Converting a Car to Electric: Is It Worth It?

Porsche 912 EV Converted Electric Car

Building a project car has been a staple of peoples’ lives for decades. Now, you have the option to get an EV out of your project — something slick enough and fast enough to rival the fastest Tesla on the road. If you’re on the fence about converting your ICE car to an EV, you came to the right place.

Converting a car to “electric” is worth it for the right person. You need a lot of spare time, commitment to the project, knowledge, and experience, and patience. In the end, you’re left with a completely customized EV for a fraction of the cost. If you’re planning on using a mechanic to do the project, I don’t think it’s worth it — that would take much more money and you’re better off just buying a stock EV.

In this article, I’m going to really dive into this topic. I’ll start with some definitions, outline the conversion process, and talk about what it takes. From there, I’ll answer if it’s worth it to convert a car to electric on your own.

What Goes into an Electric Conversion?

Later in this piece, I’ll get into the specifics. An electric conversion is when you take a standard gas-powered car and turn it into a fully electric car. You take an internal combustion engine (ICE) and make it an electric vehicle (EV).

Porsche 912 EV Converted Electric Car Charge Port
Porsche 912 EV Converted Electric Car – Charge Port

Although the idea sounds relatively easy, it’s a convoluted and difficult process. The process entails almost a full disassembly of your car followed up with a full installation of electric parts.

After a successful conversion, your car will plug into a wall to charge, just like a Tesla. You’ll drive past gas stations with a smile on your face from here on out.

Why Not Just Buy an Electric Car?

There are a lot of reasons to get an electric car nowadays. If you really want one, then maybe going through converting your car to “electric” isn’t right for you.

People who convert their vehicle to an EV are looking for a highly customized car and a passion project to work on. The truth is that you can build a car that’s faster than a Tesla with just a fraction of the money.

It just takes a ton of time.

If you buy a standard electric car, you’re losing the ability to pick and choose components you want. In the end, you’ll have an EV either way, it’s just a matter of how you want to get there.

The Ideal Car to Convert

There is a big debate between whether you should start with a car kit or a purchased vehicle. For reference, a car kit is just a crate full of parts. You can think of it as an adult Lego kit. You put the parts together and you’re left with a functional vehicle.

Going for a kit means you need the mechanical prowess to build a car from scratch. It also means that you don’t need to uninstall anything in your car — you simply replace ICE components for EV components as you’re building it.

If you go with a purchased vehicle, you’ll need to strip out the ICE parts and replace them all.

Volkswagen Beetle Vintage Converted Electric Car EV
Volkswagen Beetle Vintage Converted Electric Car EV

Regardless of your decision, you’ll want to look for a specific type of vehicle: something lightweight with space under the hood for EV parts.

Heavier cars will require a stronger motor and a bigger battery pack. A large vehicle like a truck or SUV is probably not worth all the extra weight that comes with a massive motor and battery.

The ideal car would be something like a Smart Car. Tiny, lightweight, and good space under the hood.

Within the ICE to EV conversion community, there’s a lot of love for converting old classic cars. They’re easier to work on and simpler by design, so this whole process could be expedited.

The Conversion Process: From ICE to EV

So, you have an internal combustion engine vehicle in your driveway, and you want to convert it to an electric vehicle. The process looks something like this:

Step 1: Picking the Car

If you already have the car, you’ll skip this step. If you’re looking to make this a project on a new vehicle, then you’ll have to start by getting that new vehicle.

Pickup truck with a battery electric conversion EV
A pickup truck with an electric battery motor conversion

I would highly recommend going for an older sedan in this case. Buying a brand-new vehicle is going to waste a ton of money.

The best case would be finding an old beater that doesn’t even have to run. After all, you’ll be changing out a majority of the powertrain.

Step 2: Stripping the Internals

Time to gut almost all the internals of the vehicle. Essentially everything under the hood is going to go:

  • Engine
  • Transmission
  • Alternator
  • Muffler
  • Exhaust
  • Radiator
  • Starter
  • Fuel tank

It’s a good idea to carefully remove these components. You might be able to sell them to a junkyard and recoup a little money in the process.

You’ll be left with basically a body, frame, interior, and wheels. Not much of a car… yet.

Step 3: Sourcing and Purchasing EV Parts

Now you’ll want to start picking up EV parts. Notably, you need an electric motor, battery pack, some sort of controller, the right electric car charger, and ancillary electrical equipment.

Car battery rechargeable electric motor
Rechargeable battery electric motor

There are a number of sources to purchase these parts from, but I’d suggest sticking with specialty sites that focus on EV conversions.

Step 4: Installing Everything

With the parts (and probably some spare parts) in your possession, you can start installing them. This process is highly specific to your vehicle. In general, you’ll want to install pieces wherever they fit and carefully run the wiring.

You might need to fabricate some special mounting brackets or cut holes in your car to run wires. This is where the expertise required starts to come in handy.

Once installed, you’ll need to test different components and ensure everything is set up correctly.

If you buy a big-name motor and battery kit, you’ll probably find some troubleshooting guides online to help you.

Step 5: Going Through Inspection

Before you can hit the open road officially, you need to go through and pass an inspection. This is the same inspection a regular ICE goes through. It checks the legality and safety of your car, officially deeming it “street legal” when your car passes.

Volkswagen Beetle Vintage Converted Electric Car EV inspection
EV Vintage Volkswagen Beetle

When you pass, you’ll get a certificate that you’ll need to keep in the new EV. To save time before inspection, learn what your local DMV looks for in an inspection and what you need to do to make your vehicle street legal.

Can You Convert a Car to Electric on Your Own?

I’m not the type of guy to turn down a challenge, so answering this question is a little difficult. It is humanly possible to do the conversion on your own, but it’s going to be really tough.

A lot of people who converted their car to an EV did it on their own. However, this isn’t as easy as changing your car’s oil on your own. You need a deep understanding of mechanisms, electricity, fabrication, running tests, and automobiles.

If you’re not comfortable with the overhaul, you can find a specialty shop that’s dedicated to EV conversions. I wouldn’t trust a general mechanic to do this project, by the way. Find one that has experience in EV conversions or else you’ll waste your time and money.

The short answer is that you can convert your car to an EV on your own, but it takes a lot of knowledge, patience, and understanding of multiple disciplines.

Converting a Car to Electric: Is It Worth It?

Now it’s time to address the question you came here for. Is it worth it to convert a car to electric? Let’s talk about it by addressing some different categories. Just to be clear, this section is just about whether or not the conversion is worth doing, not if it’s worth it to drive an EV instead of an ICE.

Tesla motor installed in a car chassis

Cost for Associated Parts

I never mentioned the cost yet. It’s going to vary pretty dramatically based on the battery, motor, and car you start with.

If you buy a car kit and DIY the motor and battery components, you can get away with spending less than $5,000 for everything.

If you buy a car, get a Tesla battery pack, and pick up a Tesla motor kit, then you can easily spend upwards of $40,000.

  • A standard drop-in Tesla motor kit is $11,900. A self-sourced motor costs $2,000-5,000 instead.
  • A single Tesla battery pack is $1,580. You’ll probably need 5 or more of these, adding up to a minimum of $7,900. Self-sourced battery packs will cost $2,500 to $5,000 instead.
  • A donor car will range from $3,000 to $70,000 (depending on what you start with)
  • If you want new wheels, seats, or interior upgrades, factor in another $500 to $6,000

Maximum total cost: $95,800

Minimum total cost: $7,500

Time Required

The next big component is the time requirement. If you’re doing this conversion yourself, there’s no telling how long it will take.

It could take anywhere from half a year to a few years to complete the project. If you use a shop instead, then it will probably take 3 to 9 months.

Young man wrenching on an old vintage car

Using a shop also includes another hefty bill for the associated labor and time. Again, this is really hard to predict, but it could easily work out to tens of thousands of dollars.

If you are converting a car, I would highly suggest doing it yourself to save on this big expense. After all, you can just buy a stock EV with that extra money you’d otherwise pay a shop for the conversion.

Knowledge and Experience Needed

It’s not worth converting your car if you don’t have the right knowledge and experience. Personal experience in topics like electrical design, mechanical understanding, and fabrication is necessary for this project.

This is one of those “jack of all trades” types of projects.

Doing Your Part for the Environment

I’m a little torn on this category, actually. Obviously, driving an EV does a lot when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. But some people say doing the conversion yourself will reduce the fossil fuels that would otherwise be burned by a factory building the EV.

Porsche 912 EV Converted Electric Car From The Side
Porsche 912 EV Converted Electric Car

In my mind, the car parts are still fabricated using environmentally harmful processes. I don’t see an environmental benefit of converting to an EV rather than just buying a stock EV.

Starting With a Solid Foundation

Since you’re building the car yourself, you can start with a really solid foundation. This means hand-selecting features you want your car to have, fine-tuning the performance, and getting exactly how much equivalent horsepower you want.

You’re also ensuring that no corners were cut during the manufacturing process.

Amount of Trial and Error

I can’t stress this idea enough — there’s going to be a lot of testing and trial and error during this process. If you’re not prepared for things to not work the first time you turn the key, then this project isn’t right for you.

The added frustration of this fact might mean that it’s not worth it for a lot of folks.

Giving Your Car a Huge Performance Boost (Potentially)

The conversion really doesn’t have a limit when it comes to boosting your performance. For instance, you can take that 2008 Smart Car with a 14.4 second 0-60 time and 90 mph top speed and make it into a high-performance car. Imagine pulling a 5.0 second 0-60 time and a top speed of 150mph with the same car.

Smart Car ForTwo EV 2008
2008 Smart Car ForTwo EV

After the conversion, this is perfectly realistic. You can throw a stupid amount of horsepower into a lightweight car and drive it like a rocket ship.

Having a “Tesla” Without the Tesla Sticker Price

Even though there are a lot of costs associated with this conversion, you might still save a lot of money. You can realistically “build your own Tesla” with this conversion.

For instance, you can spend $30,000 and a ton of time and get a car with better specs than a modern Tesla S, a $90,000 car.

Final Verdict: Is It Worth It?

Is it worth it to convert your car to an electric vehicle? In my opinion, it definitely is. It’s just like any other project car that someone might work on. Instead of fixing an old classic, you’re building a car using brand-new technology. It doesn’t get much better than that.

However, this project isn’t for everyone. If you just quickly want an EV and don’t care about specs or the building process, then go to a Chevy dealership and pick up a Bolt.

Chevrolet Bolt Exhibition
Chevrolet Bolt

If you want a hands-on project building your vehicle from the ground up, then start the conversion process today.

Here’s what I have to say: if you’re not drooling right now thinking about this project, then it’s probably not worth it for you.

Conclusion

Converting an ICE car to an EV is a great project for the right person. I just outlined some of the key information that you need to know in order to do this conversion. If you want to read some more how-to’s, guides, and EV articles, check out the rest of my site. I also have a list of products that every car owner should have. Drop a comment below if this project interests you or you successfully converted a car in the past — I’d love to hear your story!

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

22 thoughts on “Converting a Car to Electric: Is It Worth It?”

  1. You should look at setting up shop for installing conversion kits in New Delhi – India. According to recent regulation, diesel vehicles older that 10years are not allowed on Delhi roads. There is a huge market for conversion of such diesel vehicles to electric and the Delhi government is also empanelled companies for such conversion.
    The scope is tremendous you must look at it. There are many high end vehicles which run the risk of being scrapped and their owners will welcome your expertise.

    Reply
  2. I have a 2001 911 with a broken motor, one chain tensioner is broken inside. Is there info on converting this model to EV? I would give up front trunk for batteries and even the back seat. Don’t know if there’s enough room to place motors once ICE is gone.

    Reply
    • The 996 is a popular platform to do various modifications. Reminds me of Hoovie’s 911 where he did an LS swap. There are a few EV build projects based on the Porsche 911 996. Leon Chai & Performance EV have some fantastic video diaries on YouTube.

      Reply
  3. Okay – let’s see. I could convert my Toyota Echo to electric. For about $8000 I can get the parts. For about $4000 I can get the battery pack. For about 100+ hours of my own or someone’s labor I could complete the job. Result – a used Toyota econo-boxthat can go about 55 mph for about 60 miles. With all of the inherited problems.
    OR – I could go and buy a used Mitsubishi I-miev for about $6500 and drive home in an econo-box that goes about 70+ miles at 70 mph. Job done with about $5000 to spare.

    Reply
    • The steep cost of converting a vehicle to an EV might only make sense if it’s a unique build. I agree Toyota Echo might not be the ideal candidate. Speaking of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, I haven’t seen one on the road in a very long time. They’re quite rare!

      Reply
  4. I have a couple of Ford Capris and a 94 Celica in the shed I have been saving for such an occassion. I have been doing up cars including 6cyl to V8 conversions my whole life. Surely there is not that much more involved, taking into consideration a full set of instructions with an EV conversion. To fine tune your interpretation of experience, are you talking ‘absolute newbie to cars vs back yard mechanic, or do I need a degree in quantum physics to do this? You are scaring me off.

    Reply
    • As EVs become more popular, I believe there will be more companies out there selling kits and pre-fabricated parts for specific vehicles if there aren’t companies like that already. I hope this article gives you helpful tips on whether or not it’s worth it. If you already do engine swaps and are comfortable wrenching on cars, doing an electric vehicle conversion shouldn’t be that far off. Keep me posted if you ever get around to doing it on the Ford Capri or Toyota Celica!

      Reply
  5. Not that I could do this myself, but I have always thought this the way to go for cars we want to see converted over junking them. I still love my 2014 Hyundai Elantra GT and my wife’s 2016 Honda Fit. The Elantra reminds me of a current Nissan Leaf, but classier in my opinion. Maybe in a couple years we’ll see more people doing conversions.

    Reply
    • Both are great vehicles! The Honda Fit sips on gas, very economical. I definitely think EV conversions will gain more traction in the future.

      Reply
  6. My only reservation is range, I am sure it depends on the vehicle and type of battery you acquire but I feel like it would be difficult to get more than 200 miles of range on a conversion without spending a prohibitive amount of money.

    Reply
    • Since the electric motor will be confined to the area where the internal combustion engine previously was, the battery size is definitely something that will affect the range. Whereas Tesla’s battery has room to occupy the entire underbelly, a retro-fitted electric battery in the engine bay doesn’t have the same advantage. However as time goes on, we may see better and improved designs especially since most car manufacturers are constantly trying to improve the batteries for longevity and range.

      Reply
  7. I have a 1950 Ford F1 Panel truck. The project came out beautifully. I kept it mostly original. The brakes and generator were switched. The interior is still raw except for the heat and sound barriers/adhesive sheets I put in. It does run and drive but not very fast. Is this a vehicle that could be converted? Up here in Washington state the news showed a F100 pickup that was completed.
    Thanks for a response.

    Reply
    • Hi Dennis, it’s certainly possible. It also depends on how much you plan on doing it yourself or if you find someone that’s willing to do the fabrication. The ’50 Ford pickup truck is a classic! I would recommend joining the DIY EV conversion community as there are a lot of knowledgeable people on that forum. I found a video of someone already working on doing an EV conversion on this particular Ford pickup-truck chassis.

      https://www.diyelectriccar.com/
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MrNITun0uM

      Reply

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