Convert A Gasoline car to Electric: Can It Be Done?

I remember reading in POPULAR MECHANICS (years ago) about guys who converted gasoline cars to electric operation. Basically, you remove the engine, transmission, radiator, etc., and replace the IC engine with a DC electric motor(usually a srplus aircraft generator). Then, you stuff deep cylce lead acid 12 volt batteries in to the trunk, under the hood, etc., and wire them up. Finally (if you want to go high=tech) you can install a small IC engine (lawnmower style and generator, to charge the batteries (for emergency charging). Now, you have an electric car! Except, you have (at best) a 50-70 mile range (per charge), so you need to plug in at work (so your batteries are nicely charged when ts time to go home).
Does such a plan make sense? Would such a car be very useful? How much would you save (I’m told an electric care is pretty cheap to operate-it costs you pennies/mile for the electricity).
Incidentally, I just read the EDMUNDS.COM review of the Toyota Prius hybrid car…not very encouraging! They drove the car for 20,000 miles, and the best gas mileage they achieved was 42.8 MPG! I must say, if this is true, it makes no sense to buy one-I could get 41 MPG with a 1994 manual transmission SATURN SL1!

“Converting” would not be the appropriate term for this, IMHO. All you are keeping is the frame and basic infrastructure (brakes, steering). You would probably be just as well off (maybe better off) to build an electric vehicle “from scratch” as to try and change one from IC to electric. “Conversion” would be more appropriate if you were changing a gasoline engine to run on an alternative fuel such as propane or hydrogen.

The thinking today seems to be more along the lines of using hydrogen to operate a fuel cell that produces electricity, rather than the old “tons of batteries and a long extension cord” approach.

I remember plans for a hybrid car back in the '80s that sounds like what the OP describes: Jet starter motor connected to the transmission, a dozen lead-acid batteries, and a lawnmower engine to recharge them. IIRC the range wasn’t so limited as stated in the OP, as the engine would run all the time the car was being used. I thought it would be neat to convert an MG Midget.

Between Porsches I had a couple Chevy Sprints. They would get 50 mpg, which made the construction of a hybrid impractical. I suppose it all depends on the type of driving you do. A hybrid might be great for the city, but it’s less efficient on the freeway. Another consideration is emissions. A hybrid car might be better for the environment; but again, it’s still burning gas on the freeway. If the aim is to ‘reduce dependency on foreign oil’, then I think Diesel might be a good option because it can be made from plants and organic waste. Diesels also tend to get more mpg than gas. Diesel-electric (‘hybrid’, if you will) locomotives have been very successful for over half a century.

The conversion would also entail replacing the tires and rims with heavy duty truck tires/rims and special springs/suspension system.

All things considered it is not an effective/efficient conversion.

I put a lot of effort into researching this a while ago, as it made sense in my case at the time.

Essentially, the process is what you describe. You need good hefty suspension, and many sites recommend low tread tires. You need to build a box to house the battery cluster that can slow the flow of acid in case of a crash (some people recommend a dual wall box with baking soda between the layers, so that the baking soda neutralizes much of the spilled acid.

You need a big assed electric motor (~$2000, IIRC) and a big assed voltage regulator ($1000) and then a bunch of batteries. Also, you keep the existing transmission, and you’ll need an interface plate to hook the motor up to the transmission (these can be bought or made). All told, the cost was looking to be about CAN$7-8000, plus the cost of the car to put it in.

There are websites dedicated to this kind of conversion, and companies that will do it for you. Have a look around. It can make sense under certain circumstances.

Did any of the websites note that on modern cars, you’ll need vacuum for the brake booster, and some constant spinning force for the power steering pump?

They’re probably trivial to the job of getting a jet-engine starter motor to bolt to a transmission, but I’m just curious how they dealt with these.

Converting my 66 mustang wouldn’t be a problem here…it doesn’t have power brakes or steering to begin with. However, if I converted my late model Camry, which I have had to steer and brake in an unpowered situation, it would really suck, because while I could control the car, it was both a mental and physical exercise.


      • There was a story somewhere about the Smart Car being approved for US use, and on the Smart site linked there was a section of “electric cars for sale”. A few are Smart cars, the others are conversions of various types, or dedicated-electric vehicles (like the Corbins)
  • And there have been stories in the last couple months about how the hybrid cars sometimes get their listed MPG, and sometimes get a lot less–sometimes half the rated MPG. The way the US EPS standardized testing is done (and has been done since 1972), hybrids tend to stay on their battery cycles a lot, which tends to inflate their efficiency ratings.

This book shows you how to convert a Ford Ranger pick 'em up truck to electric. has books and other info on converting gas-powered cars to electric cars, and they even have kits for some specific models, like a VW Rabbit or a Porsche 914.

      • Also I seem to remember one of the major costs associated with operating the GM Impact was that the batteries needed to be completely replaced every two years. I don’t remember what type of batteries it used, but I do know that deep-cycling lead-acid batteries does shorten their life spans–even if you buy batteries especially for that purpose (such as marine batteries). They last longer than regular car batteries would, but they still don’t last hardly forever.

(and yes I know, the Impacts were leased, not sold–but replacing batteries would still be a regular cost of ownership)