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How Electric Car Conversion Kits Work

By: John Fuller

The Electric Conversion

Conversions can be tricky endeavors, so electric car conversion kits aim to make the process easier for those without technical and mechanical experience.
Conversions can be tricky endeavors, so electric car conversion kits aim to make the process easier for those without technical and mechanical experience.
David Silverman/Getty Images

Before we discuss anything else, we need to realize the difference between all-electric cars and gasoline-powered cars. The conventional cars you see on the road run with the help of an internal combustion engine, which is built using a large number of moving parts. These parts are set into motion when gasoline burns, creating energy that moves a series of pistons and rods. The linear motion provided by the pistons and rods is converted into rotary motion at the crankshaft. The rotary motion is transferred through the transmission, driveshaft, differential, axle and eventually the wheels, which makes the car move.

An electric car, on the other hand, has three key elements that set it apart from a typical gasoline-powered car:

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  • An electric motor in place of a gasoline engine
  • A controller
  • An array of batteries

An electric motor is significantly different from a gasoline engine for many reasons. Perhaps the most notable of these is that it doesn't burn fuel and it only has one rotating element. The motor runs with the help of a controller, which gets its power from a set of batteries. If a vehicle is a hybrid, which means it operates with both an electric motor and a gasoline engine, the gasoline engine typically charges the batteries while the motor is running. But pure electric cars are plug-in vehicles -- they don't have a gas-powered engine to charge the batteries. They use extension cords and take power from your household or office current.

So while a gasoline engine is a big tangle of pipes and hoses, an electric motor relies heavily on a complex connection of wires. Installing an electric car conversion kit often involves ripping out that tangle, which includes the engine, transmission, gas tank and exhaust system and replacing it with an electric motor, controller and battery array as described above.

Since most people don't have the experience to perform this kind of task, a few companies are offering various kinds of conversion kits that put everything into one neat package. What types of conversion kits are out there? Will they work with any car, or would you have to buy a specific make and model? Do they really work, or are they just expensive add-ons that don't add up to much? Find out on the next page.

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