Building a project car has been a staple of peoples’ lives for decades. Now, you have the option to get an EV out of your project — something slick enough and fast enough to rival the fastest Tesla on the road. If you’re on the fence about converting your ICE car to an EV, you came to the right place.
Converting a car to “electric” is worth it for the right person. You need a lot of spare time, commitment to the project, knowledge, and experience, and patience. In the end, you’re left with a completely customized EV for a fraction of the cost. If you’re planning on using a mechanic to do the project, I don’t think it’s worth it — that would take much more money and you’re better off just buying a stock EV.
In this article, I’m going to really dive into this topic. I’ll start with some definitions, outline the conversion process, and talk about what it takes. From there, I’ll answer if it’s worth it to convert a car to electric on your own.
What Goes into an Electric Conversion?
Later in this piece, I’ll get into the specifics. An electric conversion is when you take a standard gas-powered car and turn it into a fully electric car. You take an internal combustion engine (ICE) and make it an electric vehicle (EV).
Although the idea sounds relatively easy, it’s a convoluted and difficult process. The process entails almost a full disassembly of your car followed up with a full installation of electric parts.
After a successful conversion, your car will plug into a wall to charge, just like a Tesla. You’ll drive past gas stations with a smile on your face from here on out.
Why Not Just Buy an Electric Car?
There are a lot of reasons to get an electric car nowadays. If you really want one, then maybe going through converting your car to “electric” isn’t right for you.
People who convert their vehicle to an EV are looking for a highly customized car and a passion project to work on. The truth is that you can build a car that’s faster than a Tesla with just a fraction of the money.
It just takes a ton of time.
If you buy a standard electric car, you’re losing the ability to pick and choose components you want. In the end, you’ll have an EV either way, it’s just a matter of how you want to get there.
The Ideal Car to Convert
There is a big debate between whether you should start with a car kit or a purchased vehicle. For reference, a car kit is just a crate full of parts. You can think of it as an adult Lego kit. You put the parts together and you’re left with a functional vehicle.
Going for a kit means you need the mechanical prowess to build a car from scratch. It also means that you don’t need to uninstall anything in your car — you simply replace ICE components for EV components as you’re building it.
If you go with a purchased vehicle, you’ll need to strip out the ICE parts and replace them all.
Regardless of your decision, you’ll want to look for a specific type of vehicle: something lightweight with space under the hood for EV parts.
Heavier cars will require a stronger motor and a bigger battery pack. A large vehicle like a truck or SUV is probably not worth all the extra weight that comes with a massive motor and battery.
The ideal car would be something like a Smart Car. Tiny, lightweight, and good space under the hood.
Within the ICE to EV conversion community, there’s a lot of love for converting old classic cars. They’re easier to work on and simpler by design, so this whole process could be expedited.
The Conversion Process: From ICE to EV
So, you have an internal combustion engine vehicle in your driveway, and you want to convert it to an electric vehicle. The process looks something like this:
Step 1: Picking the Car
If you already have the car, you’ll skip this step. If you’re looking to make this a project on a new vehicle, then you’ll have to start by getting that new vehicle.
I would highly recommend going for an older sedan in this case. Buying a brand-new vehicle is going to waste a ton of money.
The best case would be finding an old beater that doesn’t even have to run. After all, you’ll be changing out a majority of the powertrain.
Step 2: Stripping the Internals
Time to gut almost all the internals of the vehicle. Essentially everything under the hood is going to go:
- Fuel tank
It’s a good idea to carefully remove these components. You might be able to sell them to a junkyard and recoup a little money in the process.
You’ll be left with basically a body, frame, interior, and wheels. Not much of a car… yet.
Step 3: Sourcing and Purchasing EV Parts
Now you’ll want to start picking up EV parts. Notably, you need an electric motor, battery pack, some sort of controller, the right electric car charger, and ancillary electrical equipment.
There are a number of sources to purchase these parts from, but I’d suggest sticking with specialty sites that focus on EV conversions.
Step 4: Installing Everything
With the parts (and probably some spare parts) in your possession, you can start installing them. This process is highly specific to your vehicle. In general, you’ll want to install pieces wherever they fit and carefully run the wiring.
You might need to fabricate some special mounting brackets or cut holes in your car to run wires. This is where the expertise required starts to come in handy.
Once installed, you’ll need to test different components and ensure everything is set up correctly.
If you buy a big-name motor and battery kit, you’ll probably find some troubleshooting guides online to help you.
Step 5: Going Through Inspection
Before you can hit the open road officially, you need to go through and pass an inspection. This is the same inspection a regular ICE goes through. It checks the legality and safety of your car, officially deeming it “street legal” when your car passes.
When you pass, you’ll get a certificate that you’ll need to keep in the new EV. To save time before inspection, learn what your local DMV looks for in an inspection and what you need to do to make your vehicle street legal.
Can You Convert a Car to Electric on Your Own?
I’m not the type of guy to turn down a challenge, so answering this question is a little difficult. It is humanly possible to do the conversion on your own, but it’s going to be really tough.
A lot of people who converted their car to an EV did it on their own. However, this isn’t as easy as changing your car’s oil on your own. You need a deep understanding of mechanisms, electricity, fabrication, running tests, and automobiles.
If you’re not comfortable with the overhaul, you can find a specialty shop that’s dedicated to EV conversions. I wouldn’t trust a general mechanic to do this project, by the way. Find one that has experience in EV conversions or else you’ll waste your time and money.
The short answer is that you can convert your car to an EV on your own, but it takes a lot of knowledge, patience, and understanding of multiple disciplines.
Converting a Car to Electric: Is It Worth It?
Now it’s time to address the question you came here for. Is it worth it to convert a car to electric? Let’s talk about it by addressing some different categories. Just to be clear, this section is just about whether or not the conversion is worth doing, not if it’s worth it to drive an EV instead of an ICE.
Cost for Associated Parts
I never mentioned the cost yet. It’s going to vary pretty dramatically based on the battery, motor, and car you start with.
If you buy a car kit and DIY the motor and battery components, you can get away with spending less than $5,000 for everything.
If you buy a car, get a Tesla battery pack, and pick up a Tesla motor kit, then you can easily spend upwards of $40,000.
- A standard drop-in Tesla motor kit is $11,900. A self-sourced motor costs $2,000-5,000 instead.
- A single Tesla battery pack is $1,580. You’ll probably need 5 or more of these, adding up to a minimum of $7,900. Self-sourced battery packs will cost $2,500 to $5,000 instead.
- A donor car will range from $3,000 to $70,000 (depending on what you start with)
- If you want new wheels, seats, or interior upgrades, factor in another $500 to $6,000
Maximum total cost: $95,800
Minimum total cost: $7,500
The next big component is the time requirement. If you’re doing this conversion yourself, there’s no telling how long it will take.
It could take anywhere from half a year to a few years to complete the project. If you use a shop instead, then it will probably take 3 to 9 months.
Using a shop also includes another hefty bill for the associated labor and time. Again, this is really hard to predict, but it could easily work out to tens of thousands of dollars.
If you are converting a car, I would highly suggest doing it yourself to save on this big expense. After all, you can just buy a stock EV with that extra money you’d otherwise pay a shop for the conversion.
Knowledge and Experience Needed
It’s not worth converting your car if you don’t have the right knowledge and experience. Personal experience in topics like electrical design, mechanical understanding, and fabrication is necessary for this project.
This is one of those “jack of all trades” types of projects.
Doing Your Part for the Environment
I’m a little torn on this category, actually. Obviously, driving an EV does a lot when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. But some people say doing the conversion yourself will reduce the fossil fuels that would otherwise be burned by a factory building the EV.
In my mind, the car parts are still fabricated using environmentally harmful processes. I don’t see an environmental benefit of converting to an EV rather than just buying a stock EV.
Starting With a Solid Foundation
Since you’re building the car yourself, you can start with a really solid foundation. This means hand-selecting features you want your car to have, fine-tuning the performance, and getting exactly how much equivalent horsepower that you want.
You’re also ensuring that no corners were cut during the manufacturing process.
Amount of Trial and Error
I can’t stress this idea enough — there’s going to be a lot of testing and trial and error during this process. If you’re not prepared for things to not work the first time you turn the key, then this project isn’t right for you.
The added frustration of this fact might mean that it’s not worth it for a lot of folks.
Giving Your Car a Huge Performance Boost (Potentially)
The conversion really doesn’t have a limit when it comes to boosting your performance. For instance, you can take that 2008 Smart Car with a 14.4 second 0-60 time and 90 mph top speed and make it into a high-performance car. Imagine pulling a 5.0 second 0-60 time and a top speed of 150mph with the same car.
After the conversion, this is perfectly realistic. You can throw a stupid amount of horsepower into a lightweight car and drive it like a rocket ship.
Having a “Tesla” Without the Tesla Sticker Price
Even though there are a lot of costs associated with this conversion, you might still save a lot of money. You can realistically “build your own Tesla” with this conversion.
For instance, you can spend $30,000 and a ton of time and get a car with better specs than a modern Tesla S, a $90,000 car.
Final Verdict: Is It Worth It?
Is it worth it to convert your car to an electric vehicle? In my opinion, it definitely is. It’s just like any other project car that someone might work on. Instead of fixing an old classic, you’re building a car using brand-new technology. It doesn’t get much better than that.
However, this project isn’t for everyone. If you just quickly want an EV and don’t care about specs or the building process, then go to a Chevy dealership and pick up a Bolt.
If you want a hands-on project building your vehicle from the ground up, then start the conversion process today.
Here’s what I have to say: if you’re not drooling right now thinking about this project, then it’s probably not worth it for you.
Converting an ICE car to an EV is a great project for the right person. I just outlined some of the key information that you need to know in order to do this conversion. If you want to read some more how-to’s, guides, and EV articles, check out the rest of my site. I also have a list of products that every car owner should have. Drop a comment below if this project interests you or you successfully converted a car in the past — I’d love to hear your story!