Why Don’t We Convert our Car?
I’ve wanted an electric car for many years now, at least as many as I’ve wanted an electric bike. But the cost seemed prohibitive, even more so than an e-bike. I’d considered the options and decided that I’d have to wait. I’d also given up working on cars long ago, so didn’t even see myself getting into it and converting a whole car which is a load of work. About 5 years passed since I first had the thought, and I started to investigate. I found that it was still pretty difficult, there weren’t many workshops and there weren’t many options, all were quite expensive. Another ‘why not’ some people consider, that didn’t really affect my decision, is the limited range. Despite this, I ultimately turned the corner.
The reasons are similar to converting a bike, not using petrol to get around, and of course a bike is the best option if you need single person transport and will take it as it comes as far as the weather. But if you aren’t ready to become a hard core e-bike commuter/transporter using your bike for just about everything, maybe because you live in the suburbs far from work, or have other family members to transport, an electric car is the next best thing. Converting your car however may not be the best option depending on your wants and needs. In my situation we have a small diesel sedan that gives us about 5.5l/100km in city driving, we have a second older car that had major issues. We’ve had the car for a long time, it’s a 1990 BMW 318is, and they are a great car for conversion. I got in touch with a local who had converted his Daihatsu Charade and had a drive, and had a chat about what he’d done. This car is not a performer, I made my decision and there was no turning back.
What is an electric car and how does it compare to a fuel burning car? Pure electric cars (known as BEV’s or battery electric vehicle) work a lot like an electric bicycle, they are also highly efficient with up to 90% efficiency compared to around 30% for petrol engines. There are very few on the market, at the time of writing there are 4 all electric cars in Australia, the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Mitsubishi MiEV and Tesla Model S, with a couple of others overseas. The motor can vary but all of them use a battery pack for their power, and a controller to deliver the right voltage. Currently only a used MiEV competes price wise with converting an existing car.
New off the shelf, all electric cars have an up-front price hit, however you also need to consider the price of fuel and the price of servicing which is less in electric cars as the engine will typically do 100,000km before it needs looking at. Try not changing your oil in the existing engine for that long! As we know from e-bikes, battery technology is moving at a very fast pace, already we are getting three times the range on e-bikes, for less weight in a period of a few years, at the same price. We’re now seeing electric car batteries hitting a key price point.
In a conversion, the motor is hooked up in the car to the existing systems, the brakes (and power steering if required) are converted to electric systems (to provide vacuum pressure which the engine provided before) and a battery pack is installed in place of fuel. It’s pretty basic as a concept but much more difficult to do. On top of replacing all the old systems and installing all the electric parts, you need to obtain engineering certificates applicable to your state. Regulations such as installing a heater for demisting and using battery holders that can withstand crashes are a couple of the regulations you need to meet. Once you have everything organised and your car is up and running it’s a simple matter of registering it and meeting the applicable inspection rules in your state.
Show me the money!
The obvious reason to convert aside from saving the planet is saving your wallet. It can be as low as 20% of the running cost of a petrol car. But the up-front costs can be very daunting, and there are a few things to consider when you are looking at converting, as opposed to perhaps purchasing a second hand or new electric vehicle.
- Do you have a car and does it owe you nothing?
- Does the car need major mechanical repairs to the engine or gearbox?
- Are you primarily travelling under 100km per day in your petrol car?
- Do you want to do this, or pay someone to do it to the car?
If you answered yes to all those questions it might be worth considering. But also worth considering is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV which can be had second hand for around $17000 with a good 7-10 years left in the battery pack, which is about $5000 less than my entire conversion will cost including the batteries.
As far as the cost of batteries, just like e-bikes these are hi tech and relatively expensive. Also like bikes Lithium Iron Phosphate cells are used extensively and technology is moving quickly. We’re looking at a ten year fuel bill if we kept the car on petrol based on current usage of around $12000 at current prices, which is around about what the battery pack will cost. We’re also very keen to install solar when we can so the charging for the car comes from the sun, which takes away most of the roughly 20% cost of power compared to petrol. After ten years given current trends the same battery pack should be half the price, while petrol likely will continue to escalate. The up-front hit doesn’t look so bad now.
Of course the maths will work out differently for each case, but if you’re already interested in electric bikes then you’ve possibly done some maths there too, working out how much each ride saves you over the car, bus or train.
I am a staunch believer that electric powered vehicles are the way of the future. Already manufacturers like Tesla are pushing the envelope in range and power for their cars, not to mention the new Tesla battery storage range just announced. Electric bikes have the power to change the habits of the bus commuter who lives not too far away from work, or the slack cyclist like me who just wasn’t ready to face the time consuming hard commute with a normal bike. Electric cars have the power to change the way we get around everywhere, every day, including heavy transport too, imagine your Dillenger electric kit being delivered on an electric truck!
You can follow my build thread on the AEVA forums if you’re interested to see more.