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Looking for advice on building an electric ATV

 
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I'd like an ATV for doing stuff around my property, like hauling wood or light plowing. I would like it to be electric, so I don't have to deal with gasoline, oil, engine repairs, etc. I would also like not to spend $15,000 for a new one, because $15,000 is a lot of money and because it seems much more permie not to buy new when used would be fine. Except that electric ATV's haven't been around at high volume and for a long time, so I don't really see used ones for sale.

So I had the idea to buy someone's old, dead gas ATV for a few hundred bucks, remove the engine, and buy an electric motor and batteries and convert the machine to electric.

The small problem is that I don't really know how to do this kind of thing. I'm willing to learn, but it would be easiest if there was a specific and targeted tutorial on this, rather than picking up bits and pieces in various places.

Is anyone familiar with an online course or a book or even an in-person--near-ish to Kingston, NY--class or workshop on the subject?
 
pollinator
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Sorry to say, but what you are describing is a tough sell. DIY electric conversions tend to be tough to do on budget unless you are a savvy scrounger with a lot of tools and know-how. The fact that there are so many variables makes it very tough to standardize - even within a model line of ATVs, there will likely be variations between the years. The real challenge is mating up an electric motor to a very specific (I.E. non-standardized) transmission arrangement while maintaining the very precise tolerance needed to not wear out the bearings and shafts involved.

Batteries are still pretty pricey, but you can get used stuff from wrecked EV's for a fraction of the cost of new cells. You will need to do a deep dive into electrical systems. You will also need to fabricate a custom battery box.

Once you have gone to all the trouble, what you will end up with is an electric vehicle that still has any of the mechanical problems that the original ATV had...

If youd like to hear about my 15k dollar electric truck that took me 2 years and has only driven about 20 miles, shoot me a message :) I can provide you with plenty of ideas of what not to do.
 
Joshua Frank
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Hmm. That's discouraging, but I'm still game to learn more. Has the truck only driven 20 miles because it doesn't work, despite 2 years of effort, or some other reason?

I would say that my use case is fairly tolerant of low performance. I don't want to do off road racing or anything, just drive a few hundred yards once in a while to tow some wood or tools. So it doesn't have to work incredibly well, just...some. I don't suppose that makes it any easier?
 
Carl Nystrom
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An electric conversion is a really interesting project, but my advice is to go in with very low expectations, and an understanding that it will mostly be a really expensive education. I would suggest you budget 50 hours just to do initial research. I am not sure how much time it would take to actually convert an ATV, but it will be a bigger project than you think.

The reason my truck has been sitting in the driveway for the last 4 months is that once I was done, I discovered that the truck itself needed a bunch of work. The transmission needs to be overhauled. It needs a brake job, the ABS system is throwing error codes, and I came to the realization that I dont really like working on cars. The electrical stuff was pretty fun, and I learned a bunch about EVs, but I would have gotten a lot more bang for my buck by just buying a used leaf. I will probably work on it some more when the weather gets nicer, but right now I still kinda feel like I need a break.

If you decide to convert, make sure it is actually a project that you are going be passionate about for the long haul. The online community is filled with examples of people who gave up halfway through their projects.

If you just want to dip your feet, you might be better served trying to modify something like an electric golf cart? Really all comes down to your skills and interests.
 
pollinator
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Phew, you've set up a steep learning curve to make this happen. Not only building it, but charging it.

I like Carl's suggestion of an electric golf cart as a platform to play with. At least it's designed to run on electricity.

Standing back, I have to ask: what's your motivation for going electric? Would, say, brewing and distilling your own alcohol fuel supplement for a conventional ATV engine hit the same marks and ultimately be more functional? No judgy pants, just curious.

Luck!
 
Joshua Frank
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:
Standing back, I have to ask: what's your motivation for going electric? Would, say, brewing and distilling your own alcohol fuel supplement for a conventional ATV engine hit the same marks and ultimately be more functional? No judgy pants, just curious.

Luck!



One is the fossil fuel issue, and while burning alcohol would address that, I'd then have to build a distillery (which would be excellent, but add another major skill to the project). Also, internal combustion engines are just a lot more complicated than electric motors, and since I'd have to learn one of them, I figured it'd be easier and more future oriented to jump right to electric.
 
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Do you want the kind that you sit on and ride, like a quad bike, or the kind that you sit in like a mule?

If you were looking into the mule kind, I would suggest trying to find an electric golf cart.  They are more readily available for a lot less money.

Our golf cart can go anywhere our mule can go including climbing to the top of a mountain. Ours is gas so an electric cart might not make it to the top of a mountain.

What we did was buy the all-terrain tires for the golf cart.
 
Joshua Frank
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I was imagining a quad bike for a low center of gravity to do work, not riding for its own sake. But I'm only just learning, so I'm open to  suggestions.
 
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Joshua Frank wrote:I'd like an ATV for doing stuff around my property, like hauling wood or light plowing. I would like it to be electric, so I don't have to deal with gasoline, oil, engine repairs, etc. I would also like not to spend $15,000 for a new one, because $15,000 is a lot of money and because it seems much more permie not to buy new when used would be fine. Except that electric ATV's haven't been around at high volume and for a long time, so I don't really see used ones for sale.

So I had the idea to buy someone's old, dead gas ATV for a few hundred bucks, remove the engine, and buy an electric motor and batteries and convert the machine to electric.

The small problem is that I don't really know how to do this kind of thing. I'm willing to learn, but it would be easiest if there was a specific and targeted tutorial on this, rather than picking up bits and pieces in various places.

Is anyone familiar with an online course or a book or even an in-person--near-ish to Kingston, NY--class or workshop on the subject?



I don't think an electric ATV will cut the cost for you. Like an electric car, it needs a battery to power it, and it doesn't come cheap. Of course, I still appreciate your project, I will learn a few things and will provide you soonest.
 
pollinator
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I dunno man. I'd have to agree with what's already said. To be honest I would think if you are using so minimally I would just get a ratty old quad and burn gas. You are talking about 5 gallons a year usage and it doesn't take much to offset the environment savings you would get by cutting that out, whether it's from shipping the oddball parts or just driving around looking for them. But as a project and a learning experience this might be fun, depending on what else you have going on. The golf cart as a starting machine is a great idea too.

I would say the best advice I saw was to build a still and try to create your own fuel. I watched Moonshiners on TV the other day. Looks easy!  A little for you, a little for the machine...
 
Joshua Frank
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My desire for electric is not primarily to save on gas, but to have a machine that doesn't require internal combustion engine skills to maintain and repair, and to run quietly and without toxic fumes.
 
Carl Nystrom
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A lot of this discussion resonates with me, because I feel like I can relate to how you feel Joshua.

A big reason I started my conversion project was that it felt like the right thing to do. My motivation was not really fully rational; and I think I knew that going in. Part of me wanted to see how hard it would be, and try and extrapolate from there to a "could the whole world do this, and convert all our vehicles to more sensible fuel?" My experience says; no. It is going to be a change that I think has to happen from the top down, not the bottom up.

Now, I will say that it is very rewarding to simply DO something - even if it does not further any rational goal. Call it education, or entertainment; it doesnt matter. Building things is fun!

A couple more ideas to throw out;

Charcoal gasification is relatively straight-forward. It will turn a gas guzzling ATV into a charcoal-burner. You could put a system together for this out of old metal buckets and never even lay hands on a welder. It will be essentially carbon negative, as you will invariably lose some of the charcoal your produce as dust and fuel spills :) It does not meet the requirement for not emitting exhaust, so you wouldnt want to drive it around inside. It does make more efficient use of the donor vehicle, but it will need to still be running.

Another thought I had: a lawn tractor would make a really easy conversion project because the drivetrain is usually just powered by a v-belt. Any electric motor that you could be fit with a pulley would basically be a drop-in replacement. It would be pretty low-performing, but it would be an easy starter project. Also, riding mowers are readily available, often free for the hauling off.
 
Anne Miller
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Joshua Frank wrote:I was imagining a quad bike for a low center of gravity to do work, not riding for its own sake. But I'm only just learning, so I'm open to  suggestions.



We use our golf cart and mule for work.

On the golf cart, we replace the where golf clubs go with a "bed" to haul stuff.  lots of 50 lb feed bags, etc.

We added a trailer hitch so we can attach a cart that we can haul more stuff.

Maybe it is possible to add the cart to the quad.  It just seems a golf cart is much more practical especially since it is already electric.

We do wildlife management so we feed lots of deer and other wildlife.

We also have to check game cams.  Check water troughs.
 
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Douglas Alpenstock
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Carl Nystrom wrote:Another thought I had: a lawn tractor would make a really easy conversion project because the drivetrain is usually just powered by a v-belt. Any electric motor that you could be fit with a pulley would basically be a drop-in replacement. It would be pretty low-performing, but it would be an easy starter project. Also, riding mowers are readily available, often free for the hauling off.


In theory, I like the idea. It's a great platform for experimenting. A dead garden tractor, with its heavy duty transmission, might be more appropriate -- but they are never free.

Respectfully, I'm not sure of the "drop-in replacement" concept. Some sort of speed controller or disposable clutch would be just about mandatory. The torque from an electric motor is very high and nearly instantaneous -- very different from an ICE. This would snap belts, shafts and transmissions that are not engineered for these stresses.
 
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Would it not be cheaper and easier to buy an electric golf cart? I guess an ATV can handle rougher terrain, but I'm sure there are ways of making an electric golf cart handle rougher terrain than a golf course and you can throw a solar panel on the roof to give the battery a little boost
 
Joshua Frank
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I'm finding all the feedback very helpful. I am a bit confused, because the general take seems to be that it will be difficult and expensive and probably not worth it cost-wise,  except for the value of the lessons learned.

But then I see articles like this one that say things like "That being said, it’s nowhere near as expensive as people make it out to be as long as you bring the elbow grease." Is this guy just wildly optimistic, or a lot more skilled than most people, so he can do it much cheaper?
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Interesting! I'm suprised at how affordable the conversion kits are. I had not seen them before. Some are even brushless, which is better. I'm still not clear on the potential problems with the connection to the gearbox/drive axle.

The linked article doesn't include any details about the battery pack. Obviously he's using lithium-ion. The batteries need to produce 36-48 VDC. For an ATV, lithium would be the only real option. For a lawn mower conversion, there is probably room for a lead-acid battery bank.

 
Dan Fish
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"A dead garden tractor, with its heavy duty transmission, might be more appropriate -- but they are never free. "

Incorrect! I have one sitting outside the garage you can have! It actually runs too. I just have no need for it because it doesn't get around my terrain, which is why I have a quad. My father in law basically dumped it here... Catch is you have to pick it up in Northern California. No shipping, hahahaha.
 
Carl Nystrom
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Yeah, "it's complicated" really applies to your questions, Joshua! That article is talking about using electric bike motors (around 1000watts) and claims that the ATV should be able to do 10 to 15mph. That might be correct, or it could be wildly optimistic - much will depend on a whole bunch of factors. Climbing hills takes a lot of power, so does traversing looser soils. Even the weight of the donor vehicle and type of tires will play a role. The bottom line though is that if you greatly reduce the power you will save money and lose performance. How low you are willing to go is up to you.

I am not here to say that anything is impossible. A scrounger who can find anything, and has spent his whole life rebuilding cars and trucks could probably put something together for free. A career machinist with access to 100,000$ worth of machine tools could probably mate any motor to any transmission, and keep all the tolerances under a thousandth. I am not even sure how the transmission on an ATV even connects to the motor - but I suspect that it varies. Some might be easier than others. If it uses chains or belts, that will make things much easier.

And I will also say that a conversion will likely be cheaper in total than buying a production unit - but it will likely be on par or more expensive when you compare its driving time/range/top speed etc.

Again, I am not trying to dissuade you if it sounds like a really fun project. You will undoubtedly learn a lot regardless of the outcome.
 
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Converting your ATV is a lengthy process for anyone that isn’t already comfortable with automobiles and maintenance in general.



Quote from the article. I would add that solid electrical knowledge will be important along with some machining skills. I think attaching a motor & batteries wouldn't be all that difficult. Safely controlling it in a useful manner in various terrains & weather plus having it be reliable for a long time is an entirely different story.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Dan Fish wrote:"A dead garden tractor, with its heavy duty transmission, might be more appropriate -- but they are never free. "

Incorrect! I have one sitting outside the garage you can have! It actually runs too. I just have no need for it because it doesn't get around my terrain, which is why I have a quad. My father in law basically dumped it here... Catch is you have to pick it up in Northern California. No shipping, hahahaha.


 
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Joshua Frank wrote:My desire for electric is not primarily to save on gas, but to have a machine that doesn't require internal combustion engine skills to maintain and repair, and to run quietly and without toxic fumes.




I feel the same too. I'm doing an electric hybrid on a new kind of solar/water power that would spin a telsa turbine and telsa turbine pump. Here's the science and application.

https://youtu.be/2pGxVvSizoE

 
Douglas Alpenstock
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That's an interesting crowdfund demonstration. Very cool indeed. Have you found a way for this system to produce actual work?
 
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Carl Nystrom wrote:Yeah, "it's complicated" really applies to your questions, Joshua! That article is talking about using electric bike motors (around 1000watts) and claims that the ATV should be able to do 10 to 15mph. That might be correct, or it could be wildly optimistic - much will depend on a whole bunch of factors. Climbing hills takes a lot of power, so does traversing looser soils. Even the weight of the donor vehicle and type of tires will play a role. The bottom line though is that if you greatly reduce the power you will save money and lose performance. How low you are willing to go is up to you. "



I'll just comment that I looked into converting my Range Rover to EV a few years ago (came to the conclusion that it was possible but way beyond my budget - just too big a motor required). However you do not need as big a motor for an EV as you may think. This is because of the way the torque is available from low revs. see this explanation. I worked out that I needed about 50kW motor for my Range Rover to give acceptable (to me) performance compared to the original 97kW 3500l V8 engine. The top speed will come down partly to gearing ratios of course too.
 
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