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How Do Electric Cars Work?


How do electric cars work?

As more people move towards a greener way of driving across the world, the motoring industry is inevitably changing to produce more electric cars. With less environmental impact than petrol or diesel-powered vehicles, they are becoming a natural choice for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint when traveling.

But how do electric cars work exactly? And how do they ensure less emissions and more benefits for the environment?

We’re taking you through the different types of electric cars available, the parts that make up these vehicles and show you how they’re powered.

Image courtesy of Tesla, Inc.


What are the different types of electric cars?

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

A BEV, otherwise known as an all-electric car, is a vehicle which is solely powered by electric. An electric motor replaces the traditional combustion engine found in petrol and diesel cars and is charged by a battery – in place of a fuel tank.

A good charging point infrastructure in your local area, or a home charging point, is necessary in order to recharge the car battery. All-electric cars are usually very quiet, due to the lack of engine noise, while no exhaust system means there are zero exhaust fumes.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)

A hybrid vehicle uses a combination of both electric technology and traditional fuel methods, featuring an electric battery and an internal combustion engine. The engine is fuelled using either petrol or diesel, while the electric motor is recharged using regenerative braking – learn more about this in our how to drive an electric car guide.

Hybrids offer better fuel economy and emit less CO2 than a traditional petrol or diesel-powered car, but they don’t reach the zero emissions of an all-electric. However, they do feature stop and start technology, for less engine idling.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

Plug-in hybrids are similar to hybrid vehicles but offer more range, as they have larger batteries, motors and can also be charged at a charging point. They mainly use electricity to drive but use fuel from the petrol or diesel tank once the battery has run out of charge.

PHEVs provide the environmental benefits of an electric car, with the added assurance of a combustion engine, if you can’t find a charging point. This can be ideal if you’re embarking on a longer drive.


What parts does an electric car have?

Electric Motor

Takes energy from the battery or engine and delivers it to the wheels to rotate them. Some motors have regenerative functions which will charge the battery.

Traction Battery Pack

This stores electricity that is generated and is then used by the electric motor to be delivered to the wheels.

Charging Port

Used to connect the car to an external power supply when recharging the battery.

Image courtesy of Tesla, Inc.



Takes power that is generated from the electric motor and transfers this to the wheels, driving and rotating them.

Auxiliary battery

In a hybrid car, the auxiliary battery is used to start the car and power the vehicle and its onboard accessories. In an all-electric car, the battery solely provides electricity to the accessories.


Converts high-voltage DC power from the traction battery pack to lower-voltage DC power for recharging the auxiliary battery, allowing use of accessories.


Inverts DC charge to AC charge for driving the electric motor. It then does the opposite for regenerative braking.


Generates electricity gained from the braking system and transfers it to the battery, to help power the vehicle.

Power Electronics Controller

Manages the flow and power transfer between the battery and motor. This helps to manage the speed of the motor and torque produced.

Onboard Charger

Converts AC power from an external charging station to recharge the battery. It also tracks battery voltage, current temperature and state of charge.


How is an electric car powered?

The key to any electric car, whether it’s a fully electric or hybrid, is battery power.

Most electric cars use an auxiliary battery for accessories like:

  • Lights
  • Dashboard
  • Infotainment systems

They also have another battery source for powering the electric motor – the traction battery pack.

This is normally located along the floor pan of the vehicle, due to its weight and is made up of thousands of Lithium-ion cells. These produce electricity through chemical changes that happen when the battery is charging. It’s also worth knowing that in hybrid vehicles, the auxiliary battery is often also used to start the car too.

When electricity is being transferred from the battery, a control unit is used to calculate how much power to send to the electric motor. The motor then converts the energy into mechanical energy to move the wheels.

As a comparison, combustion engines found in petrol and diesel cars convert to thermal energy instead, by burning fuel.

In hybrid vehicles, regenerative braking is also used to feed energy back into the battery, by using an inverter to invert energy from the brakes – this energy is normally lost on non-electric cars. Hybrid vehicles use a combination of traditional combustion engine power and electric energy.

Charging electric cars and hybrids is done via a charging point, which uses a charging port and onboard charger to convert the external power into battery charge. Plug-in hybrids can also be fuelled with petrol or diesel, as they feature a fuel tank and battery pack.

Environmental Impact

What are the environmental benefits of electric cars?

There are many reasons why an electric car is the greener choice, compared to petrol or diesel-engine models. For starters, electric batteries last 10-20 years, as opposed to shorter-life batteries in traditional cars, which means less waste. Electric cars also help to reduce emissions.


As petrol and diesel cars burn fuel to produce power, the gases from this process exit the vehicle through the exhaust system. These gases are harmful to the environment as they contain a number of pollutants, such as CO2.

All-electric vehicles use electricity instead of fossil fuels, resulting in zero emissions from the car itself. Hybrids and plug-in hybrids still use fossil fuels alongside electricity, and though they have significantly lower emissions than solely petrol and diesel-powered cars, they still produce some damaging exhaust fumes.

To put it into perspective, replacing one diesel or petrol car on the road with an electric one will prevent an average 1.5 million grams of CO2 from being in the environment.

Learn more about how EVs work, their benefits and how they’re shaping the future of hire car travel with our electric car hub.

Charging an electric vehicle

Touchscreen | Driving Information

Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Regenerative Braking

Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Plugging In

Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.