ALTERNATIVE VEHICLES

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DIY guy nets $5,000 for his hybrid electric car

Ben Nelson's car takes him where he needs to go with no stops at the pump

Village of Lac La Belle undefined Ben Nelson's hybrid plug-in electric car he created himself has not only saved him loads of money with no more trips to the pump, but it has also earned him $5,000 worth of Craftsman tools.

Nelson bought a 1996 Geo Metro for $500. He took out the gas tank, engine, transmission, radiator, exhaust and other miscellaneous parts needed for a gas engine and put in an electric motor he bought for $50 from a garage sale. He added some used batteries that he snagged for scrap metal prices and about two years ago, Nelson was road ready. He gets about 130 mpg with the electric vehicle.

The process wasn't quite so simple, but Nelson, who said he has no background in mechanics or electric engineering, was able to build his own electric vehicle. A recent contest offered by Craftsman through a do-it-yourself website, instructables.com, became the catalyst to accelerate a project to enhance the car he had already been thinking about.

"Essentially what I did was add a generator to create electricity while driving that goes to a battery pack and motor to extend how far I can drive," Nelson said.

He offered the example of the new Chevy Volt, a General Motors battery electric car that can run on a gasoline engine to travel further.

"I did the same concept, but mine isn't quite as powerful; however it also costs significantly less," Nelson said.

He said his entire project from start to today's product was about $1,500; a Volt costs up to about $40,000.

"Granted, my car can't go as far, but for errands and work, it's wonderful," Nelson said.

He's been driving his creation for the last two years and also pointed out even if it was in one's budget, they couldn't buy a Volt anywhere around here. He said the new car is slowly being integrated into the vehicle market and hasn't been offered in this area of the country yet.

Nelson's idea to do it himself is something he said has become popular among many people.

"People really want to be able to learn how to do things for themselves and make and design and create instead of waiting for the manufacturer," he said.

These like-minded people meet as part of the Milwaukee Electric Car Club, which Nelson said is an informal group that meets to discuss vehicles they are modifying. His participation with that group helped first spark the idea to create his own electric vehicle.

Today, Nelson said, the club meets at the Milwaukee Makerspace, 3073 S. Chase Ave., Building 34, Milwaukee, a tool co-op and physical location that serves as a collaborative for creative work. Visit milwaukeemakerspace.org to learn more.

"Last week I talked with a guy who is just starting work to convert a Pontiac Fiero to electric; that'll look really nice. And another friend of mine has just decided he is going to convert a car to electric, it will probably be a Paseo," Nelson said.

Milwaukee Makerspace isn't just for electric car creators, Nelson said. It's a collective of many ideas and inventions, which continues along the theme of people doing more themselves.

Instructables.com is a site with myriad things you can do yourself, a veritable DIY mecca on subjects such as home renovations, technology projects, recipes, solar projects. You name it, someone has shared input on how to do it.

And among them all is Nelson's"Build your own electric car!"

You can watch videos he's made to better explain how to build the car, browse a list of tools and parts needed and read through comments and feedback from others who have visited the page.

"People can leave comments, and a lot of times people leave questions and might ask for more detail on one part of the project. And some times people leave good ideas," Nelson said.

The site is a free-for-all of information, something Nelson cherishes and suggests others take advantage of. When asked what his next project is, his answer was, "well I'm always doing something. I don't watch TV, and I've gotten so much use out of my library card, I have it memorized and have physically worn it out.

"Get out there and use the library and talk to everyone you know. It's a great way to meet new people and learn something about the world around you," he said.

And there's proof others agree. He said his Instructables page, www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Plug-In-Hybrid-Car/, has garnered 40,000 views in the few weeks it's been up. And his YouTube account, www.youtube.com/user/benjaminnelson, which has about 150 videos on his projects, including an electric motorcycle, is nearly up to 1 million views.

And you might have noticed him on the Craftsman Facebook page or website. As part of the contest, he said photos he submitted of himself using Craftsman tools he already owns to make his car could be used in the future by the company. Nelson doesn't think the tool maker will ever do anything big with them, but you never know.

"The main thing is there is a lot of people interested in doing things themselves, and it's cool to have a corporation supporting that like Craftsman," he said.

So what's he going to do with $5,000 to put toward Craftsman products?

"Well, I have an unheated garage, and the wind just whips through the walls, and with how cold it's been, it made it really hard to work on my car," he said.

Luckily, Nelson was able to take the car over to his father's heated garage. While he was working on the car, his father noted that if he did win this contest, he would have to buy him a table saw in exchange for the use of space.

"At the time I just responded, 'yeah, yeah,' " said Nelson, but he is keeping true to his word and said the first thing he purchases will be a new Craftsman table saw for his father.

To learn more about Nelson's electric car or other projects, visit his YouTube website or visit his website to read his blog and learn about instructional DVDs he's created at http://300mpg.org/.

 

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