Many complain about the price of gasoline. Some motorists purchase fuel-efficient vehicles, and others go as far as buying hybrid-electric cars that run primarily on electricity and use a gasoline engine as a backup. But few people will follow Matthew Vest’s example: Build your own 100 percent electric vehicle.
Vest, 38, grew up in Sicklerville, N.J., not far from Philadelphia. He was one of five brothers raised by his single-parent mother, Micki, who inspired him to learn how to be resourceful and do more with less.
“We don’t need to wait for GM to build our Volts or Nissan to build our Leafs. We can do that stuff ourselves. If you wanna do it, just do it. There are a lot of things you have to figure out on your own,” he said with an easy laugh.
He said his mom thinks he’s a genius because he built the vehicle. “But anyone can do it. If you can read and follow directions, most of the information is on the internet,” he said.
It cost about $10,000 and took him 2 1/2 years to complete the project, which he worked on when he had time and money.
Vest worked in the garage of brother Trevor, and sister-in-law Amy to convert a1985 Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck into an all-electric vehicle.
“I owe many thanks to them for their patience and understanding,” he said.
While he was working on the truck, Vest was also working at the Childrens Beach House in Lewes.
“It was a fantastic place to work. We did excellent things with the kids and families we worked with there, and the staff is great,” he said. He worked at the beach house for more than four years and the end of last year he said was ready for a change.
He took Trevor’s offer to work with him at Henlopen Appliances, a business Trevor Amy opened at Wescoats Corner last summer.
He uses the electric truck as a commuter vehicle between his home near Rehoboth Beach and work near Lewes, and also for various local trips.
Since the beginning of 2011, he’s logged about 4,000 problem-free miles. “It’s nice passing the pump,” he said.
Topping off the batteries with distilled water about three times a month and keeping them charged is the only maintenance the vehicle has required.
Vest used standard lead-acid batteries, the type found in golf carts, in the vehicle. He bought them a couple at a time and they’re about a third of the vehicle’s cost. “Over a two-year period I bought 24 of them at about $125 each,” he said.
To recharge the batteries, Vest plugs the truck it into a standard 110-volt outlet. Although using a 220-volt system would have reduced charging time, he didn’t use one because it isn’t widely available.
A full-charge costs $3 to $4. “My vehicle gets the same or better mileage than a Prius,” he said.
The truck is capable of traveling 40 to 60 miles on a single charge. If the batteries are fully discharged, it takes 10 to 12 hours to recharge them.
Batteries take up about two-thirds of the truck’s bed. They’re framed with metal and strapped in place.
The truck can cruise at 60 mph nearly silently, sound coming only from tires on the roadway and the hum of the motor.
It accelerates quickly and looks like every other pickup truck. The only tip-off it’s electric is the vanity tag.
In addition to the electric truck, Vest also owns a motorcycle and gasoline-powered pickup truck. He said during summer, he rides the motorcycle and only drives the truck when it’s raining.
“A full tank of gas lasts me quite a while,” he said.
Vest said if someone asked him to help build an electric vehicle, he’d probably do it. “It would definitely be fun to do it again. There are a lot of things I would change,” he said.
He has presented information about how he built his truck to automotive classes at Delaware Tech in Georgetown and has offered to assist if they ever want to build one.
“They could do it a lot cleaner and a lot nicer,” he said.
As for the future of electric vehicles, Vest said motorists aren’t going to wait as long as he does to charge their cars.
He said technological advances are reducing battery-charging times to 30 minutes for an 80 percent charge.
“I don’t think people will be happy until they can get a 300-, 400- or 500-mile range out of one charge. It’ll keep improving, and eventually it’ll get there,” he said.
As others wait for electric vehicle advancements, Vest continues passing the pumps, smiling as gasoline approaches $4 a gallon.
Vest’s Electric Vehicle Facts
• Each 6-volt, lead-acid, golf cart battery weighs about 60 pounds. The vehicle’s 24 batteries alone weigh about 1,450 pounds.
• The battery system produces 144 volts of direct current. Vest said early on, when working on the truck he had been shocked once, and he is careful not to let it happen again.
• Vehicle mileage varies depending on temperature. Cold makes the batteries less efficient, but as they warm, efficiency increases.
• The vehicle’s brain is a Curtis Instruments controller that is connected to a Warp9 motor manufactured by NetGain Motors Inc. Battery charging is managed by a Zivan smart charger mounted behind the seat.