A Commonsense Approach to Electrification

Feb. 20, 2023
Chris Salvo of Electrified Garage shares his journey into electric vehicle repair and what auto repair shop owners and automotive technicians can glean from his experiences as they electrify in their shops.

There is a growing segment of EV-specific aftermarket shops with specialized skills and clientele. Electrified Garage, the first ground-up all-EV-based repair company, started as an alternative for Tesla service. Today, the shop is more inclusive with its EV service.  

"We're pretty agnostic and will work on any electric vehicle. We also do crazy stuff like kids' Power Wheels and hot rod those, and then we also do EV conversions as well. So, we'll take a gasoline car and convert it to electric," says Chris Salvo. 

Salvo began his career as a technician at a BMW dealership. A friend who happened to be one of the first technicians for Tesla in Boston, Massachusetts, reached out to Salvo and asked him to come check out something new he was working on. Liking what he saw, he stuck around.  

"There was a big opportunity from the third-party aspect of doing things like aftermarket modifications, customization and going back to the roots of what Tesla had originally been for service. It seemed like a good opportunity for us to jump into that space where there wasn't anybody else there and kind of make a name for ourselves," says Salvo.  

Converting ICEs to EVs 

One of the service models at Electrified Garage is EV conversions. During a conversion, the engine, transmission and fuel system are removed from the internal combustion engine vehicle. Considerations such as range, charging options and weight distribution are then considered, and the internal components are replaced with parts suitable for an electric vehicle. 

"There's a lot of things that come into play ... because you don't have an engine anymore. All the accessories become ala carte stuff, so your power steering, heat and air conditioning, those are things that have to be like standalone systems now," he says 

"And then you know, weight distribution is the other big thing. These vehicles weren't meant to have an extra 1,000 pounds of batteries, so we need to make sure that where we put that weight doesn't mess with the driving dynamics of the vehicle." 

As 2035 zero-emissions legislation takes shape across many states and the question of EV affordability continues to affect consumers, will EV conversion be a more affordable option than buying new or second-hand EVs? And will auto repair shops need to learn to perform conversions? Salvo says that while there are some off-the-shelf conversion kits for older models, newer modeled vehicles don't have those available and the process could be more costly for consumers. 

"There's a lot of engineering that has to go into that, so I would say at least initially it's not cost effective. Maybe once the cost of the batteries comes down, and the other components get cheaper it might be an easier pill to swallow but right now ... it's going to be six figures to do this because there's a tremendous amount of research and design and engineering that has to go into it," Salvo says. 

Internationally Recognized Service 

Like any other job, satisfying customers make the juice worth the squeeze when working on electric vehicles. Salvo says one of his biggest wins came when a gentleman had a Tesla he purchased towed from Mexico City to the Electrified Garage shop in New Hampshire. Salvo and the team spent three weeks repairing the vehicle, which was deemed a total loss and got it back on the road. 

"He bought a Tesla that was in an accident. He had somebody else do all the bodywork and couldn't get it to run driver charge. We spent about three weeks with the vehicle, restoring all the high voltage systems that had been damaged, and then he sent it back to Mexico,” says Salvo. 

In Mexico, Tesla re-inspected the car and re-enable the supercharging, which was a big deal.  

"With salvage cars as a whole, Tesla shuts off the ability for them to use that charging network. And arguably that's the major deciding factor between Tesla and the rest of them is that infrastructure that's there," says Salvo. 

Salvo says during repairs, parts aren’t any easier to get for electric vehicles and dealing with OEMs has been a dance. 

“Supply chain is the biggest issue ... and dealing with a lot of the OEMs that are now getting cagey about selling high voltage components over the counter. So that scarcity is making it difficult for us to do things in an efficient manner and not have cars stuck for time waiting for parts," Salvo says. 

Getting Your Feet Wet with Electric Vehicles 

For shop owners interested in getting started with electric vehicle repair, or dipping a toe into the service, Salvo says start by learning to understand how electricity works, how the systems work and how high voltage systems interact.  

"It's very similar to like, if you worked on one gasoline engine you can get your way around most others; all the components are the same, but just how they're assembled in the vehicle might be different from one manufacturer to the other,” Salvo says. “Buy a car and let your techs take it apart and figure out how it works. So many people are just scared of it because of the implications of high voltage and in reality, as long as you're smart about how you're doing things, there's very minimal risk to you or your people." 

About the Author

Chris Jones | Editor

Chris Jones is the editor of Ratchet+Wrench magazine and host of its companion podcast, Ratchet+Wrench Radio, a weekly show featuring automotive professionals across the auto care landscape.

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