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Do-it-yourself: How to build your own electric car, hacker style

By day, David Brown is a security consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. But in his spare time, he’s one of a growing number of do-it-yourself electric vehicle creators. In the past couple of years, Brown retrofitted a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle into an electric car, and he talked about his “Voltswagon” project at the Defcon hacker conference on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Electric cars can save you a lot of money when it comes to skipping gas purchases, and they’ve been getting more popular since Tesla launched its first electric car in 2008. But the sticker price of new electric vehicles is a big barrier to adoption still, so hobbyist mechanics like Brown of Friendswood, Texas, are retrofitting their own cars for a relatively small price tag. Brown (pictured below) did it for about $6,000, not counting the cost of his car, tools, and about 100 hours of labor.

The whole point of designing an electric vehicle is to save energy. So it pays to keep that in mind when you’re adding a bunch of new things to an older car. When you are retrofitting a car, you need to install electric vehicle components such as a motor, controller, batteries, a charger, and accessories.

“If you are doing this to save the environment, you probably don’t want to convert a high-performance race car,” he said. “You want to maximize the utility, and figure out how far you need to go and how fast you need to go.”

You have to figure out your budget for the project and your own skills for doing the work. The good thing about building an electric vehicle is that a lot of hobbyists have done it before. Open ReVolt is a community dedicated to openly sharing learnings about electric cars including chargers and motor controllers.

“This is the part that I wished I had known about before I built my electric car,” Brown said.
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