual car project.

You want to make sure ahead of time that you can legally drive your vehicle when it is all finished. The only issue that I had on my car was that it was difficult to pass pollution controls! Yes, even without an engine, I still had to do a smog test!

can you elaborate on the difficulties you had passing pollution controls? I thought it would only be a matter of showing the bureau of automotive repair that you had modified the car to run on electricity. do you have to pass some sort of electrical emissions test?

bennelson (author)  kleeem1 month ago

I live in one of the counties in south-eastern Wisconsin that requires emissions control testing. Usually, this just requires going to a specific location and having a test run using the ODBII port. Without the engine, the ODBII port has nothing to talk to! I originally mailed a letter to the state, explaining what I had done to the car, including photos showing the conversion process. The letter was returned, apparently unread, with a rubber-stamp response of "Please take your vehicle to your local emissions testing station." When I did that, the person there plugged in to the ODBII, which of course would NOT connect. She then said, "Let me try again...." thinking it was a bad connection, rather than the fact that THERE WAS NO ENGINE IN THE CAR! The local folks at that test center had NO idea how to deal with it. Even on all the forms, it listed GAS and DIESEL as the only choices for fuel types. Eventually, I was able to find a real person, with an actual job title, business card, and desk. With him, I was able to make an appointment at a "Technical Assistance Center", which was also further away than I could drive to, so I had to tow the car there. When I FINALLY got the car back into their shop and has somebody of authority look at it, the entire "inspection" consisted of me popping the hood and a man looking into the engine compartment and saying "Yep, there's no engine in there." He then signed the bottom of a form and faxed it in to the state and told me I should be set forever on pollution testing on the car. No joke, pollution testing on the car really was the hardest part of building it! It's a little different from State to State, and maybe even which county you are in. Some places no pollution testing. Also, many places exempt vehicles older than 1996, because that's when ODBII came in to play.

Moral of the story? Just figure out what you need to do before you start your project. The last thing you want is not to be able to legal drive the project you put so much work into. Does anyone here drive a Volt or Leaf? What did you have to do for emissions testing or pollution control? (Keep in mind that my project was built BEFORE those cars were available.)

bennelson (author)  bennelson1 month ago

Here's a photo of me in the middle of winter, posing happily as I just passed the "Yep, there's no engine in there," test.

Emissions_DSC_0499.jpg
bennelson (author)  bennelson1 month ago

For the full story on emissions testing, please visit: http://www.300mpg.org/projects/electro-metro/emissions-testing/

radeq bennelson8 months ago
If I understand well, your car is really completely legal? May I ask what all did you need to do (and what to pay for it) for registration ability? We in Europe need for this action an army of lawyers connected to bribed officers and policemen.

Sumary: It's quite easy (and relative cheep) to physically convert, but quite impossible (and/or expensive) to legalize. So, finally nobody try it there (although there is gasoline more expensive than in the US!), because of legalization problems and/or fees :-(
bennelson (author)  radeq8 months ago
Yes, this car is completely legal.

It still has all the original safety features. This car has "daytime running lights", which have not been modified.

It has driver and passenger-side airbags, which have NOT been changed or modified.

The original seatbelts are all intact. Although I cut around the back seat, I make sure not to alter where the seatbelts mounted.

Before starting the project, I called my insurance company and told them exactly what I wanted to do. They had no problem continuing my insurance. Their thoughts were that the car had a lower top speed and would only be used closer to home would actually make it a BETTER insurance risk.

I already had a clean title for the car.

Registration in my area requires a pollution test. I wasn't able to pass it (even though the car doesn't make pollution at point of use) because without an engine, the ODBII system used at the emissions testing was not able to communicate with my car. It took me a while to find the correct government official for me to get an exemption, which required a mechanic to inspect the vehicle. That man looked under the hood, said "Yes, there is no engine in there", and signed a form.

The United States has a long tradition of people working on and modifying their own cars, so it tends to be pretty liberal on making changes, as long as they are still safe. That said, exact laws can vary quite a bit from State to State and even which County you are in.

For NEW cars, it is EXTREMELY difficult to begin a new car brand, and it is one of the most highly regulated industries in the U.S. (Thank you Tesla Motors for all the hard work you have done! shaking things up!)

BEFORE starting a project, make sure to check over what things will be required for you to legally drive your vehicle and that you meet all your requirements.
radeq bennelson8 months ago
Yes, it sounds very logical, safety should be only required for successful conversion legalization, but european laws aren't logical. As I said, I'm envying liberal laws (needed a pollution test is only a dry fly). In EU, mission impossible ;-).

P.S. In fact, no wonder, that EU make individual GAS-EL conversions so unpleasant. The hole EU stands on gasoline excise taxes. Better labor mobility is not interesting topic (to ban cheep traveling is much easier way to fill a budget). So, there'll may be a chance until it runs out of oil, ..., but then EU will certainly make double (or quadruple) electricity tax :-D
Hey! Bennelson! I'm attempting to build a car with four power sources that'll hit 80mph at least. What would be your opinion and what would I need to know about such a project? I look forward to your feedback.
Ken Myers5 months ago

Thanks for posting! However, I need more range, top speed. I was thinking of EV for commute to work, 40 miles each way. The commercial models (other than expensive Tesla) do not provide this, tap out at 60-70 miles, like Leaf. I also like the idea of DIY and recycling/repurposing old vehicle. I'd really love to take an older car with a nice body style (IMO) and modify it to EV. I'm not auto mechanic, would likely look to pay for the mod, assuming it can even be done, to make a vehicle that can 70mph, range 100+ miles. Some cars I thought might work for this mod include: (1) any classic car with bad or no engine, like ford mustang or Camaro, (2) the Ford Probe (93ish), Mazda MX6 (also 93ish), or Mazda RX7 (also 93ish). We'll I guess listing every car I would be willing to use would take to long. I really think with the state of the world, limited resources, and too much rubbish in landfills, that retrofitting older cars to run as EV is really an awesome idea that more mechanics should develop into a highly reliable (and reasonably priced) mod. Rather than spending $30k on a new EV, I could see buying a used "shell" car for $5k or less, and then paying a mechanic $10k to modify it to an EV, and it still is half the price and better for the planet. If anyone happens to read this and know if this sort of service is offered anywhere, let me know.

Hi Ken
I did exactly what you are proposing about 18months ago and I have now been driving my high performance DIY EV conversion for around 6 months, however I only do a 20 mile round trip commute so a quarter of what you would require.
Check my blog at
http://electrobeatev.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/last-week-before-bmmf.html
It is a little light on photos at the moment but I am about to do a large visual update on it soon for this year’s Maker Fair.
It might be difficult to achieve the range and performance you want without spending a lot of cash as the batteries are very expensive (you would need lithium) I went for LIPO (not LIFEPO) for performance reasons (I like speed and acceleration) basically the total system voltage will give you your top speed (mine is 220V which gives me around 90MPH, The size of the battery pack in KWH will give you your range mine is 10KWH and gives me around 45mile range (however my car is only 760kg around half the average)
With EV's weight is everything buy the lightest car you can get, this is seriously the most important thing in building an EV so I am afraid American muscle cars are out unless you just want to do 100meter drag racing at extreme speeds.
The probes and Mazda’s are by far the better option, go for one you can get as many carbon fibre replacement parts for as possible and you can lose some serious weight (I am about to do my next conversion an Mazda RX8, cheap to source here in the UK as people blow the rotary engines regularly, and there are stacks of aftermarket Carbon Fibre for them, you can even get lexan windows!) Remember losing weight is your best bet to achieve the range and performance you want.
Check out diyelectricar
http://www.diyelectriccar.com/ and endless sphere
http://endless-sphere.com/forums/
Both invaluable for advice and suggestions, also start a blog ASAP and document everything on it that way you will get others interest and help.
I spent around 12000 GBP total to get mine on the road and I commute in it daily the best bit is never having to drive into a gas station, Sweet.
Good luck and all the best, Graham Martin

You might want to try adding the Hendershot Electrical Energy Device, You will need to turn the energy drawn into DC current tho.

J-Ri3 months ago

Awesome project!

The easiest way to drain a gas tank is to remove the fuel line from the engine, run it into a container, and then connect a jumper wire across terminals 30 and 87 of the fuel pump relay. Just make sure the area is well ventilated, you'll get a small spark when connecting and removing the jumper wire.

Squidyman4 months ago

Hi, I have not bought a car yet, and am still in high school. An electric car has always been something I have wanted. I have the support of my parents, the big problem I fear is that I will end up driving a money pit. If find a big problem that I cannot fix, I am out $500 for something. How many cars have you built and what was the cheapest and most expensive car to convert you have built?

bennelson (author)  Squidyman4 months ago
In general, "to save money" is NOT a good motivation for building an electric car. It is possible to build an inexpensive electric car that will be fine for day to day use, but you will likely never be able to build one as cheaply as you can just buy a plain older gasoline car for.

Frankly, I've only built one electric car, the one shown in this project. I have however HELPED out on a number of other builds and I also know the budgets of a number of projects. I have seen projects built for as little as $500 up to $50,000. But that's how much money people will spend on GASOLINE cars anyways. It's a bit like buying a house - what neighborhood it is in, what size it is, and a few other factors can create a HUGE variation in cost.

In general, the single largest expense is the batteries. Depending on the size and chemistry of your battery pack, it can be very expensive.

What is your fear of "driving a money pit"? There's actually very few things that go wrong with electric cars. They are always lower maintenance than gasoline cars. Fewer moving parts, no exhaust and mufflers, no oil changes.

If you are interested in building an electric vehicle, but are afraid of the commitment, or don't want it to be your main form of transportation, try building an electric motorcycle, an electric bicycle, or even a Go-Cart! Those are all fun projects that are simpler and less expensive, but are still fantastic learning projects.

Good luck!
rebeccawalker5 months ago

Many thanks to you for this very useful blog.. But I wanted to ask something.. I have some of the old Toyota forklift parts with me so can I use it
in building an electric car?

what is your distance range on this? great instructable!

jjaan5 months ago

kindly explain this in breif so that i can explore ?

ajensen276 months ago
u think a ranger would make a good(not better) EV since i could load the bed with batteries(or under it) and since length of motor is not a big issue. only issue i see is the weight (and cost of all the extra batteries and the controller). also for speed control on an automatic would i use the torque converter and let it do its job?
bennelson (author)  ajensen276 months ago
Light trucks make GREAT EV conversions! Rangers and S10's are very popular. Follow this link, to see a bunch of home-built electric trucks. http://www.evalbum.com/type/TRCK

On an automatic transmission car, the torque converter does NOT control the speed of the vehicle, it takes the place of the clutch. You still need a motor speed controller.
tonyscott6 months ago

Great job, mate. is it legal, I mean can you drive on roads without been stopped by police? thanks for sharing.

bennelson (author)  tonyscott6 months ago

Yep, perfectly legal. I did get stopped once, but that was for speeding!

How does this car compare to an average every day car?
bennelson (author)  stuff and things6 months ago

It depends on what you mean by "average everyday car". The best I can do is compare it to the gasoline version of the same car, which had a 3-cylinder, 1-liter engine. It is MUCH quieter than the gas version. It doesn't go as FAR per fueling as the gas version. With gas, you fuel up about once per week, with electric, you just plug it in after you use it. It can go the same speed and have about the same acceleration as the gas version. Top speed on this car as electric so far has been 73 MGH. I have gotten a speeding ticket in this car. It uses about 1/4 as much energy as the gasoline version of the car. I run it on renewably sourced electricity. I shift less in this car than the gas version. I generally just leave it in third and use that like "DRIVE" on an automatic transmission. The electric motor has enough torque to use less gears and less shifting. The electric motor can't stall the way a gas engine dies. At a traffic light, instead of having to push in a clutch or take it out of gear, I simply let the motor stop spinning by taking my foot off the accelerator.

edenton18 months ago
Couldn't you hook up a alternator to help recharge the batteries
bennelson (author)  edenton18 months ago
What would you hook the alternator to?
the wheels. thr drive shaft. anything that spins. it may not be alot of power back into the batteries, but could help extend the life
Lukasas757 months ago

I also built my own electric car with my hands :) I was cheaper almost twice and I can even say- it succeeded even better :) I bought all of the parts online here- <a
href="https://www.pigiausiosdalys.lt/">Pigios
automobiliu dalys</a> and I havent even expected to get so high quality for such a low price :)

joe bloe8 months ago
hello, I've read about your experience with standard tranies, but not automatics. with the standard, your didn't include the pressure plate. as it relates to the auto, would the same apply concerning the torque converter? or, to ask to same question differently, would there still be torque in need of conversion? (regardless of motor type)
acunliffe19 months ago
Have you ever thought of adding a hydroelectric generator to charge the batteries on the go (and stationary). You could siphon the water back to the top so you get a unlimited amount of energy and it would run 24/7. I was thinking you could either use lots of smaller motors or one big one. Then maybe you could use a transformer to get it to the right voltage and charge them in series?
wrigd200910 months ago
Fast question! What is the size of your garage as it seems very crowded?

I have to build my garage next spring and would like to base my garage size to yours and add a few feet here and there.

Thanks,
Donald.
bennelson (author)  wrigd200910 months ago
It's a pretty stock two-car, detached garage. Nothing fancy. If I had bigger I would love it. I have no basement or other storage, so EVERYTHING goes in the garage.

The exterior dimensions are 22' wide by 20' deep on a concrete slab. typical 2x4 stud construction but only exterior siding on top of that - no sheathing, and no insulation. I can see daylight through some parts of the wall. Not the best place to work on cars in the winter!

The garage is more likely to look crowded because of all of what's inside of it, rather than its size. A single car garage looks spacious when there's nothing in it!
Thanks!
Donald
j4169711 months ago
Do amps from the battery have to equal amps in the engine?
wrigd2009 j4169710 months ago
Refer to the C-rate of your battery.

The C-Rate is the capacity rating of the current flow in the battery. Example, a battery with a 40A-h and a C rate of 3-C will give you 3 time 40A, which is120A however, be advice that you will not be able to run an electric motor for an hour as you are "sucking" a lot of juice from the battery.

Also, make sure that your inverter, motor controller, wire and electric motor can handle that much current.
Johnt00787111 months ago
Nice conversion! I have heard of just connecting a hair dryer to the A/C ducts to act as a heater for small cars. Might be smaller/easier than your radiator. Still running strong?
bennelson (author)  Johnt00787111 months ago
The only real issues I've ever had with the car was picking through my pile of used lead batteries.

The more in series, the more the chance of one of them not being as good as the rest and dragging them down.

That's really it though. Everything else has always really worked great. I'm taking a look at the possibility of upgrading to lithium next summer, depending on my budget. Lithium prices are always continuing to come down.
love this. lots of useful information. what im doing for my car build for the ac and heating, im going to use PVC tubing and thermoelectric coolers and solenoid valves. and add a bunch of computer fans. with this can have two tubes that go into the vehicle, from different sides of the thermoelectric cooler. (one side hot other side cold.) when i ask for cold a valve allows the cold side to blow cold air into the vehicle. and the hot side will have a fan blowing it away from the car. and vice versa if i wanted heat. of if you justr want heat you could use a 12v heater: http://img3.banggood.com/thumb/view/upload/2012/liangping/SKU0605641%20(2).jpg i hope to add a tutorial or something giving more detail to how i would do this. keep up the good work.
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