How Electric Cars Work: Everything You Need to Know

The 1.1 million electric vehicles sold in 2017 marked a new global record.

More electric cars are on the road than ever before and the infrastructure to support them is also growing. But how exactly do they differ from conventional vehicles under the hood?

If you’re thinking about making the switch, you should know how electric cars work. That means understanding how it moves, how it charges, and how you drive it.

Keep reading to learn all that and more.

What Is an Electric Car?

When people use the term electric car, they might be referring to one of three types of vehicle. These are:

  • Electric Vehicles (EVs). These vehicles run on battery power and are thus completely electric.
  • Conventional Hybrids. These vehicles have an electric motor and also a gas tank. The motor charges with a battery that functions when the vehicle brakes.
  • Plug-In Hybrids. Similar to conventional hybrids, these vehicles contain both a gas tank and an electric motor. But these are charged by plugging into the wall instead of by a battery.

What they all have in common is that they look like regular vehicles. From the outside, you wouldn’t know the difference between a hybrid, an EV, or a conventional vehicle.

How Do Electric Cars Work?

In both electric cars and conventional vehicles, there is a fuel source, a gearbox, and a drive unit. These components work together to propel the vehicle forward as well as in reverse. They all have passenger and luggage space in common.

But while a conventional vehicle has a gas tank for petrol, an electric car has batteries with fuel cells. They have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. And because of that, they also don’t have a tailpipe for exhaust.

Electric cars are more complex than that, though. So we’ve broken down how do electric cars work into four components: how they’re powered, how they’re charged, and how they’re driven.


It goes without saying that electric vehicles are powered by electricity. In the most basic terms, the electric motor is powered by a controller. That controller is in turn powered by rechargeable batteries.

So rather than a gas tank filled with fuel, the fuel comes from an electrical charge. The batteries store the electrical charge and use it to power the electric motor. The electric motor powers the wheels as well as other components in the vehicle such as headlights, internal lighting, climate control, etc.

Because they run on electricity, there’s no clutch, gearbox, transmission, or exhaust pipe. All of these factors mean the car runs nearly silent. They also drive and handle far more smoothly.

Also as a result of their power source, electric vehicle are more efficient than conventional vehicles. An internal combustion engine is only 30% efficient but an electric car is as much as 95% efficient. That means that the majority of the energy generated by the electric motor is used to power the car, but in a conventional vehicle, most of the energy is lost as noise and heat.


Conventional vehicles and electric vehicles look similar, but they’re actually driven a bit differently. Specifically, their braking systems are different. Considering the importance of your brakes, this is an important aspect of how electric vehicles work.

Electric vehicles have a regenerative braking system. This type of braking system uses the kinetic energy that’s generated by the car moving forward.

Once captured, it sends that energy into the battery when you remove your foot from the accelerator. In this way, the speed of the car can be controlled simply lifting off the accelerator.

Because the accelerator can be used in this way, you don’t have to use the brake pedal as often in an electric vehicle. In fact, if you lift your foot far enough off of the pedal, the brake lights come on. That makes for a more comfortable ride in stop-and-go traffic, too.


One glaringly obvious difference between a conventional vehicle and an electric vehicle is the charging. Whereas you put fuel into a car, you charge the battery of an electric vehicle. But like a gas tank, there’s a limit to how much electricity the battery in your car can store.

Most electric vehicles can be charged just about anywhere. You can plug them into a simple wall socket or a dedicated charging point. One of the benefits of buying an electric car now is the amount of infrastructure. You’ll find charging station and ports along roadways and in parking lots.

Typically, an electric vehicle will have different charging speeds. The speed setting you choose determines how quickly you can charge your car.

A slow charge can take approximately five hours to reach a full charge from a dead battery. There’s also a fast charge which can get your battery filled within an hour. Finally, there’s a rapid charge option, which takes about 20 minutes to fully charge an onboard battery.

And electric cars have come along way in terms of how long you can drive them on a charged battery. Your standard electric vehicle should be able to travel about 250 miles before needing to be recharged. In comparison to a conventional vehicle, you’re getting about the same amount of distance from your electric vehicle with none of the fuel costs.

Looking For A New Vehicle?

Unlike hybrids which use part electricity and part internal combustion engine, an electric car run entirely on an electric motor. That motor is powered by batteries, which can be charged from wall sockets or dedicated charging pores. These vehicles are more efficient, silent, and offer as long of a journey as one tank of gas.

Now that you know how electric cars work, take a look at our inventory of the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE.

Posted in Jaguar Cars