Can a Gasoline Vehicle Be Converted to an EV?

Yes, but there are plenty of caveats to know before you attempt it

Yes, it's possible to convert a gasoline-powered car to run on electric power. Converting a gas car to run on electricity is a little more complicated than dropping in a shiny new crate engine, but the process isn’t really that different.

If you’re comfortable with that sort of work, then the conversion process probably isn’t beyond your abilities. For everyone else, paying a qualified technician to convert your current car is still likely to be more affordable than buying a brand new electric car.

Really? Anyone Can Convert a Gas Car to Run on Electricity?

Anyone can convert a gas car to run on electricity, but the difficulty and feasibility of the project depends on a number of factors. 

Some vehicles are easier to convert than others, because some automakers actually sell conversion kits for their older vehicles (but most don’t).

Third-party aftermarket companies also sell conversion kits for specific vehicles, and the conversion process is a lot easier if you can find a kit that’s designed for your vehicle instead of trying to adapt a generic electric motor, source your own batteries, and build everything from the ground up.

EVWest, for example, converted a 1963 Volkswagen Beetle to electric using a conversion kit as shown in this video.

How Do You Convert a Gasoline Vehicle to an EV?

The conversion starts with removing the gasoline engine and most of the supporting hardware. You or the qualified technician will remove components like the radiator, exhaust, fuel lines, and even the gas tank, because they’ll no longer be needed after the conversion is done. Depending on the age of the vehicle, it might also be necessary to remove the transmission and replace it with an electronically-controlled transmission.

Swap the Motor

Once everything has been removed, an electric motor is installed in place of the gasoline engine. If the transmission was removed, it needs to be replaced with a new one at this time. The new electric motor is bolted up to the transmission using an adapter plate if necessary, and secured in place with motor mounts. Depending on the specific vehicle and conversion kit, adapter brackets may be necessary for the motor mounts.

Keep the Drivetrain

In the simplest conversions, the rest of the drivetrain remains in place. That means the converted EV will use the same driveshaft, differential, transfer case, axles, and other components as it did when it was a gasoline vehicle. It’s possible to do away with a lot of those components, but that’s a far more complex operation, and conversion kits aren’t designed around that goal.

Add a Battery Pack

Scientist testing a battery with an electric motor in a research facility
Scientist testing a lithium battery with an electric motor in a research facility.

Monty Rakusen / Getty Images

After the electric motor is in place, the battery pack has to be installed and wired in. Some conversion kits include the battery pack, wiring harness, and controller, which simplifies the process a lot, but you may have to source your own batteries. Figuring out where to place the batteries can be complicated, with the trunk, engine compartment, space where the gas tank used to be, and under the seat or floorboards all being options.

In some cases, cars use modern EV skateboard battery platforms and lower the older auto body onto them, as shown on Celebrity IOU: Joyride.

Replace the Brakes

The kit may also include replacement brake hardware, in which case you’ll need to remove your existing disc or drum brakes and replace them with regenerative brakes. This is a little more complicated than a normal brake job, because it also involves wiring the regenerative brakes into the electrical system.

Convert the Electrical System

The last important aspect of converting a gasoline vehicle to an EV is the vehicle’s original 12V electrical system. Most conversion kits include some type of power converter to power the original electrical system directly, including lighting, the radio, and other systems. Others can be modified to charge the vehicle’s original 12V lead acid battery so that the original low voltage electronics receive power in that way.

Additional considerations

The entire conversion process is fairly straightforward if you choose a conversion kit that’s designed for the specific make and model of your vehicle, and you may even be able to find one that comes with a controller that can interface with your original instrument cluster. In that case, you’ll be able to see the charge level of your batteries displayed by the gas gauge. Other kits come with replacement gauges.

Some kits also include additional components, like thermal management systems to heat and cool the batteries, and heat pumps or other methods to heat and cool the passenger compartment.

Should You Convert Your Car?

The question of whether you should convert your gasoline vehicle to an EV is important, because not all vehicles are ideal candidates. The age of the vehicle isn’t really important, but the condition of the vehicle is. If you have an immaculate classic car or truck that you want to convert, then it could be a fun project. If you have an older vehicle that you’re attached to, but it’s dinged up, starting to rust, or the interior is trashed, you need to ask if this is really a smart investment.

Basic conversion kits rarely address things like power steering, air conditioning, and vacuum-driven accessories.

The weight of your vehicle also enters into the equation, because heavier vehicles don’t perform as well with EV conversion kits. Extremely small vehicles can also be tricky, because you may have trouble finding a place to install the batteries.

It’s also important to consider the age, mileage, and mechanical condition of the vehicle. While you’ll be removing the engine and many other components during the conversion process, most of the drivetrain will remain in place.

You may replace the transmission, but everything else will still have a lot of wear and tear. Other components like the steering linkage and suspension will also remain in place, so it’s worth thinking about how many of those components you’ve already replaced, and how much repairs might cost you in the future.

It’s also important to note that basic conversion kits rarely address things like power steering, air conditioning, and vacuum-driven accessories. If your vehicle has hydraulic power steering, you’ll need to purchase and install an electric hydraulic pump, or the power steering won’t work after the conversion.

Air conditioning is a little trickier, but there are options for powering your existing A/C compressor, or installing a heat pump. Vacuum-driven accessories can be replaced with electronic alternatives, or powered by an electric vacuum pump.

While you may be able to source most of the necessary components for $5,000 or less, EV batteries are expensive and often represent the biggest cost when converting from a gasoline vehicle.

Costs Involved in Converting Gas to Electric

Converting from gas to electric is typically more affordable than buying a brand new EV. In some cases, it’s even cheaper to buy a used gasoline vehicle and convert it to electric than it would be to buy a new electric vehicle. Prices vary though, some conversion kits cost more than others, and you’ll save a lot more money if you can do the conversion yourself than if you have to pay for labor on top of buying the kit.

Electric vehicle conversion kits vary widely in price, from about $7,500 to more than $25,000. Kits at the lower end of that price range don’t include the batteries, which can add thousands of dollars to the bottom line, and labor isn’t included in those figures either.

As an example, let’s say you have a 1970s vintage Porsche 911 that’s in cherry condition, and you want to convert it. The basic conversion kit would run you about $11,500, plus another $10,000 for batteries, and then other miscellaneous expenses like a wiring harness.

If you do the work yourself, you could feasibly end up with an electric Porsche for under $25,000. That’s a pretty steep investment to make in an older vehicle, but it is still less than you’d pay for a brand new EV like a Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf.

If you see significantly lower numbers thrown around, like suggestions that you can convert a gasoline vehicle to an EV for under $5,000, it’s important to note that those figures don’t take the batteries into account. While you may be able to source most of the necessary components for $5,000 or less, EV batteries are expensive and often represent the biggest cost when converting from a gasoline vehicle.

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