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How Do Electric Cars Work: A Complete Breakdown

  • EV Charging
  • Renee Martin
  • 5 minutes

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The hype around electric vehicles can make it easy to miss what goes on under the hood! As vehicles of the future, you’ve probably wondered at some point, “How do electric cars work?” Well, this breakdown is for you!

If you’ve ever test-driven an electric car, you know that the hype is real! They’re sleek, clean, and quieter than a church mouse. Currently, there are more than 2.3 million EVs in the US, up from just 16,000 a decade ago. The future is electric – there’s no doubt about that!

So what goes on inside an EV that makes it so cool? We’re here to give you a jargon-free guide to how electric cars work, along with some of the most common questions about their performance and maintenance.

An electric car charging at an EV chargin station

How does an electric car work?

Unlike regular cars that have internal combustion engines and run on fuel, electric vehicles (also called Battery Electric Vehicles or BEVs) use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that power an electric motor. The EV batteries are made up of several smaller modules, each made up of numerous battery cells the size of a normal AAA battery. They can be recharged by plugging the car into a charge point, which draws electricity from a grid.

Because they are not dependent on gasoline or diesel, electric vehicles do not need spark plugs, radiators, or carburetors. The space where the engine usually sits can be used as trunk space.

What are the inner parts of an electric car?

It’s important to know the essential components to understand how an electric car works. The parts are as follows:

  • The EV batteries are responsible for storing the electricity used to run the electric car. The battery capacity is measured by Kilowatt-hour (kWh).
  • The electric motor converts the electricity from the battery into mechanical energy that rotates the wheels.
  • The inverter is responsible for converting direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) used in the motor.
  • The electric powertrain consists of the transmission and drivetrain.
  • The charging port connects to an outside charging point to recharge the battery.

What are the different types of electric cars?

Electric vehicles today can be categorized into four broad categories:

  • Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are fully electric
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) have a fuel tank as well as self-charging batteries that recharge through regenerative braking
  • Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) which needs regular charging through charge points
  • Hydrogen Electric Vehicles (HEVs) which run on hydrogen fuel cells

How long does it take to charge an electric vehicle?

Depending upon the type of charge points and car batteries used, it can take anything between half an hour to 12 hours to fully charge an electric car. Here is what the charging times look like for different EV charging points:

  • 3-7 kWh charge points are slow-charging and can take 8-10 hours to fully charge your car battery
  • 7-22 kWh charge points can recharge your car battery in 3-4 hours
  • 43-50 kWh charge points can rapid-charge your electric vehicle in just 30-60 minutes

Also read: States with the highest number of EV charging points

Inside view of a electric car battery pack: How do electric cars work

Can an electric car charge itself while driving?

Full-electric vehicles (BEVs) cannot charge themselves while driving. Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) can recharge their batteries through regenerative braking – however, the car needs to be running on gasoline for recharging to happen.

Do electric cars have transmissions?

Yes, electric cars do have transmissions. However, unlike the multi-speed transmissions seen in internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles, electric cars only have single-speed transmissions. This is because the electric motor produces enough torque to drive the car at any specific RPM, eliminating the need to rev the car.

Do electric cars need gears to work?

Because electric cars have single-speed transmissions, they also do not need a clutch and do not use a traditional gear system. Usually, there are only two pedals in an electric car – one for accelerating and the other for braking.

Do electric cars need oil to work?

Electric vehicles do not need oil because the motor consists of fewer moving parts than a conventional internal combustion engine. However, it may need lubricants to help run certain parts like the transmission, and may also need coolant and brake fluid changes – which only need to be checked once a year.

Do electric cars have exhausts?

All-electric cars do not need an exhaust because they do not use any combustive fuels like gasoline or diesel. They do not have traditional fuel-related parts like a fuel tank, pump, and carburetor. Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and hybrids (HEVs) do not produce any emissions when they are in electric mode but need an exhaust for emissions when running on gas.

How do electric cars work in the winter?

According to the American Automobile Association, driving an electric car in cold weather can reduce its range by almost 15%. Additionally, the drop in range increases to 40% if you use the interior heater while driving. EV experts recommend always having 20% of battery capacity available to counter any loss due to cold weather.

How far can electric cars travel on a full charge?

A man sitting in a Tesla electric car

According to the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, electric cars have an average range of 200 miles on a single charge. However, this can change depending on the battery capacity used in the car. The Tesla Model S has a reported range of 396 miles on a single charge.

Also read: Which electric vehicle has the longest range? 

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