This is the second in the series of articles on buying a used EV rather than a brand new one. Let’s face it, in today’s economic climate forking out an an extra few thousand big ones for the benefit of having a new car is not quite as attractive as it once was. Who wants to buy a car which will depreciate the minute it pulls, silently, off the dealer lot? My last article dealt with some of the issues you face when buying a second-hand EV either made by a big company or converted by one. Today we’re going to look at the other end of the spectrum. Looking at a car which has been completely converted by someone in their spare time.
There’s lots of benefits to a DIY converted car. Generally, conversions can be made using off-the-shelf parts, which are imminently replaceable. There’s some benefit there – for the most part if something goes wrong after you’ve brought the car you should be able to find someone willing to sell you a replacement part. However, be careful. Sometimes your used DIY converted car may harbor some nasty things up it’s sleeve that, unless you’re prepared when buying, will make you wish you’d gone with a commercially made EV. Let’s look at some of the things you’re going to want to know answers to before you hand over your money. If I appear to have mislaid certain key features in this article then don’t worry: Part three will be dealing with the drive part of test-driving a used car. I’ll tackle batteries etc there. Today we’re dealing with problems which are pretty much exclusive to diy used cars.
Checking out the donor vehicle.
- Where did the car come from?
You really want to know the history of any car, but when looking at a DIY converted car it’s even more important to know the car’s history. What did it start off life as? When did it loose it’s internal combustion engine to be replaced by an electric motor? Had it sat for years with a broken engine before being resurrected as an EV?
If the latter is true, you need to make sure that the vehicle is in tip-top condition despite being layed up for a few years. The last thing you want is a smart EV which never really got over being in the breaker’s yard.
It’s also good to know what kind of mileage and age the vehicle was when it was converted. A car which had covered 200,000 miles pre conversion but still uses the original drivetrain and chassis may require some TLC to keep it running. But, if you’re a dab hand at car maintenance this shouldn’t worry you. All of the messy bits of a car don’t exist any more when converted to an EV!
- Can you still get replacement parts for the donor vehicle?
It’s common for converted cars to be older vehicles which may no longer be made (or supported) by the company who made them. It doesn’t matter if you think the conversion looks cool or rides well if two months down the line when you need a new part you have to either remortgage your home to have a custom part made up or one shipped half-way around the world. Unless, of course, you don’t mind that. Cars which are common as the proverbial muck will often reward you with easy-to find replacement parts and a strong owner’s club. Even classic cars, such as the wonderful Morris Minor, fall into this category of well-supported vehicles with huge numbers of specialists world-wide catering for everything from replacement body panels to steering assemblies, suspension systems and brake components.
- Is it in sound mechanical and structural condition?
It goes without saying that like their petrol counterparts, a converted EV should be free from rust and other corrosion damage and have parts which are not damaged or severely worn. Sometimes it’s easy to get emotionally attached to a vehicle simply because it’s electric and you want to drive electric. Don’t let yourself become smitten at the expense of common sense!
Checking out the Conversion
- What role was the conversion designed for?
Most DIY converted EVs are built for a specific purpose. Sometimes they’re no-expense-spared dragsters with hugely powerful motors, top of the range batteries and a 0-60 time designed to make V8 engines week in despair. Sometimes they’re built as a family car, capable of doing a modest 40 or 50 miles, but with five passengers and a dog. Sometimes they’re a little shopper, designed as a second car used for very short town trips to the shops and back. Or sometimes something completely different. As a rule though DIY EVS have two of the following three characteristics. – Speed, Acceleration, Range.
It’s important to bear in mind the car’s original intended use when it was converted. If you’re looking for a mid-range family EV then you really shouldn’t bother looking at low-speed ‘shopping’ EVs. Make sure you ask what the vehicle was converted to do to avoid disappointment.
- What parts were used, and why.
Finding out why specific parts were chosen by the converter is a good key to how they approached the conversion. If the person converting the car can’t explain a cogent argument for the parts they used and why then be concerned. Any DIY converter worth their salt should be able to justify the parts they used and give examples of why those parts were best suited in their conversion. A converter who simply used a kit may not have a great deal of technical proficiency and may indicate a conversion which isn’t quite up to scratch. It’s not always the case though: some folks choose kit based conversions for their first EV conversion as it’s an easy way of learning about the conversion purpose. Some careful questioning should help you figure out if the converter is clued up or not.
Also be aware of conversions where the obvious choice has been substituted for cheaper parts of a lesser quality. While it is possible to convert a really nice EV on a budget it’s more common to see a conversion with poor quality wiring or bodged charging setup.
- How does the car look?
Random bits of duct tape and chewing gum isn’t a good sign when they’re being used to hold wires together. Someone who has not taken pride in their conversion is unlikely to have taken care of the vehicle. Even a budget-based conversion should be neat and tidy. Insulation should be neatly done and all cables protected appropriately. Where possible cables should be neatly routed and everything fastened securely down.
A vehicle does not need to have expensive components and stock-looking dials and switches in order for it to be a good conversion. In fact, shiny dials and expensive looking gadgets can often hide a poor conversion. Take everything into account. Does the vehicle still look stock, just missing an exhaust?
Check the battery compartments. Are fabricated battery boxes in good condition and carefully welded? Are the batteries securely tied down? Do batteries have appropriate venting, cooling and heating where needed?
- How does the car drive?
Drive the car. (I’m going to tackle this properly in a future article). Does the car feel balanced? Does it steer well, or has the conversion screwed with the road handling of the original? A good conversion tries as much as possible to keep weight evenly distributed in line with the original manufacturer’s designs, and will have upgraded suspension to cope with the additional weight of batteries. Other than the heavier feel that an EV conversion has over the original it should not feel significantly different to the petrol version.
Sometimes you will find that some parts wil have been replaced in the conversion, such as an electric brake servo and power steering unit. Again, these should respond as much as possible like the original.
- Check out other conversions. Do your homework!
This is very important. Conversions vary so widely that it’s important you choose the car which is right for you – not the first converted EV you spy on ebay. Take your time and where possible, try to get a few drives in EVs that other people have converted before you start buying. Find out if someone else has done a similar conversion and try to drive theirs. The EValbum is a great place to find other EVs which have been converted and most owners on there will be more than happy to share their own knowledge with prospective EV owners.
Come back for part three – where we’ll be tackling the ins and outs of batteires, charging and telling if an EV is pre-used or pre-abused.