Frequently Asked Questions and Answeres on EVs

What is an EV?
EV is an acronym for Electric Vehicle.  An EV uses an electric motor for propulsion and electricity for fuel, where a conventional vehicle has an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) and uses petroleum based or "fossil" fuels.  The term EV usually refers to a vehicle with electricity stored onboard in batteries which are recharged from an external source.  An EV can be powered by anything that generates.  An EV can use a variety of alternative energy including wind, water or solar energy.

Are there different kinds of EV’s?
The term EV is most often used to refer to full-sized vehicles which run on electricity stored in batteries, and which are capable of operating safely on public highways.  Although some production EVs are now available, many EVs are conversions of vehicles that were originally built with internal combustion engines.  In addition to private passenger EVs, vehicles that run solely on electricity are really all around us.  They include golf-carts, forklifts, wheelchairs, bicycles, boats, buses, and trains.  These FAQ’s will be addressing on-road vehicles only.

How far will an EV go on a charge?
A properly converted EV will get a range of 35 – 65 miles depending on the type of driving.  Heavy starting and stop driving or excessively high speed driving will use more energy than normal.  It does not take much energy to maintain a vehicle at speed but it takes a lot to get it up to speed and it takes a lot to increase that speed to speeds where air resistance becomes the main resistive force.  Newer battery technology being applied to EVs like Lithium Polymer Batteries can take EV cars 125 to 250 miles and actually weigh less than the original vehicle, but these batteries aren’t mass produced yet so they cost more than the standard Lead Acid Batteries most commonly used.

How fast will an EV go?
Like any car, EV performance ranges from "economy" to "muscle car".  Well designed EVs can travel at normal highway speeds of 60 to 75 mph.  "Hot" or "Racing" EVs can do much better.  A 1986 Ford Taurus conversion has done 132 mph; a specially prepared GM EV1 prototype did 183 mph.

What kinds of batteries are used in EVs?
Deep-discharge lead/acid batteries, are commercially available at a reasonable price, are typically used because they are designed for EV service and are economical across their service life.  Other batteries such as Nickel Metal Hydride, Lithium Ion, Zinc Air and Lithium Polymer are available but are much more costly.  A plus side to these more expensive batteries is in the long run, they are cheaper.

How long does it take to recharge?
Depending on the depth of discharge, recharge times will vary but a “dead” battery pack can be charged fully overnight.  You also learn to "convenience" charge.  This means, if I come over to visit you, I might ask to plug in for 10 cents worth of power while I’m there and thereby top off my batteries.  Retail stores are now starting to supply charging stations whiles you’re at the store shopping.

How much does it cost to recharge?
That depends on how much the electricity costs per Kilowatt/Hour and how much energy needs to be replaced in the batteries.  If you car uses 200 watt/hour of electricity to go 1 mile you drive 10 miles, you will need to replace 2 Kilowatt/hours of energy that you used from the batteries.  If electricity is 12 cents per kilowatt/hour (which is typical in Texas), the recharge will cost you 24 cents.  (Keep in mind that there will be slight losses in charging efficiency so the total may be 25 cents.)  Even in a really high electric cost area and if you really use the car a lot you will still be under $1.25 for 50 to 60 miles or so.  Compare that to the almost $3.00 a gallon for gas to go 30 miles.

Why would I be interested in EVs?
Electric Vehicles provide a partial solution for two problems, which are aggravated by continued widespread use of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines:

  • Reduced Air Pollution: Electric Vehicles are one means of providing personal transportation with no vehicle exhaust emissions.  If electricity is provided by a generating process that emits pollutants, when that pollution source is at least stationary where it is more practical to address the problem.
  • Preserve Finite Resources: Fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource.  As deposits are consumed, rising extraction costs and the laws of supply and demand will combine to force ever-higher fuel costs.  Eventually, fossil fuels will become too precious of a commodity to be burned.
  • Economic Transportation: This has become especially evident with the recent increase in the price of gas.  Most daily commutes require travel of less than 25 miles.
  • Fun: In addition to the practical aspects of EV’s there are those more important factors like... Blowing the doors off V8’s from the line, going in for an emissions test and watching the test guy try to find the tailpipe and paying only $12 for the year’s inspection.  Plus, if you’re a Liberal, you‘re walking your talk and if you’re a Conservative, the Liberals will like you.

What’s it like to drive one?
Many drivers are surprised, and perhaps a little disappointed, when they find that driving an EV is much like driving any other vehicle.  The one noticeable trait of an EV is that it runs silently.  It will usually take a while to get used to waiting at a stoplight and thinking that your engine has died or wondering if anything will happen when you step on the accelerator.

How well do EVs accelerate?
Again, like conventional cars, EV acceleration performance will vary from the economical 0-60 in 20 seconds down to less than 7 seconds.  How about blasting down the quarter mile in a blistering 11 seconds.  A unique trait about electric motors is that they can deliver unlimited torque given the power so the ability to blow the doors off a muscle car is very real (Although this will affect the range).

What about longer trips?
EV’s should be considered a mission specific type of vehicle.  Much as you wouldn’t use the space shuttle to go for a gallon of milk at the corner store, you wouldn’t use an EV for long trips.  They perform best at the task of normal everyday commuting and errand running that accounts for 80-90% of our daily driving.

What about hybrids?
A Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) has two sources of motive energy, one electric, the second typically an internal combustion engine.  In a Series Hybrid the gas engine is used to generate electricity for the batteries and the motor, but can not directly provide power the wheels.  In a Parallel Hybrid, like the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and many others, power may be delivered to the wheels by either system or both working together in parallel.  Hybrids are intended to combine the advantages of an EV with the range of conventionally fueled vehicles.  They are at best an interim solution; however, as they still use fossil fuels.  Since they have two drive systems, they are also more complex than vehicles which only use a single fuel source.

What about Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars?
A Hydrogen Fuel Cell car is an EV with smaller batteries.  The battery pack is a lot smaller and it uses the Hydrogen to create the electricity for propulsion.  The Hydrogen Fuel Cell replaces a lot of the batteries, but the Hydrogen Fuel Cell is complex and there is no infrastructure in place for refueling.  So before Hydrogen Cars are readily available, the distribution infrastructure will have to be put in place.  Unlike a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV), the power grid already exists, so no infrastructure to create.  At best case scenario, Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars are still 10 years away from feasibility because of the price of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Stack (the electricity generating portion of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell) and the lack of the infrastructure.

How much does an EV cost?
There is limited availability of a commercially made EV.  More and more companies are starting to produce EVs but at the moment they are not mass produced.  EV Conversions will usually run between $3,500 and $7,000 depending on the car and how much you are able to do your self.

Is there tax or other incentive applicable to EVs?
Yes.  Many states and federal agencies offer tax or even rebate incentives for alternate fuel vehicles including EV’s.  Unfortunately for Texans, the only discount we get is the yearly inspection is only $12 dollars compared to $40.

Is insurance more expensive?
No, insurance is the same if the car is fueled by gas or electricity.

How does lifetime cost compare?
An electric car is simple.  The drive train is made up of a DC or AC motor, controller and batteries.  This contributes to an expected 15+ years of life (20 year isn’t even unheard of) for a converted vehicle.  Drive train components can be recycled into another future conversion.  Ten years of operating experience has shown that using an electric car for short trips saves money.  It costs about $1500 per year to own and operate an electric car.  This is about 1/3 of the similar cost of a new car not to mention larger vehicles like trucks and SUVs.  Another perk, because of limited availability, the EV keeps its value; it doesn’t depreciate like a regular car.

How easy is it to convert a vehicle to electric?
The transformation of a conventional car to a battery powered vehicle is a straight forward process that can be accomplished by anyone reasonable adept to using the usual hand tools found in a homeowner’s tool box.  It helps if you are mechanically inclined.

Conversion begins with removal of the engine and its related components.  The transmission and clutch should be retained.  Plans for battery placement can be made after the engine is out and you know motor dimensions.  A DC or AC motor substitutes for the engine and mounts directly to the transmission.  An electronic controller takes the place of the carburetor and the batteries take the place of the fuel tank.

You will have to custom design the battery rack for your project.  Battery location for acceptable weight distribution must be considered.  You can have battery racks fabricated by a local welding shop.

Other components such as power cables, connectors, power relays, meters and other miscellaneous items complete the entire list of parts needed for a conversion and are available from various sources.

Conversion time can vary greatly to a few weekends to a few months of working evenings and weekends.  Typical project is about $7,000.

What kind of vehicles can be converted to electric?
Almost any vehicle CAN be converted to electric but not all vehicles are good candidates to be converted to electric.  Usually you want to select a car with a starting cub weight of less than 2400 lbs.  You will also prefer to have manual transmission, rack and pinion steering (as opposed to power steering) and be fairly aerodynamic.  Wind resistance, especially at higher speeds, will really wipe out your batteries quickly and decrease your range.  Select a car with the body in good shape.  Rust is one condition that will send a car to the crusher.  It is something you don’t want to deal with.

Do EVs use manual or automatic transmissions?
Manual transmissions are preferred, as automatic transmissions require energy to be used just to keep the hydraulic pump running, even if the car is not moving and you can control the shift point with a manual.  Some AC conversions can be done without a transmission all together and just use a direct drive system.

Can EVs have heat and air-conditioning?
Yes.  Heat is easily restored by the addition of an electric heating element that can take the place of the original heater core.  Operation requires connection to the heater control to turn the heater on through a relay.  The amount of energy used by the electric heater element will decrease the range of the vehicle but only slightly.  Air conditioning is usually a case of opening a window although many have added the extra motor to drive the air condition compressor.  Again, it is a case of extra energy being used that won’t be available for driving.

Can EVs have power brakes and power steering?
Yes.  Power brakes are usually always restored, as the weight of the vehicle generally will increase with all the batteries.  An electric vacuum pump takes care of this task.  Generally power steering is avoided in the selection of a vehicle because it is using power even when standing still.  It is easy to add power steering by simply adding an additional motor to drive the power steering pump or changing the steering to mechanism to be an electric steering unit.

How is 12-volts provided for lights and accessories?
There is a standard 12-volt battery that supplies power for lights and accessories.  This battery is either charged separately when the car is charging or charged from the main battery pack using a DC to DC converter (DC to DC converter would be the equivalent of the alternator).

Can solar panels provide the recharge?
Yes and No.  If you mean solar panels mounted on the car, then the answer is no.  (The exception to this would be if the solar panel is to recharge just the 12-volt accessory battery.)  Even if you covered every inch of surface with solar cells, you would not produce enough power to charge the batteries or even extend their life by any appreciable amount.  A ground mounted or house mounted solar array, on the other hand is very feasible and is being done my many people.

How safe are the batteries?
Same as the battery that is in your conventional car.  A little more care is required when working on the circuits of an EV because the main battery pack may have voltages greater than 300 volts.

How long will the batteries last?
Life expectancy on a set of batteries that are maintained properly is in excess of 5 years.  During those years overall performance of the batteries will decrease slightly but if the design of the vehicle is proper it shouldn’t be noticed during normal operation.

How much do replacement batteries cost?
That depends on how many batteries and of what type.  Battery prices range from $60 to $150 per battery for non-exotic batteries.  The number of batteries used depends on the voltage of the system and the voltage of the individual battery.  In a typical conversion, the most common batteries are 6 or 8 volts and there are between 16 and 20 of them.  This would put the cost figure between $1,000 and $3,000.

Are EV’s reliable?
An electric car is simple.  The electric drive train has just four major components; batteries, DC or AC motor, controller and charger.  There are no fluids and even through the car is electric it actually has LESS electric wiring than a standard car so there is less to go wrong.  Also the electric drive train has 90% less moving parts compared to an Internal Combustion Engine.

Can you equate a MPG equivalent?
How do you compare the efficiency of an electric Car to that of your friends noisy ICE car? Well the easiest way to do it is to give them you equivalent MPG, but how do you work that out?

Well to work out the equivalent mpg we simple divide the amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline (36,650 Wh) by our Wh/mile figures.

As an example lets say your EV gets 300Wh/mile.
36,650 divided by 300 is 122.2 MPG equivalent.

Other EV Data that I can Read?
There is a great wiki page setup on DIY Electric Car full of EV Information.

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