Converting a Mainstream Gas Guzzler to an Electric Vehicle

Electric model motors save time, energy, money and add life to old cars, including finding electric motor components, converting wiring, converting into an electric vehicle.

| February/March 1997

Replacing an aging engine with an electric engine to convert to an electric vehicle will save time, money, energy, and headaches. 

While there are several types of vehicle conversions possible — such as Dave Arthur's hybrid electric car (see MOTHER'S June/July '93 issue); or using propane or even wood-produced steam to replace your existing combustion engine with a clean-burning, reliable powerplant — converting to an entirely electric vehicle has become a very reliable and cost-effective means of transportation for the commuter. In fact, many city governments have electric vehicles in their fleets and electric forklifts have been in the workforce for well over a decade.  

Brian Walsh is an alternative energy expert and has recently converted a Chevy S-10 pick-up as a pilot vehicle for his company Moonlight Solar, Inc. This truck has been on the road now for a year, running without a problem and, according to Walsh, that's the point . . . while electric vehicle conversions have certain components that are costly, once converted, the vehicle is not only quiet and non-polluting but has no real maintenance except for normal brake replacement, occasional battery water level checks, and brush changes in the electric motor every 80,000 miles (which costs a whopping $80). That's right, there's no longer an engine, carburetor, catalytic converter, exhaust system, radiator, starter, hose, or belt. This means that there's no oil to change and no anti-freeze needed, also reducing the need for fluids toxic to the environment.

The conversion process explained in detail here is based on the Moonlight Solar truck conversion. Notice that none of the cargo space in the truck has been compromised, unlike Dave Arthur's truck where batteries, a generator, and an engine all are piled in the bed. Walsh's truck has batteries tucked away nicely in boxes under the bed and hood and there are no extra internal combustion engines or generators to install as with hybrid vehicles.

Converting a vehicle completely to electric in this manner means removing the internal combustion engine altogether and installing an electric motor, the components necessary to operate the motor, and batteries. An EV (electric vehicle) of this type must be charged for several hours and then enjoys a traveling radius from 50 to 150 miles (depending on factors such as weight, number of batteries, and type of batteries), making it only suitable for commuter travel. In the near future, however, a new type of battery called a zinc-air battery should be available which is reputed to double the range of an electric vehicle for the same weight. These batteries are already in use in vehicles in Germany (see "Bits & Pieces" in MOTHER EARTH NEWS February/March 1996 issue).

While the range threshold makes an EV most suitable for commuter travel, this should not be confused with lack of power. Riding in the Moonlight Solar truck, one is struck by how much power it has; it can literally leap from a stop. Walsh explains, "We converted a truck to show people that electric vehicles aren't just one-Beaters with bicycle tires." And seeing him buzz through town loaded down with building materials or electrical supplies is testimony to the success of this venture.

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