EV Conversion Skills and Tools

This page has a quick summary of the Tools and Skills you should have, or be willing to learn, if you plan on performing an EV Conversion.

Skills

Building an EV is a tour de force in garage engineering.   Like many custom projects you will need a certain level of comfort with a few different disciplines.   Of course a lot depends on the complexity and ambition of your build.   An EV conversion can consist primarly of unbolting the ICE components and bolting in EV components, or it can involve large amounts of metal fabrication, machine shop work, electric circuit design and software.

Basic Skills

  • Automotive: You need to be familiar with, or at least not afraid of, working on all parts and systems of a car. (with the exception of the engine, of course).    Brakes, Steering, Transmission, Body, Electrical.
  • Electrical:  You need familiarity with electrical concepts and wiring.  You have to be comfortable AND competent working with dangerous voltage and current levels.   You don’t necessarily need to understand detailed analog or digital circuit design, but you do need to know how select properly sized wiring and other components, and how to wire all the EV components together in manner that is safe and reliable.
  • Computer:   You don’t have to be a genius but you should be able to work with a computer well enough to be able to use it to configure components such as the BMS and Controller/Inverter as these components are often computer controller and configured via either an embedded web page or an RS232 serial port interface.
  • Patience and Planning:   Don’t forget these.   An EV conversion can take hundreds of hours depending on the complexity of the project.   You need to be able to see it through to success, and you need to be able to schedule your work around obstacles and back-ordered parts.
  • Troubleshooting:   Closely related to patience.  You are working on a big, complex project with (literally) many moving parts.  There will be things that do not work right the first time around.  Some of the problems may be subtle or multi faceted.  You will need to be able to utilize what you do know to methodically work through and solve problems as they occur.

Bonus

  • Welding Ability:   While many EV conversions are completed successfully with no welding required,  the ability and tools opens up considerable opportunity to build better designed, stronger, lighter, and better looking components.   Learning MIG or TIG welding on steel is relatively easy to become competent at, and will vastly increase your design options.   The ability to weld aluminum requires a TIG welder and a bit more skill but is still quite possible for the DIY with the right tools and patience.    Components you will be able to build or modify include motor/transmission mounts, battery boxes, brackets, suspension parts, and other structural components.
  • Manual Machining: (Lathe and Mill) If you can operate and have access to these tools,  you will be able to manufacture drive train components, axle parts, adapters, fittings, and other parts that require precise alignment and dimensions.   Depending on your level of skill and the size of the equipment you may be able to modify motor housings, turn commutators, and perform other specialty work.
  • CAD / 3D Design:   If you can operate a 3D modeling program you have a lot of options, especially these days when you can literally upload your design and have a finished part shipped to you at reasonable cost.  Or if you are lucky enough to have a CNC Lathe/Mill available you can go totally nuts.

Tools

Needless to say, lots.   Here is what I consider the basics, and beyond.

Workspace

All the tools in the world are no good if you live in a studio apartment and your car is parked in a dirt lot the next block over.   Ideally you need a secure,  generously sized one or two bay garage with workbenches, tool chest, and enough room for large tools and the space to walk all the way around the car with the doors open.   The garage should have lots of electricity available, including a source of 240V/50A if you plan on doing any welding.   That same circuit will likely power your charging station after you finish.    It should have a smooth concrete floor.

You can get by with less of course (neither of my conversions were completed in such posh circumstances) but the less ideal the workspace is, the slower and more inconvenient it gets.    I figure I spent another 10-20% extra time with my xB conversion owing to the open carport and tool shed 40 feet away I had available to do the work.  This necessitated working in dark and cold over the winter, and a lot of shuttling parts and tools back and forth and needing to put everything away all the time to avoid theft.

The Basics

  • Common shop tools:   You will need a complete set of metric and inch based sockets, wrenches, screwdrivers, and related tools.   A complete set of metal drills, selected hole saws, files/rasps in several shapes and sizes, hack saw, tape measure, machinist’s square, straight edge, etc.
  • Basic Lifting Tools:   Automotive Jack,  Bottle Jack,  Engine Hoist,  Jack Stands
  • Specialty automotive tools:   As needed, but you will likely run into the need to take apart components of the brakes, steering, suspension, and other parts of the car that requires presses, pullers, special wrenches, and other such things.   In many cases auto parts stores rent or sell tools like this as needed.  Sometimes you have to make something.
  • Power Tools:    At minimum,  cordless drill, corded power drill (some things will be too much for the cordless one), angle grinder, and 3″ cutoff wheel.
  • Digital Multimeter:   A good auto ranging one that can safely handle your battery pack voltage.
  • Other:   Bench Vise,  Hand riveter (do not underestimate the power of a hand riveter!),   Metric and Inch tap and die set,  propane torch,  small wire crimping tool, soldering gun, wire strippers, wire cutters, cable/bolt cutter,  large cable lug crimper.
  • Safety Gear:   Eye and Ear Protection as needed.  Gloves as needed.   For High Voltage,  Battery wrenches (insulated handles),  insulated gloves.

Recommended

In addition to all the above,  it is very helpful to also have these tools (and the skills as appropriate):

  • Drill Press:   Very useful if you do much of any building stuff.  Bench top is okay but a floor model will be better.   Much better than a handheld drill for making lots of drillings accurately and rapidly.   Can also double as a poor man’s milling machine.
  • Sawzall:   You can get by with a hack saw but a sawzall will be faster AND more accurate typically.  Highly recommended.
  • Large Metal Reamers:   These are metal drills larger than 1/2″ and going up to about 1″.   Will be too big for handheld drill but should be usable in the drill press.   I often find the need to drill holes in metal larger than the 1/2″ size that is often the largest in a standard drill set.   Ebay is a good source.
  • Welder:   And commensurate skills.   In order desirability:  TIG, MIG, Stick.   TIG will allow  you to weld almost anything.   Aluminum, Steel, Stainless, etc.   MIG is cheaper than TIG and works great on ferrous metal.  Stick(Arc) welding works on heavier steel.   Chinese made MIG welders can be bought for a few hundred dollars that run off household 120V and can weld lightweight steel.   Professional TIG and MIG equipment costs a couple thousand and up and needs a 240V supply but is well worth it if you build a lot of stuff.
  • Metal Chop Saw:   Handy for making reasonably accurate cuts rapidly in big ferrous metal, and not terribly expensive.  Very loud.
  • Plasma Cutter:    I do not have one,  but there were several times when cutting and shaping sheet metal in preparation for making a part would have gone much more smoothly with such a tool.   Again these are kind of expensive but if you do much metal fabrication at all it will be worth it.
  • Manual Lathe/Milling Machine:   Having one or both of these available (if you have to pick, get the lathe) and commensurate skills lets you build and modify machine parts which will let you precisely fit together moving parts that were not originally designed to do so.   Despite my almost total lack of skill I used my South Bend 9A lathe to build several of the drive components in my xB.  Chinese manufactured combination lathe/mill machines exist which are small enough to fit on a work bench.     These can be found used for a few hundred to a couple thousand depending on age, quality, and accesories.   Older American lathes such as my South Bend 9A can be found in working condition for about $1000 and up depending on many factors, and while harder to find and rather big, older American milling machines can be had for a couple thousand and up.
  • Car Lift:   A bonus,  but having one will make accessing the undercarriage and removing/installing parts such as the engine, electric motor, and transmission much easier.

Bonus

  • CNC Lathe/Mill:   Now we are getting into bigger budget and higher skill but access to, and skill to utilize tools like these will let you build professional quality components, and also be able to easily create duplicates.  If you are planning on creating a set of components that can be replicated for converting many vehicles you must have access to this type of equipment.
  • 3D Printer:  A 3D printer of the type accessible to average people,  if you have CAD or 3D modelling skills, can be used to fabricate intricate small plastic components.   3D printing is not cheap or fast, and will not let you create large quantities, large components, or high reliability mechanical or structural components but could still be useful in certain circumstances.