Students Build an Electric Car With Better Range Than a Tesla | WIRED

How to Build an Electric Vehicle?

Vehicles / January 25, 2024

Paul Holmes, a Washington math teacher, discovered he could build an electric car - a converted 1971 VW Superbeetle - for about $2200...with no prior experience.

I caught up with him to find out how he did it, and why he decide to take on this EV conversion project!

First Steps to Build an Electric Car...

Lynne: Hi, Paul. Welcome. So you started out to build an electric car with an old VW bug. What did you do to it? Where did you start?

Paul: Basically, I took out the engine, which I had no idea how to do. I just started unbolting any bolt that I saw. Then I got a book on VWs, and it explained how to do it. I jacked the car up in back, laid the motor (which was now on the ground) on its back, making it shorter, and slid it out from the bottom of the car. Then some guy bought it for $160, making the car cost a total of $40.

I bolted one of the adapter plate things (there are 2) to the face of the motor, and then bolted the other plate to the transmission. I used grade 8 bolts.

I fixed all the things wrong with the car, like the brakes. It was terrifying to drive at first, because I had never done any work on any car before, and I thought the brakes would go out on me after fixing them.

Turned out okay, I guess.

Yeah. VW's are pretty easy to work on.

Starting the Electric Car for the First Time...

I put in the battery box, put in all the batteries, made a little spot behind the former back seat for the controller, pot box, fuse, chargers, and precharge resistor.

I wired it all up (which was sort of confusing!), and just finished as it was getting dark. I decided to carelessly try it out before it was pitch dark, not even knowing if anything was connected right. I put it in reverse, and the car jerked.

The emergency brake was on! Haha!

Then I took it off, and drove away. Man, it was weird. I love sitting at stop signs in dead silence, and then driving away.

What NOT to Do When you Build an Electric Car

Any potholes you'd like to warn somebody who's going to build an electric car NOT to step in?

I would say with building an electric car, getting the adapter plate and coupler perfectly centered is really important. If you are more than a few thousandths of an inch off, it will cause problems down the road.

It's maybe best to have it done professionally, but if you can't afford that, then go ahead and try it! hehe.

And then with building your own controller, you really, really have to be meticulous. It will now be much easier with having the professionally made control board with all the pre-done holes and labels, but you still need to be careful that you plug the right stuff into the right spots. Also, make sure you don't solder the mosfets where the diodes go, or vice versa, since they look almost the same, and make sure you don't solder the capacitors backwards (+ and - reversed). I did that on accident once! Grr!

Soldering the control board video

Soldering the capacitors backwards? That sounds dangerous. Is it dangerous to build an electric car, working around high voltage?

No, it's easy to be safe around high voltage. Just take a few basic precautions.