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How do electric cars work?

They're quickly becoming the new norm on UK roads, but how does an electric car work?

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Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular and are now widely available, even on the used car market.

They’re a more environmentally-friendly option that will allow you to move on from fossil fuels and make use of renewable energy sources.

This is especially true if you’re aiming to charge your EV with solar power.

We explore how electric car engines work and the benefits of ditching traditional fuel.

Electric cars explained

Electric cars use motors to power their wheels as part of a much simpler engine setup compared to that in traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

In petrol-powered cars, the ICE is fired up by the burning of petrol that converts into energy to get the vehicle moving.

This requires hundreds of parts to work and produces emissions that aren’t great for the environment.

EVs, however, use a rechargeable battery to power the electric motor, which in turn powers the whole car.

This is much like the remote-controlled cars you may have enjoyed as a kid (and maybe still do).

When plugged into a charging point, your EV will take on electricity to be stored in the battery that will then be used just like petrol from a fuel tank.

Some EVs have two motors – one at the front and one at the rear – to allow for better performance. Most EVs use a single-motor setup that’s just fine for daily use.

Do electric cars have engines?

Electric cars don’t have a traditional engine but instead have a battery and an electric motor.

While ICEs have hundreds of moving parts, most EVs have no more than 20. In fact, Tesla claims that the only moving part in its EV motors is the rotor.

This is different in hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, as those still utilise an ICE when the electric battery runs flat.

Benefits of driving an electric car

  • Better for the environment

  • Exempt from congestion charges

  • Reduced running costs and maintenance

  • EV grants on offer

  • Improved driving

Switching to an electric car might be nerve-wracking if you’ve never driven one before, but most people find them easy to adjust to.

One of the main benefits of EVs is the reduced harmful impact on the environment.

Some have argued that the manufacturing process of these cars can still have harmful effects on the planet, but reducing your use of fossil fuels and cutting down exhaust emissions is definitely a plus.

Because of the lack of emissions, EVs are also currently exempt from congestion charges.

This means you can travel through Clean Air Zones without paying the fees that petrol or diesel cars must pay.

Overall, EVs usually have lower running costs than petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles.

Not only can you cut costs by swapping fuel for electric charging, but you can also cut these costs further by shopping around for your electricity tariff or utilising free charging spots.

Regenerative braking also helps the vehicle to recharge as you’re on the go (or coming to a stop!) so you can get a boost even while out and about.

EVs are usually cheaper to maintain too, thanks to the fewer moving engine parts that have the potential to go wrong.

You can also find government grants to make life cheaper with an EV, depending on where you live and what you want to fund.

Local authorities, landlords and individual EV drivers all have the possibility to access government schemes.

Some motorists even say that EVs offer a better driving experience. They’re quiet, easy to drive and have a more responsive acceleration.

How do you charge an electric car?

You can charge your electric car at any compatible charging point, whether that’s at your home or out and about.

The most common ways to charge an EV are three-pin home chargers, home wall box chargers, and public charging stations.

Three-pin home chargers plug directly into your sockets at home, just like when you charge your phone.

It does take longer to charge this way and some houses are not compatible with charging in this way safely.

You might also need to use an extension lead with a three-pin charger, which can also be unsafe.

Home wall box chargers are dedicated charging points that are installed at your address.

You can have these fitted by the car manufacturer or a trusted third party.

Wall box chargers are the quickest way to charge at home and are more convenient than standard three-pin chargers.

You just need to pull up, plug in, and leave your car until it’s charged up.

Public EV chargers are becoming increasingly widespread, with locations at supermarkets, on the streets and at many workplaces.

You’ll need to pay for public EV chargers just like you would fuel, and it can be more expensive than charging at home.

You might also find rapid chargers while on your travels, which are capable of giving a full charge to some cars in less than half hour.

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What types of electric cars are available?

When it comes to picking an electric car, there are a few options on offer. There are also plug-in hybrid and mild hybrid vehicles if you don’t fancy making the full switch.

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

Battery Electric Vehicles are the most common type, using a battery and motors to get moving. If you’re on the market for an EV, it will likely be a battery-powered model.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles take hydrogen and use a fuel cell to convert this into electrical energy.

FCEV models aren’t as common in the UK as we lack stations that offer hydrogen refuelling.

You’ll need to fill up on hydrogen just like you would petrol or diesel, so it’s important to have one local.

Extended Range Electric Vehicle (E-REV)

Extended Range Electric Vehicles are a rare option in the UK and are like BEV models, just with an additional petrol or diesel engine as well.

This engine helps to charge the batteries so you can drive for longer distances.

Read more about buying an electric car: