Sam Elliott is not a mechanic and he’s not an electrician. However, he successfully modified a 2011 Nissan Leaf with a solar-panel charging system to get free mileage while his car sits in the parking lot.

The execution is as ghetto as they get. There is a lot of duct tape, velcro, and other materials not necessarily meant for car building. However, the system works and generates 10 extra miles of range every day, which is just enough for Sam’s daily driving.

Like every man in Texas, Sam has an old, but faithful truck – a 2001 Ford F150. However, it’s quite the gas guzzler and doing a little math, he calculated that his 50-mile daily commute costs him $2,800 per year just on gas only.

Why make a solar-powered nugget?

He didn’t want to pay this money year on year, so he thought of а solution that would get him to and from work at the cost of his annual gas budget as a one-time investment.

Sam purchased an old 2011 Nissan Leaf from Craigslist. Due to battery degradation, older EVs have extremely high depreciation rate and thanks to a few minor dings and scratches, he was able to pick one up for $3,000.

Unfortunately, the battery pack had degraded so much, its maximum range was 46 miles – just short of his daily commute. His workplace doesn’t have a charging station, so he had to figure out how to get a few extra miles out of the old Leaf.

His solution is a DIY solar panel array that hooks up to a series of regular 12V car batteries located in the trunk. The batteries are connected to an inverter which supplies AC power for the Leaf’s default charging plug.

Does it pay off?

All the extra equipment cost him about $2,400, and with the negligible price of electricity, his solar-powered EV will pay for itself in two years.

DIY solar powered 2011 Nissan Leaf – Source: Innovative Sustainable Solutions

When the battery of the Nissan goes below any practical range, he can salvage it for parts and take his solar charging system off to reuse in another project.

So, the math checks out and in his video, Sam Elliott proves that absolutely anybody can do the conversion with a little research and a small investment. Of course, it looks ridiculous now, but he has plans for upgrading the system and integrating it more elegantly into the vehicle.