With some effort and a little money, you can convert your gasoline engine car to run on electricity—for cleaner, greener local driving.
I recently completed the conversion of my 1998 Chevy S10 pickup truck, taking about four months of evenings, weekends, and seven vacation days. There were setbacks and some skinned knuckles, but the effort was worth it. Here’s a look at the process.
The engine has been removed, and the compartment has been cleaned using degreaser. After cleaning, the frame was primed with a zinc primer and painted black. Note the motor mount bolted in place above the cross member, awaiting the motor.
The motor mount was originally suspended between two rubber engine mounts. After the torque from the electric motor ripped the mounts, I replaced the rubber with metal tangs welded to the rubber mounts’ bases. There is no reason to mount an EV motor on rubber, since there is no vibration. Mount your electric motor solidly.
I removed the truck’s original bed, sandblasted the frame, and primed and painted it. As you can see, it looks fresh from the factory. Notice the shackles that I added to the rear leaf springs to give the rear a little more height over the front end. Also notice the air shocks. This combination gives me the front-to-rear height balance that I wanted. As it turns out, the air shocks weren’t needed. With only 16 batteries, weight is not an issue.
I purchased a small welding machine, a 14-inch cutoff saw, and an angle grinder to fabricate a secure battery rack, using 11/4- by 1/8-inch steel angle and some flat stock. The rack is securely bolted to the truck frame on each side and holds two rows of eight batteries.
Note the flat-stock strapping across the top of the rack between the batteries. These straps are bolted on with lock nuts. Holding the batteries securely in place is very important to prevent additional damage and injury in an accident.
Notice that the terminal lugs are connected to the terminals with wing nuts. To avoid terminal meltdown, I have since replaced the cable ends with terminal clamps for much better contact. The terminal tops and cable lugs had insufficient contact surface, and I melted three terminal posts before changing over to clamps.
The gray box on the right side of the battery rack is a makeshift fuse box that contains a 600-amp fuse. I drilled some holes for venting in the plastic electrical box. The fuse is an added safety measure in the event that the entire battery bank shorts out, say from a dropped tool or a traffic accident.
First, notice the large bolt on the top of the motor—just above and to the right of the motor information plate. This bolt goes through a short metal tab that is welded to the top motor-mount strap. Together, this bolt and tab prevent the motor and transmission from twisting from the enormous motor torque.
This technique should only be used if you are using a professionally made motor mount that has been carefully sized for this bolt hole. The field coils for the motor are just below this hole, and clearances inside the motor are very small and precisely designed. A bolt that is too long can push the field coils into the spinning armature and damage the motor.
Front and center, you will see my old oil drain pan. It now serves to deflect rain that comes in the front of the vehicle and prevents it from getting into the motor brushes—without blocking airflow.
At the top left is the potbox, which is mechanically connected to the “gas” pedal via a flexible cable. The variable resistor tells the controller how much voltage to feed the motor. The controller sits to the left and above the motor, and is mounted on a 5/16-inch-thick aluminum plate. Both the motor and the controller run cool, barely above human body temperature.
To the right and above the motor is my homemade battery charger. I saved about $1,000 by designing and building the battery charger, as well as the 12‑volt charger (not shown). The chargers and other electrical components are kept separate from the main battery bank as a safety measure in the event of a severe battery overcharge, which would release hydrogen gas and pose an explosion hazard.
The gray box (top center), mounted to the firewall, contains the heavy-duty contactor that passes the high current to the controller when it is energized.
This photo shows how I installed the potbox made by Curtis. Installation was very simple. I added a piece of aluminum angle on the right with a larger flat piece screwed on to capture the accelerator cable sleeve. A piece of scrap iron flat stock was used to mount the control to the remaining plastic plenum for the air-conditioning evaporator. Note the added return assist spring that helps pull the control arm back and elevates the accelerator pedal. A crimp-on lug terminal was used to connect the accelerator cable to the control arm with a loose bolt and acorn nut.
The original bed weighed 320 pounds. By building my own truck bed out of aluminum framing and ABS plastic sheathing, I shaved about 195 pounds off the truck’s load and made a nice compartment for the batteries. Aluminum sheet can be used as well. Ninety-degree angle plates and angle brackets give the bed framework excellent rigidity. Self-drilling screws made attaching the framework easy.
The ABS sheathing, which was attached using countersunk stainless-steel #8 sheet-metal screws, can be painted with standard auto paint.
Here it is. The tail lights and side running lights are bright LED assemblies from the local auto parts store. I added fog lights to the rear, just under the bumper on each side, for backup lights. Because EVs operate so quietly, I placed a 12 V beeper under the rear bumper that activates when I set the transmission into reverse—a courtesy to warn pedestrians.
Mark E. Hazen is an electronics engineer and professional writer. He has written several college-level electronics engineering textbooks, a paperback on alternative energy, and numerous articles covering analog circuits and communications. He holds a patent on PWM motor control.