Can you assemble your own car?

Assembling Your Car's Systems
Steve Graber driving his own creation -- the custom-fabricated, La Bala roadster.
Steve Graber driving his own creation -- the custom-fabricated, La Bala roadster.
Courtesy of Patrick Ernzen

There are several subsystems within a car that are like ingredients in a vehicular recipe. Several are critical, while others are more for driver comfort and convenience. But each one will need consideration during assembly. A few of the critical systems are listed below:

  • Power system: This is the system that changes heat or reactive chemicals into energy. Essentially it's what you need to move your car and you have to decide if you want a traditional internal combustion engine, an all-electric car (battery-powered), a hybrid system or maybe even a fuel cell. This will also determine how many of the other systems within your car are chosen and assembled.
  • Starting and charging system: This system gets the motor running and helps power the electrical system. On a traditional car it's the alternator, starter motor, and battery. But variations are becoming more common as new systems, like hybrid vehicles, are introduced.
  • Powertrain system: This transmits the power from the engine (power system) to the wheels and can incorporate a number of different types of transmissions, transaxles and differentials. If you're involved in a hybrid or an all-electric build, you'll need to know how to direct the transmission of power from electric motors to the wheels.
  • Steering system: This allows the driver to point the vehicle where they want it to go. Some cars use a steer-by-wire system that dispenses with mechanical linkages to steering racks and instead uses electronic modules to transmit exactly what the steering wheel is doing to motors that move the wheels.
  • Suspension system: This system incorporates the tires, shocks and springs that provide better handling and control of the car as well as what type of ride you select -- soft, hard, responsive and so on.
  • Brakes: If you go, you have to stop. This system allows for that, as well as integrating anti-lock brake systems, traction control and electronic stability programs that reduce spinouts.
  • Frame system: This supports the body, as well as providing a structural element for other safety features like crumple zones.
  • Body system: This protects the driver and passengers within the vehicle, as well as the vehicle's many hidden components from outside hazards.
  • Electrical system: Now considered the single most important system for vehicle operation; however, in a home-assembled vehicle, you can choose how elaborate you want to get with your vehicle's electrical system.

Alone, each one of these systems is a challenge to tackle. And when you're assembling an entire car, all of these systems must be considered simultaneously and made to work as one -- efficiently and effectively. This is the biggest challenge of all.

But now, with the mechanics out of the way, the true allure of a home-assembled car becomes clear.