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Frequently Asked Questions:

Batteries, Fuel Cells, & Charging

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What kind of batteries do electric vehicles use?

Different kinds of vehicles use different kinds of batteries. Most conversions for ordinary street driving use 6V flooded lead acid batteries for golf carts. These are overall the most affordable, durable, and best performing. Conversions that don't have much room for batteries, or racers whose top priorities are speed and acceleration, may used 12V sealed lead acid batteries. The are more costly, and have less range, less cycle life, and are less forgiving of abuse, but yield a smaller and lighter battery pack with better speed and acceleration, and they require less maintenance.

EVs from manufacturers also use sealed lead acid batteries, or nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. These tend to be much more expensive, and often are not available at the consumer level.

For more detailed information about battery types, see the Tech Papers Batteries Collection.

What about the nickel metal hydride batteries the manufacturers are using?

Nickel metal hydride batteries (NiMH) are excellent for electric vehicles. They provide long range, and don't require maintenance. Unfortunately, they have two big drawbacks for conversions. First, they are not available at the consumer level in modules suitable for powering a car. Second, they are extremely expensive. The cars from major manufacturers that use these batteries have been test fleets with limited availability. A pack large enough to drive a pure electric car (not a hybrid) would costs several tens of thousands of dollars.

For more detailed information about battery types, see the Tech Papers Batteries Collection.

How many batteries do electric vehicles use?

Conversions usually use 16 to 24 batteries (6V each), wired in series, for a total pack voltage of 96V to 144V. A minimum of 96V is needed to achieve highway speeds in most cases. Above 144V, you get into a different, and more expensive, category of components that is used primarily by racers and very serious EV hobbyists.

Manufacturer EVs frequently run much higher voltage, 200V or 300V. That's because they are using AC drive systems without transmissions, while most conversions use the less costly and more available DC drive systems with transmissions.

For more detailed information about batteries, see the Tech Papers Batteries Collection.

How long do the batteries last before you have to replace them?

With good care, the typical 6V batteries can last 3 to 5 years, while the 12V batterie may only last two years.

For more detailed information about battery life, see the Tech Papers Batteries Collection.

What about fuel cells?

At this time, fuel cell vehicles are still in the experimental stage. It is difficult to fit all the technology needed into a car. Also, the fuel cells require hydrogen. There are many issues around how best to extract hydrogen, what fuel source to get it from, and how to store it and deliver it to the fuel cells. This technology will not be available for conversions for some time to come, if ever.

For more detailed information about fuel cells, see the Tech Papers Batteries Collection.

How do electric cars recharge?

Most conversions charge from onboard chargers using normal household 110VAC outlets. It is best to have a dedicated 20 amp circuit for this outlet. If the battery pack is completely depleted, it can be fully recharged in 10 to 12 hours.

Some 220VAC chargers are also available. They will charge the car in about half the time. These are often large offoard units. Most people seem to prefer the onboard 110VAC units because outlets are more readily available, and they can charge away from home.

Manufacturers' EVs usually charge at 220VAC, and may have special charging fittings that will only work with one type of charger. These are usually large offboard chargers.

What about quick recharging at a charging station, like a gas station?

Quick charging technically can be done, but it must be done carefully to avoid damaging the batteries. At this time, quick charging can only recharge the pack safely to about 85% of full. However, this has not been implemented because of the large investment in charging infrastructure that would be needed. In addition, this requires very high voltage, usually 440VAC.

How about swapping in an exchange battery pack?

This could be done in a car that was designed from the ground up for this purpose. The problem is that the battery packs weight over 1,000 lbs. per car. In a conversion, some batteries are under the hood and some are in the trunk or hatchback. No two models of car will accept the exact same battery pack, due to differences in the chassis. You would need, not only the exchange battery packs, but also specialized equipment to lift them out and replace them. This is not practical for conversions.

Can I carry extra batteries in a trailer?

There are several problems with this. First, you would have to be able to drive, maneuver, back up, and park a vehicle pulling a trailer. This is a hassle, and not everyone can do it. Second, you can't simply add more batteries to increase the car's voltage. You would have to add a second identical pack in parallel to the one in the car. Then you would have to charge both packs separately. In addition, since the trailer pack would get used less often and would sit dormant much of the time, it would lose capacity and have a short life span.

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