How Electric Cars Really Work

How Electric cars really work

Has it finally come? Is the future now? Well we’ve got Jetpacks, hover boards, holograms all the things we only used to see in old Sci-fi movies! Well may be not the Jetpacks so much but now, electric cars! you plug it into a wall like a cell phone. So who really came up with the idea? How electric cars really works? And how does the technology really work? Before we rejoice in the future, let’s first take a trip to the past. Oh we’ll be going a lot further back than you think. You’ll be probably be as surprised as I was to find out that electric cars aren’t a 21st century invention. That is electric powered motors came out pretty much at the same time as petroleum driven engines that is the ones that run on fossil fuels like gas and diesel. Almost two centuries ago. 

History Buzz

In 1828, a Hungarian engineer named Anyos Jedlik invented the first prototype of the electric motor and used it to power a small model car. And we wasn’t the only one with an interest in that sort of technology. In 1834, blacksmith Thomas Davenport created a similar device that could be driven at short distances using an electric track. Does that ring any bells? And over in the Netherlands, university professor Sibrandus Stratingh built a tiny electric car powered with non-rechargeable batteries. Now even though the idea of a battery powered vehicles was to revolutionize people’s lives for the better, primary cell batteries that’s the “use once and toss” kind weren’t the way to go for obvious reasons. They needed too many batteries to run the motor over long distances at such low speeds.

Humming Past

It wasn’t until 1859 when French physicist Gaston Plante invented the lead acid battery that changed the electric engine game for good. Many countries began producing electric three wheeled cars until the US made a huge breakthrough. In 1891, they created the first electric vehicle, and get this; it was a 6 passenger wagon that could go up to 22 kilometres wow that was major back then. After that the people were thrilled, and the electric car market thrived. In the late 1890s electric powered taxis filled the street of London. At that time, electric cars had many advantages over steam powered and gas guzzling engines. They didn’t vibrate, they didn’t give off that burning gasoline smell that we’re all familiar with and most importantly they didn’t require much effort to start.

The Switch

By the early 1900s almost one third of cars in the US were electric powered. But that wasn’t going to last for long. By the late 1920s infrastructure in the US had improved significantly and vehicles needed to go further more efficiently. So, fossil fuel cars took the lead because they got the job done. You see the top speed the electric cars could achieve 30 kilometres per hour. That’s about how fast you can go pedalling on you bike. Another problem was hat electric powered engines back then could only travel 65 kilometres in one go, which means they’d need charging every couple of hours. And thing were about to take a turn for the worse along with the improvement in infrastructure. That’s when the electric starter was invented and gasoline cars began using it alongside mufflers, which made their noise a lot more tolerable.

Final Blow

Electric cars took their final hit in 1910 when Henry Ford began his mass production of gas powered vehicles, which made them ridiculously cheap whereas electric cars cost a lot more. Companies then realized that there was no room for electric automobiles on the market so they stopped producing then altogether.

Return of the Fallen

Fast forward to the 21st century, we now have advancement in technology and a greater concern for the environment. Add a fear of running out o resources to fuel our vehicles, and it’s no wonder automotive companies have decided to give electric cars another chance. The main difference between electric cars and fossil fuelled cars is that the E-cars can use a variety of renewable source to generate their electricity. In fact the science behind the electric car is surprisingly simple. Its basic principle is the alternating current for which we have Nikola Tesla to thank more than a century ago. Before you understand the science behind that let’s back up and first cover the differences between direct and alternating current AC/DC in short (not the hard rock) An electric current is the movement of an electric charge that carries electrons.

AC/DC Magic

An engine, for example can be powered by direct current which means that the electrons flow in one direction only. For most things that run on DC that’s from the battery to whatever it’s powering. The electrons that move along an alternating current on the other hand periodically and consistently change direction. It’s pretty much all the electric power in your home from your microwave to your laptop. In short if you could look at the two types of currents on a graph, Direct current would be a flat line and alternating would have regular uniform waves going up and down. So, how does it work’s in electric cars in specifically? Well most of them convert the direct current electricity from the batteries into an alternating current. Since electric cars don’t have an internal combustion engine like gas powered vehicles do, they use their quite differently. The above video provided by Physics Videos by Eugene Khutoryansky in an animation.


You’d normally expect a big bulky battery to be in the front under the hood, but it’s completely different in electric cars. They have 7000 lithium ion batteries that sit under the floor of the car. This battery pack has a longer lifespan and a higher power density which makes them ideal for powering a vehicle. But one of their vulnerabilities is overheating and thermal breakdown. That’s why electric cars have coolant running between them to prevent overheating. And there are all kinds of interesting stuff at the back of the car. That’s where you will find the inverter, which is what converts that DC into AC and gives power to the engine. But it can’t do that without the induction motor. It’s also on the back, and it takes the alternating current that just came from the inverter and creates a rotating magnetic field that causes the motor to turn. Check out the above video provided by Learn Engineering.

Hidden Benefits

Now electric cars don’t have a gearbox or liver and all of them are automatic. They have a single speed transmission that sends power from the induction motor to the wheels. This is how the electric motor transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy. That is the physical power that turns the wheels and sends you in a forward way. But here’s where it gets more interesting. When you accelerate while driving, the car uses more energy. But when you brake the energy is transformed into electricity through the induction motor. Then that electricity travels all the way back to the battery pack and is stored so that you can use it later. Now that’s magically efficient. An electric car gets juiced up by being plugged into an outlet or a charging station and they use three main levels of charging. The first level is the basic charging you can do at home. Above video is provided by CAR & PERFORMANCE

Charging and Range

It uses an outlet of (120 VOLTS) and adds 5 to 8 kilometres of charging per hour. Then there’s the second level. It uses electric vehicles supply Equipment and has a higher voltage (220-240) to add 40 kilometres per hour of charging. Finally, the third and the most efficient one is the Direct current charging station which does exactly what it says. It uses direct current to add up to 80% of the car’s battery charge in less than half hour maximum. The cost of charging an electric car is dirt cheap as well. It’ll cost you less than Rs. 400/- to fully charge your electric vehicle at home and you can get up to 250 kilometres on one charge. That of course depends on the size of the battery. Bigger electric cars with bigger batteries can cost up to Rs. 1000/- to fully charge, but they can cover up to 500 kilometres. Isn’t that eureka feeling for your next car? Now electric cars are less expensive to run and maintain if we compare them to fuel powered vehicles. But there is no denying that the car itself comes with a much higher price tag. Above video provided by Phoenix Contact UK. (The prices and costs mentioned above may vary)


But still according to a recent study, the average operating cost of an electric car is Rs, 33,000/- a year, whereas a fossil fuel automobile is Rs. 80,000/- per year. So, that higher initial price should pay itself off over time. But there’s still another problem. One of the most expensive components of the electric car is its battery pack. If it breaks down it’ll cost you Rs. 3 to 10 lakh to replace it. But most electric car manufacturers give the battery at least an 8 years warranty for up to 1,00,000 lakh kilometres if that makes you feel any better about purchasing. The good news is that we’re seeing a huge movement towards electric powered vehicles as a strategy to tackle fuel emissions and reduce pollution. (The prices and costs mentioned above may vary)


The head of automotive research in Europe predicts that by 2025, all cars in Europe will be totally electric or at least hybrid. And many countries are setting goals to lower their fuel emission in the next few years. So, who knows? May be sooner than later, we’ll all be zipping around in electric cars and gas guzzlers will really be a thing of the past. 

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