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Today the adventure officially begins. Julia, my wife, purchased a car for our conversion.

Welcome to my first post regarding the conversion of an ICE (internal combustion engine) car to an EV (electric vehicle). The background is this. I have a 12 year old son Noah who likes science. We watched “Who killed the electric vehicle”. Somehow that led to the idea of converting a normal car to an EV. My personal reason for doing this is to have a challenging, interesting, productive and educational project to do with my son. I am not doing this to have an EV. Even cursory research shows that it would be easier, cheaper and quicker to buy an existing EV than to convert one. So if all I wanted was an EV, I’d go buy one.

[I do have another motivation. I will try to make this the last political statement of this blog.] If we succeed, it will prove anyone can build an EV. I hope that this will encourage others to consider the possibilities of alternative energy that exist today. In my opinion, using less oil will do more for our country than it will for the environment. Using less gas will deprive those nations who support religious tyranny and oppose democracy of some revenue. It’s not necessarily governments who wish us ill, although Iran is no friend. Saudi Arabia is our ally, but 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were from that country. I like the idea of being green, but sooner or later someone somewhere will burn most of the oil. As long as it’s cheaper to use oil than alternatives, it will get burned. Emerging countries will put the immediate desire to escape poverty as a priority over the environment. Oil may be sold, but if we can decrease the demand, we will decrease the price and decrease the revenue to oil producers.

I have no mechanical skills. I can change a tire. I get nervous with jumper cables, so you can imagine my trepidation dealing at the prospect of an EV. Let me explain my worries about the E in EV. When I was a little kid (maybe 5), there was a leaky faucet in our house. A handyman was looking at it. I was looking at the handyman. This guy was no electrician. He held a brass (well it looked like brass and was metal) lamp under the sink to see the problem. Next thing I know this guy got a heck of a shock. This was no quick buzz either. He sizzled for seconds. Fortunately he was ok. He had a beer and he didn’t fix the faucet.

Fast forward to college, and I’m in a physics lab dealing with electricity and magnetism. There’s a large battery in front of me. The graduate student/lab instructor warned us not to touch both terminals simultaneously. I only touched one. He didn’t say not to lean against the wall where there was copper (well it looked like copper) pipe carrying gas to the burners in the lab. I didn’t (couldn’t) say anything while I was being shocked but everyone in the room could hear me snap, crackle and pop. So I have a pretty good concept of grounding.

So my main fear is electrocution. The others are being crushed, crashing due to brake failure or the car getting of control, and wasting $20K (my current estimate of the budget).

My wife, Julia and other son Sam (10) are very supportive. It will be interesting to see how nerves get frayed on this journey. Like any good journey, we’re enjoying the promise. I expect some hell along the way. When it’s over and the scars are healed, I hope for some good family memories.

At this point, I’ve read 2 books (Convert It! and Build your own electric vehicle) and visited a lot of websites. I’ve learned a great deal including:

Converting an ICE to an EV is possible, but not necessarily so for me. I clearly lack the mechanical skills. I’ve been very nice to the car enthusiasts (Ken, Howard, Sam) and engineers (Karl, Steve) that I know. My plan is to be willing to outsource a lot of the work.

An EV has specific characteristics that make it appropriate for certain uses. This is true of sports cars and pickup trucks. I’m hoping my EV can do a reliable 30 miles on a charge and a reliable 45 mph. From what I read, this is entirely realistic. If it achieves this, it can easily be my commuting vehicle.
In principle, the conversion is easy. Get an appropriate vehicle; remove the ICE including the unnecessary stuff (gas tank, exhaust etc); put in a new motor and a lot of batteries and go. But there are details. The car is going to weigh more (probably 800 lbs more in our case) so it needs good brakes and suspension. The distribution of weight needs to be considered to maintain safe handling properties.

This project is going to be difficult for us, so my plan is to make it as easy as possible. To this end, my plan is to buy a kit. Kits include combinations of electrical stuff (more on this later) that work together. More complete ones include boxes to hold the batteries. Most important is the adapter that connects the motor to the transmission. This is custom for the vehicle.

Small pickups are considered the easiest and I gave a lot of thought to this. They have room for the batteries and are designed for the extra load. But I don’t want a pickup. So my research led me to the folks who wrote the Convert IT! Book. That led me to choose the Volkswagen Cabriolet. A/C is a drain on the battery, so I thought a convertible would be nice. For a reason that is secret to me, the Electro Automotive kit only works with Cabriolets through 1993.

So I began shopping. The winner was Craigslist. We found a 1985 Cabriolet. It’s in the shop. It needs a brake line weld (whatever that is). The engine needs work, but since we’re throwing that out, we don’t care. Price of car and repair: $950. I’m going to try to document the cost as we go. The books were about $45. Only $19,000 left before breaking the budget.

The next steps are to bring our baby home from the hospital and put together a space to work on it.
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