Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and use science to find everyday solutions.

I’m Megan Hall. Today we have a question from a listener named Monica. She wants to know if it’s possible to put an electric or hybrid motor into the car she already has. 

We had Dana K and Max Kozlov from our Possibly team look into this question. Welcome, Dana and Max!

Max: Hi Megan!

Dana: Hello!

Megan: So, is it even possible to turn a gas vehicle into an electric vehicle?

Max: Well, to answer the question, we started by talking to Monica. She says,

Monica: I really really don’t want to have to keep using gas. I’ll do whatever I have to get around that.

Dana: The problem is, she has a 2010 Camry that works fine, and she says it feels wasteful to get rid of it. 

Max: So, Monica thought swapping out her gas engine for an electric one might be cheaper and less wasteful.

Monica: I wanted Elon Musk or Henry Ford to show up and say, “here’s a motor you could all put in your car. You don’t have to buy a new car.”

Megan: Okay, so has this been done before?

Dana: Yes, but not in any sort of streamlined way. Many of these conversions are done by car hobbyists who do a lot of tinkering to make this work. 

Megan: But if you wanted to try converting a gas vehicle, how would you do it?

Dana: To find out, we talked to Brian Hohmann, who’s owned Accurate Automotive in Burlington, Massachusetts since 1994. He says the process sounds simple…

Brian: You’re talking about an energy source which is the battery, and then you’re talking about connecting that battery to the wheels.

Max:  …But it’s actually more complicated than that. Once you swap out the engine and transmission, you’d have to switch other car functions like the heating, cooling, and power steering over to battery power. 

Dana: All of these functions would use up some of your converted car’s battery power. 

Max: Plus, in that converted car, the heavier it is, the more electricity you’d need to drive it.

Dana: So, all of these issues might affect the performance of the car. 

Megan: So, all of these factors considered, how easy would it be to convert your gas vehicle?

Max: We asked Brian that question…

Brian: Would I think it’s an easy thing to do? Probably not. 

Dana: He says he probably wouldn’t try a project like this.

Brian: I mean the one thing about electricity when you’re dealing with these high voltages, it’s very dangerous.

Max: He says it would also be very expensive. You’d have to purchase all sorts of specialized parts to hook your car up to its new electrical system.

Megan: How expensive?

Dana: Based on the examples we saw, the parts alone for a project like this would cost around eight to 12 thousand dollars, depending on the kind of car you drive.  

Max: And that’s not counting the cost of hiring a mechanic.

Megan: Okay, so what’s your answer for Monica? Should she try swapping out her engine for one that runs on electricity?

Dana: Probably not. The process is complicated, expensive and maybe even dangerous.

Megan: What should Monica do instead?

Dana: We’d recommend buying a hybrid or electric car when Monica needs a new one. 

Max: Costs are dropping fast, and with federal rebates, the price difference is WAY smaller than it was the last time she shopped for a car.  

Dana: Plus, a new plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicle would be so efficient it would make up for the emissions used to make it in just a year or two.

Max: And in the meantime, Monica can focus on increasing her gas mileage. Brian Hohmann from Accurate Automotive says filling up her tires is a good place to start.

Brian: Under-inflated tires: that chews up gas mileage. 

Dana: Driving the speed limit also saves gas. We have an entire episode about that topic!

Megan Hall: Great! Thanks Dana and Max! 

That’s it for today. For more information or to ask a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, go to our question page. Or, subscribe to Possibly wherever you get your podcasts. 

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and the Public’s Radio. 

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