Electric Cars FAQS: What They Are and How They Work

Electric Cars or Electric Vehicles (EV) are further proof of how far society has come in terms of technological advancement. This article will be answering some common questions people have about Electric Cars.

How do Electric Cars work?

What makes Electric Cars different from conventional vehicles is their power source. They are automatic vehicles that are essentially powered by an electric motor. They rely purely on a battery pack where electricity is stored, unlike conventional vehicles that run on fossil fuels. So, for the people wondering “do electric cars use gas”, the answer is obviously no. And as for the question “do electric cars have gears?”, the answer is also no. Electric cars are all fully automatic.

An Electric Car’s Drive System typically has 4 main elements to it:

  • Onboard charger that takes incoming AC electricity from the charge port and converts it into DC power to charge the traction battery. An onboard charger also monitors battery properties like voltage, temperature, current, and state of charge while charging the traction battery pack.
  • The inverter controls the flow of electricity from the battery to the motor and controls its speed and the torque it produces. Without an inverter, as soon as the power is turned on, the AC motor would start operating at full speed. It would be impossible to control it at that point, limiting the applications of your motor.
  • Traction battery pack where the charged electricity is stored for use by the motor. In a passenger electric car, this is located along the floor of the car, in a rectangular or ‘T’ shape. Commercial electric vehicles, on the other hand, tend to have multiple traction battery packs located at the front, rear, sides, and even maybe the roof of the vehicle.
  • Electric traction motor that derives power from the traction battery pack and then converts this electric energy into mechanical power. It does this in a way that propels the vehicle and allows it to overcome any external drag and kinetic resistance.

Other critical components of an Electric car include:

  • Charge port that enables the vehicle to be connected to an external power supply that can charge its traction battery pack.
  • The auxiliary battery provides the electricity needed to power vehicle accessories. This is recharged by a DC-to-DC converter. The vehicle accessories that the auxiliary battery is responsible for are pieces of car equipment such as lights, radio, air conditioning, etc.
  • Thermal System (cooling) is responsible for ensuring that the engine, electric motor, inverter, and other components are functioning at the proper temperature range.
  • Transmission (electric) that transfers mechanical power supplied by the electric traction motor to drive the car’s wheels.

So how it works is that when you press on the accelerator, power transfers from the battery to the motor. Powering the motor then results in the drive shafts turning the car wheels. When the brakes are pressed, the car begins to decelerate, and the motor becomes an alternator and starts generating power. This power being generated by the motor is then sent back to the battery.

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How Do Electric cars charge?

The process of charging an Electric car is simple. You simply find a charger connected to the electric grid to plug your car into to fuel up. A typical Electric car owner does most of their car charging at home.

Charging stations are also known as EVSE or Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment. It’s important to keep in mind that not all EVSEs are created equally. There are some EVSEs that can be installed by simply plugging into a standard wall outlet while there are some that would require custom installation. An example of this would be the Tesla and Tesla EV Charging Stations. The standard for Electric cars is usually a J1772 plug, which Tesla vehicles are unable to use. Though Tesla vehicles can use a non-Tesla charger, and vice versa, using an adaptor.

How do public Electric Car Charging Stations work?

It’s a very different process compared to filling up conventional vehicles with petrol/diesel to fuel them up. Electric Car owners park the car and plug it into a charging station and return to a vehicle with a fuller battery than the last time they left it.

The best thing to keep in mind when deciding where to charge your Electric car is to ask yourself “where do I usually park?” and then find any charging points installed in the location or locations you have in mind. For public charging stations, it can be free of charge, and require an access device, or credit card payment, depending on the location.

Charging stations at public spaces usually offer 7kW charging. This gives 20-30 miles of range per hour that the vehicle is plugged in. You also need to bring your own charging cable if you plan to make use of the charging stations in public. They are usually offered for free by businesses as a marketing tactic to attract more people into visiting their location.

The Levels of Charging

Electric Car Chargers usually fall into either of three categories:

Level 1

Charging stations that are under this category are the slowest but also the least expensive option. Level 1 chargers use a regular 110-120 V AC plug that can be plugged into any standard outlet. This is also the same amount of voltage used to power most of the appliances found in a typical home, like floor lamps, microwaves, phone chargers, etc. Another advantage of this type of charger is that it doesn’t require any additional equipment to be installed.

Level 1 chargers give two to five miles of range per hour that the charger is plugged in. Therefore, they are typically used by electric car owners at home when they want to charge their cars overnight.

Level 2

Level 2 chargers can be used both at home and in commercial areas. Residential level 2 chargers use a 240 V AC plug while level 2 chargers used for commercial purposes use a 208 V AC plug. These types of chargers cannot be plugged into a standard wall outlet, another stark difference from the level 1 charger. Instead, a professional electrician must be hired to install them. Level 2 chargers can also be installed into a solar panel system.

This level of electric car charger can give 10 to 60 miles of range per hour that the charger is plugged in. Additionally, level 2 chargers can be found easily in public establishments and along highways. It typically takes around a couple of hours to fully charge an electric car battery using this type of charger, which makes them ideal for electric car owners who are always traveling and therefore need fast charging at home, and business owners who plan to offer charging stations to customers.

Level 3

Level 3 chargers are also known as DC Fast Chargers. As the name suggests, of the three categories, they are the fastest type of electric car charger. Level 3 chargers can give 60 to 100 miles of range within 20 minutes of being plugged in.

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The catch is that this type of charger is only used for commercial and industrial purposes. The reason for this being Level 3 chargers require highly specialized and high-powered equipment to install and maintain.

Another thing is that not all-electric cars can be charged with Level 3 chargers. Two examples of electric cars, however, that are DC Fast charger enabled are the Mitsubishi “I” and Nissan Leaf.

Tesla electric cars have their own chargers that are specifically made for them. These are called ‘Superchargers’ which are scattered across the United States. Its name does not mislead you as it can fully charge a Tesla battery in just about 30 minutes.

This “how electric cars work” diagram helps visualize what charging electric cars looks like.

Electric Car Chargers

Do electric cars have engines?

Instead of the internal combustion engines seen in conventional vehicles, electric cars have electric motors that are powered by rechargeable batteries. In a gas-fueled vehicle, the gasoline engine can look like a plumbing process while electric vehicles look more like a wiring process with their electric motors.

A considerable difference that you might notice when driving an electric car and a conventional car is that electric cars are quiet and do not make any noise. This is because clutch, gearbox, transmission, or exhaust pipes are absent from electric cars.

Electric motors and combustion engines generally have the same horsepower rating except electric motors cost considerably lesser than fossil-fuel engines. They also need lesser maintenance services as a properly maintained electric motor can go without needing any major repairs and still offer up to 30,000 hours of operating life.

Turning the electric car off when it’s stopped and the battery charging when it brakes minimize any wasted energy. This also means that electric cars are more energy-efficient than conventional vehicles.

Why are electric cars better?

There are many benefits that one can get when opting to use an electric car instead of choosing the conventional gas-fueled vehicle. These benefits include:

  • Lower fuel costs

 As mentioned numerous times in the article, electric cars do not need gasoline to function, which means you can cut down heavily on your gasoline expenses. Additionally, electricity costs a lot less compared to gasoline these days, making consumers save even more.

  • EV Grants

Governments now offer incentives and subsidies to people purchasing electric cars as a reward for ‘going green’ and essentially helping in saving the environment. One example would be during 2016 in China when they recorded a total of 336,000 sales for New Energy Vehicles (NEV). The central government then started giving out subsidies that ranged from 25,000 to 300,00 yuan.

  • More convenient

Convenience is definitely something that electric cars offer, especially in terms of recharging them. No more having to run or wait in line at gas stations. With electric cars, a normal household socket can do the trick in making sure your car is ready to go.

  • No carbon emissions

The biggest advantage of electric cars is their contribution to the environment. Since they run purely on electricity and not fossil fuels, they do not emit any smoke or toxic gases. The fact that they are powered by a clean energy source makes them a hundred percent eco-friendly.

  • Safer and easier to drive

Electric cars have a lower center of gravity which, compared to their fuel-powered counterparts, makes them a lot more stable on the road, especially in case of a collision.

  • Cost-effective

 With technology advancing as rapidly as it is, the cost and maintenance of an electric car have significantly decreased compared to years ago. It’s become much more cost-effective now with the mass production of batteries and governments implementing tax incentives that have further brought down the cost.

  • Low maintenance

Maintenance work has also considerably gone down with electric cars. In the absence of combustion engines, there is no longer a need to lubricate them or do other maintenance works related to gas engines.

  • Reduced noise pollution

Electric cars have motors that enable smooth driving while still having higher acceleration over long distances. This means that compared to the gas-powered engines, they are much quieter and thus contribute less to noise pollution.

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 The benefits of an electric car seem to outweigh the benefits of a conventional, gas-powered car. Its green credential alone can be enough to persuade someone to switch to electric cars. Living in these times full of technological advancements and discoveries also means that maneuvering an electric car will not be as difficult and confusing as it used to be.

Electric cars are very simple to understand, conceptually. Think of those battery-powered cars that children love to play with. It’s essentially a plaything beloved by little kids brought to life, but with the added perks and mechanisms that make it practical to use in real life. It’s added proof that society has come a long way in terms of creativity and innovative inventions and discoveries.

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