How do electric cars work?

Team AckodriveJun 9, 2022

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Electric cars run on clean energy, that is, electricity. They do not emit any toxic gases and produce zero emissions. Hence, they are eco-friendly vehicles and help to curb the ever-increasing air pollution. Several automakers have already introduced battery-powered cars in India. So, how electric cars work? Do they have engines? Read on to find out the answers to these questions.

How do Electric Cars Work

Electric cars: How do they work?

Electric cars work on the principle of transforming electric energy into mechanical energy, which is then used to obtain kinetic energy and enable motion in a vehicle. EVs feature an electric motor instead of a conventional fuel engine. Thus, electric energy replaces conventional fuel (petrol/diesel). The electric motor converts the electric charge into mechanical energy.

Let’s put it this way, a car that runs on conventional fuel (petrol/diesel) comprises essential components such as engine, transmission, fuel tank, etc. Now, coming to an electric vehicle, the engine is replaced by an electric motor and the fuel tank is replaced by the battery pack. Transmission remains the same, although all-electric vehicles have a simpler arrangement of gears.

Refer to the below points to understand how an electric vehicle works.

  • The battery pack stores electrical energy when you charge the battery. The stored energy is used to power the electric motor and other accessories/components.

  • A controller manages the flow of electrical energy to the motor.

  • The controller modulates the flow of electricity depending on the signals received from the accelerator pedal.

  • The electric motor receives power from the battery and converts it into mechanical energy.

  • The transmission transfers the mechanical energy from the motor to drive the wheels.

  • Some EVs produce regenerative braking energy. The energy produced during braking or deceleration of the vehicle is sent back to the battery pack.

  • The battery pack can be charged via the charging port. The onboard charger converts AC (Alternating Current) to DC (Direct Current).

  • You can charge the battery by connecting an external power source to the vehicle’s charging port.

  • An EV is also equipped with an auxiliary battery to power the vehicle’s accessories and other equipment.

  • The auxiliary battery is recharged via a DC-to-DC convertor which converts high-voltage current from the battery pack to low voltage current.

How does an electric car's engine work?

As mentioned earlier, an electric motor plays the role of an engine in electric vehicles. Typically, car manufacturers use AC motors in e-cars, which means the motor runs on Alternating Current (AC).

The below points explain the working mechanism of an electric motor.

  • When you press the accelerator pedal, the Power Electronics Controller (PEC) controls the flow of electrical energy to the motor. 

  • The amount of current required to run the motor varies depending on the input on the accelerator pedal. 

  • Once the motor receives power, the rotors start spinning and produce mechanical energy.

  • The mechanical energy produced by the motor starts rotating the gears or transmission.

  • The transmission transfers the mechanical energy to the wheels, which propels the vehicle forward.

In simple terms—similar to an engine—the electric motor is the heart of the electric drivetrain. It converts the electrical signals to mechanical energy, which the transmission uses to drive the wheels.

How does charging work?

An electric vehicle is equipped with a charging port and an onboard charger that converts AC power to DC. An all-electric vehicle charger comes with various types of connectors, depending on the brand and the battery capacity. However, the basic principle of charging an eco-friendly car remains the same.

You can charge an EV by connecting it to an external power source. It could be the power outlet found in households or a dedicated charging station. EV charging is further divided into three levels depending on the capacity of the flow of electrical energy.

  • Level 1 charging: It is nothing but charging an EV via the regular 120-volt power outlet found in households. You can plug in the charger to the power outlet and can allow the battery to charge overnight.

  • Level 2 charging: It is the most common type of public charging station. You can even install a Level 2 charging station at your home, provided the car manufacturer gives you an option to do so. It uses a 240-volt power outlet. The charging time is reduced compared to 120-volt charging.

  • Level 3 charging: This system uses rapid chargers or DC fast chargers. Typically, EV manufacturers set up fast-charging stations at strategic locations, and you may also have to pay for using such charging stations. Thanks to DC electricity, the charging speed is rapid (typically, just over an hour for a full charge) with fast chargers. However, your EV needs to be compatible with quick charging to make use of Level 3 charging.

Charging an electric vehicle is similar to charging your smartphone. All you need to do is connect the battery-powered vehicle to an external power source via the cable provided by the car manufacturer.

Key features and components of an all-electric car

Now, you have understood the working mechanism of an electric vehicle. Next, let’s throw light on the key features and components of an EV. Before divulging the key features, let’s glance through some of the critical components of a battery-powered car.

  • Battery pack: It stores electrical energy, which is utilised by the vehicle's electric motor and other components.

  • Electric motor: It is the heart of the electric drivetrain as it converts the electrical energy received from the battery pack to mechanical energy. The motor is connected to the transmission, which drives the wheels.

  • Transmission: Commonly known as a gearbox, it transfers the mechanical energy from the motor to the wheels. In EVs, the transmission is automatic, and the gears' arrangement is simple compared to conventional cars.

  • Power Electronics Controller (PEC): It is a controller that manages the flow of electrical energy delivered by the battery pack. In turn, it controls the power and torque produced by the electric motor.

  • Cooling system: A cooling system in an EV is similar to a radiator in a conventional car. The cooling system helps maintain the optimum operating temperature of the battery pack, electric motor, power controller, and other powertrain components. 

  • Auxiliary battery: Similar to petrol/diesel engine-powered cars, an EV is equipped with a 12-volt battery to power the lights, horn, accessories and other components of the vehicle. The battery is via the energy stored in the main battery pack.

  • DC-to-DC converter: It converts the high-voltage electrical current from the battery pack to a low-voltage current to recharge the auxiliary battery. The converter is also used to power certain accessories/components of the vehicle.

  • Onboard charging system: It converts the AC electricity supplied via the charging port to DC electricity to charge the battery pack. It also monitors various battery-related parameters such as voltage, temperature, charge rate, current, etc.

  • Charging port: It is a port via which you can connect the EV to an external power source to recharge the battery pack.

Below are some of the key features of an electric vehicle.

  • Zero-emission: Unlike their conventional counterparts, all-electric cars produce zero-emission, thanks to electrical energy. Electric vehicles do not emit toxic gases, and in turn, they help reduce the rapidly rising air pollution due to vehicular emissions.

  • Low maintenance cost: The initial investment to own an EV is high compared to a conventional car. But in the longer run, the maintenance cost of an electric vehicle is way more affordable due to fewer mechanical parts. Also, the running cost of an electric car is low due to electrical energy, which costs less than conventional fuel.

  • Silent in operation: Since electric vehicles are devoid of IC (Internal Combustion) engines, there are very few mechanical components. Hence, they are silent when you drive, and it helps curb noise pollution, especially in metro cities.

  • Smooth driving experience. Again with the absence of an IC engine, there are fewer moving parts. Hence, you do not feel any vibrations inside the cabin, and the overall driving experience is superior when you compare electric car vs petrol car.

  • Easy to drive: Battery-powered cars are easy to drive since they don’t have a clutch nor require manual gear shifting. All you have to do is step on the accelerator and drive. It is easy to concentrate on the road with no noise, which is not the case with petrol/diesel cars.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions related to battery-powered cars.

Do electric cars have simple working mechanisms when compared to petrol/diesel cars?

Yes, EVs are more straightforward in operation with very few mechanical components. An electric vehicle is easy to maintain with fewer moving parts.

Will the battery get charged while driving an electric car?

No, the battery will not charge while you drive an electric-powered car. However, some electric motors produce regenerative braking energy during braking/deceleration, which is sent back to the battery pack. But the energy produced during regenerative braking is not sufficient to charge the battery pack.

How much time does it take to charge an electric car?

The charging time depends on various factors such as the charging station, battery capacity, rate of current flow, etc. So, the time required for a full charge depends on the vehicle and the charging conditions.

Does an electric vehicle have an engine similar to petrol/diesel cars?

No, an eco-friendly car does not have an engine. Instead, it is equipped with an electric motor which converts the electrical energy into mechanical energy to drive the wheels.

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