How Electric Cars Work - CNET

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This communicative is portion of Plugged In, CNET's hub for each things EV and the aboriginal of electrified mobility. From conveyance reviews to adjuvant hints and the latest manufacture news, we've got you covered.

There's plentifulness of hype astir EVs, but has anyone explained to you however they work? Here are the basics for radical who conscionable privation to cognize what they're buying and not geek out.

In presumption of getting astir determination are 5 large components that abstracted an electrical car from 1 that burns gas:

  • Battery Charger
  • Battery
  • Power Control Unit
  • Motor(s)
  • Gear(s) 

Battery charger

Contrary to communal belief, the happening connected your store partition oregon connected a rod astatine the buying halfway isn't the charger, it's Electric Vehicle Service Equipment that provides powerfulness to the charger which is built into your EV. That charger converts the AC powerfulness the ESVE delivers into DC powerfulness that the artillery tin store. That tin beryllium done via either a dilatory Level I complaint erstwhile the car is connected to a 120-volt EVSE oregon a faster Level II complaint erstwhile it's tapping into 240 volts.


Nope, these aren't EV chargers, not strictly speaking, anyway. These are powerfulness connectors that provender energy to the charger that's built into the electrical car.

ChargePoint/Dcbel/United Chargers/Wallbox

Exception: When you usage a accelerated charger, similar a Tesla Supercharger, that's a DC powerfulness connection. It's astatine acold higher levels of existent than your location tin provide, which is however it charges your car truthful overmuch faster. 


The artillery is the bosom of immoderate EV. It substantially determines a car's highly scrutinized range, typically higher outgo and much greater weight. It's some the magic and a curse.

The artillery is usually laid retired arsenic a large level sheet nether the belly of the car, wrong of which are smaller modules containing galore adjacent smaller cells. Some cars eschew the belly-pan benignant artillery and signifier it much similar a portion of luggage tucked distant successful cavities of the car body. But the signifier and determination of the artillery is of small value to the mean buyer. All that matters is the scope the full car delivers.

Tesla Model 3 battery

There's plentifulness of country nether a Tesla Model 3 for a huge, level artillery pack. This "skateboard" layout is preferred crossed the car manufacture but isn't the lone mode to orient an EV battery.


Batteries store DC power, whether they're successful a flashlight, telephone oregon a car. That's wherefore the charger has to person AC to DC to recharge the artillery and that's besides 1 of the main jobs of the adjacent component, though successful reverse.

Power power unit

The powerfulness power portion is an assembly that goes by assorted names and is not thing carmakers typically advertise, but it's important. Its astir captious occupation is to person the DC powerfulness stored successful the artillery backmost into AC that astir EV motors use. This is done with a constituent called an inverter, a mentation of which you whitethorn already usage to powerfulness your laptop oregon different location existent instrumentality from the 12-volt larboard successful your car's dash.


What looks similar a small four-cylinder motor nether the hood is really the powerfulness power module for the lithium ion artillery battalion and electrical motor. Below it sits an 80-kilowatt centrifugal that turns the beforehand wheels.

Josh Miller/CNET

The powerfulness power portion besides interfaces the drivetrain to the accelerator pedal, commencement fastener and thrust mode controller. And, crucially, it oversees regeneration which is however an EV puts powerfulness backmost into its ain artillery erstwhile coasting oregon braking.

Much of Tesla's occurrence has been its quality to optimize the assorted powerfulness flows and conversions that instrumentality spot successful its EVs, testament to the value of the least-touted constituent successful an EV.


The centrifugal is, of course, what turns the wheels but dissimilar a combustion car you mightiness person 1 centrifugal oregon respective successful an EV. More motors tin marque an EV faster, imbue it with blase all-wheel drive, oregon both. But don't assistance the hood expecting to regard upon an impressive-looking centrifugal arsenic you mightiness a accepted car's engine. They're typically compact and not overmuch to look at, often buried retired of sight.


Not astir arsenic awesome to look astatine arsenic a state engine, each of these Tesla electrical motors produces 248 horsepower and tin propulsion a Tesla Roadster up to a governed 125mph, and marque 60mph from a halt successful 3.9 seconds.

CBS Interactive

It's afloat valid to comparison horsepower and torque betwixt a state and electrical car. Note however precocious the torque spec is connected immoderate EV you consider, portion of the quality of electrical motors and making EVs a footwear to thrust beyond what their horsepower standing mightiness suggest. And electrical cars tin present astir of their torque starting astatine debased RPMs, portion gas-engine cars request to beryllium revved up to present maximum acceleration. Motors are conscionable antithetic from engines, which you'll enactment the archetypal clip you thrust immoderate EV.


Not overmuch to accidental present since electrical motors don't truly request a transmission. The quality of their cognition makes them businesslike and almighty crossed a overmuch wider scope of RPMs than combustion engines, truthful they don't request six, 7 oregon adjacent 10 gears arsenic crutches to assistance them accommodate antithetic conveyance speeds oregon loads.

Having nary emblematic transmission an EV has a thrust mode selector alternatively of a PRNDL. Federal regulations necessitate that immoderate car sold successful the US comply with definite conventions including placing Park astatine the extremity of the thrust controller's question and Reverse adjacent to that. But EV thrust controllers often instrumentality immoderate unconventional shapes and whitethorn adhd an unfamiliar presumption that puts the car into a higher mode of the regeneration portion driving, arsenic described earlier.

2021 Toyota Prius shifter

This alternatively unusual shifter portrays the quality successful an EV powertrain compared to the many-geared transmissions of combustion motor cars.


It's simple

This database whitethorn look similar a batch but EVs person simpler drivetrains that usage 70% to 90% less parts than a gas-engined car. That postulation of less parts inactive typically costs much than a state motor car but arsenic standard drives down EV cost, their inherent simplicity should lone turbocharge that curve.

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