QUESTION: I always liked the idea of electric cars, but I wondered how much one would increase my utility bills to charge it at night. Are there any electric cars available today or kits to build one myself?
ANSWER: The new electric passenger cars are an excellent form of transportation. They have acceleration and performance similar to standard gasoline-powered cars. If it weren't for such qualities as quietness and smooth low-end torque, many people would not realize they are driving an electric car. Some electric cars, converted from Toyotas or Hondas, for example, are powered by 16 standard 6-volt lead-acid batteries. These give about 50 to 60 miles of driving per charge. You plug the charger into a wall outlet in your garage and plug the leads into the car for a nighttime recharge.
At an electric rate of 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, it costs less than $1.70 per recharge for each 60 miles of driving. Although you must also include the replacement cost of batteries every several years, you won't have the expense of oil changes, tune-ups, antifreeze, etc. Always consider the total long-term operating cost before buying an electric car.
Today, it is possible to buy completely finished electric cars. These can be ordinary compacts, full-size cars and mini-vans that have been converted to electric power. They attain top speeds of 65 m.p.h. and have ranges of 60 miles per charge, adequate for the most daily driving needs. You can extend the driving range by adding more batteries.
You can also buy do-it-yourself electric car conversion kits. These contain all the electronic controls, motors, chargers, adapter plates, etc., to convert a standard car to electric power. The gas engine is removed and the electric motor and batteries mounted in its place. This is ideal for a car with a worn-out engine.
For maximum energy efficiency, you can use sun-powered solar cell panels to charge the batteries during the day, when you are not using it. Although these alone won't provide a full charge in one day, they reduce total electric costs and overall pollution. Some electric minivans have solar cells built into the roof, so they charge while you are driving.
Electric cars are also very friendly to the environment. It is much more effective to control pollution at a remote electric generating plant than at the tailpipes of thousands of cars. They don't run on imported oil and they are usually charged up at night, when the electric utility companies have excess capacity anyway.
You can write to me for Utility Bills Update No. 062, which offers a list of suppliers of completed electric cars, prices of cars and components of an electric car conversion kit, recharging costs at various electric rates and other information. Please include $1 and a self-addressed stamped, business-size envelope. Send your requests to James Dulley, c/o Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.
Letters and questions to Dulley, a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant, may be sent to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.