Gone are the days when the electric car was only in the purview of environmentalists or the technically inclined. Prices and charging times on electric vehicles are coming down, and the range of travel on electric cars are extending further and further. Electric cars have hit the road at an astonishing rate, with over 10,000 drivers in the U.K. investing in an electric car in 2017. Yet drivers have been used to combustion engines and gasoline for almost 100 years, and change takes time. If you are interested in electric cars, you're probably asking simple, but essential questions like "how do electric cars work?"

Read on for the ultimate electric car guide that will answer all your basic electric car questions, from "what are the functions?" to "how do electric cars work?" to "what models are available?",  "what companies make electric cars?" and "what is the history of the electric car?" We try to answer as much as possible to make these amazing vehicles accessible. Read on for the ultimate guide to electric cars.

how do electric cars work

History of Electric Cars

Electric cars have been around longer than the actual car! But most drivers don't know that the electric car came first because internal combustion engine cars surpassed the electric car in popularity early in the history of automobiles. This section of the topic will go over the history of the electric car to give you a better picture of where the electric car has been and why it hasn't been in the public conscious all along.

The Early Electric Car

It often surprises people when they learn that the first car ever made was electric. Karl Benz showed the world his Benz Patent-Motorwagen with an internal combustion engine in 1885, and that is widely considered the first automobile in the world. But it wasn't the first! Thomas Parker built the first electric car in London in 1884. Electric cars had a full year head start on the internal combustible engine.

Electric cars continued to be popular throughout the late 1800s. But in 1908 Henry Ford started mass producing Model T's with an internal combustion engine, and that changed the game. The Model T was half the price of the standard electric car and exceeded it in range because of the limited technology of electric car batteries at that time. The electric car held on for a couple decades, but by the time the country was being connected by highways in the 1930s, the electric car was being forgotten.

electric cars

The Decline of the Electric Car

When the highway system was built drivers didn't look back. Cars were cheap, gasoline was cheap, driving was becoming an accessible and quintessentially American activity. Little public interest meant that from the 1930s to the 1970s electric cars didn't see many advancements. The oil crisis of the 1970s brought electric cars back into the picture. But since there really was no viable commercial electric car option, in 1976, Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act, supporting the research and development of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Car companies used this act to produce electric car models, but none of them were ever mass produced. This is mainly because of the original problems electric cars faced against internal combustion engines, limited range, and limited speed. 

Electric Car Revival

Electric cars didn't really come back until the start of the 21st century. By this time, technological advancements had increased the speed and the range of electric cars. The two main developments that brought the electric car back were the release of the Toyota Prius, the world's first hybrid-electric car, in 1997 and Tesla Motors' release of the first luxury electric car that had a 200-mile range in 2008. Buzz and popularity of both the Prius and Tesla encouraged other car manufacturers to produce their own viable electric car models. which is the reason there are so many electric car options today.  

Why You Should Buy an Electric Car Cost

One of the major hurdles of mass production of electric cars is that just as electric cars cost more to produce, they cost more for people to buy. Electric cars are still more expensive than the average car that runs on gasoline. But while the upfront costs of electric cars are higher, it is cheaper to run an electric car. An electric car's cost-per-mile is 1/3 that of an internal combustion engine.

Government incentives also make the up-front costs of an electric car more affordable and give you benefits like tax deductions and using the carpool lane after purchase. Both the long-term savings and the potential incentives make purchasing an electric car a good investment. 

electric cars


Electric car engines are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, which waste much of the fuel they burn as heat. An electric car engine is 80% more efficient than the internal combustion engine. You have full use of your engine and don't have to burn away your money. 


While electric cars in the past might not have gone as fast as a car that ran on gasoline, today, the two fastest cars in the world—the Tesla Model S P100D and Rimac Concept One—are electric. In the world of non-sports cars, electric cars hold their own on speed, and there are many ways in which normal electric cars outperform their counterparts.

Electric cars can produce high torque at low speeds so they speed up much faster than cars that run on gasoline. Electric cars also have more aerodynamic weight distribution and axle-twisting power, which makes for a smoother drive all around.


The average electric car requires none of the normal maintenance a driver has to do for an internal combustion engine car. This is because the electric car relies on one moving part. Cars that run on gasoline use hundreds of moving parts that all have to work correctly for the car to run. Electric car batteries also last for 12 years, tripling the life expectancy of gasoline-fueled cars, whose batteries only last an average of four years.


An electric car doesn't have CO2 emissions—a great thing to have in a rapidly warming world. Critics point out that electricity is still pollution, but it is far better for the planet than any diesel or gasoline option. 

Electric cars


Electric cars have no additional safety issues that a driver should be concerned with. In fact, an electric car should be considered safer than the gas-powered alternatives because there is no flammable gasoline in the engine. While most electric car safety features have been designed off of gasoline models,  designers are finding increasingly innovative ways to make electric cars even safer. Car companies are currently testing more efficiency crash structures specifically for electric cars.


As CO2 continues to be seen as a major culprit for climate change, cities and countries around the world are placing more and more restrictions on CO2 producing vehicles. Paris is one city that has already restricted cars and trucks that run on gasoline. Some cities only allow drivers on the road on certain days to help combat air pollution. An electric car is ready for the world of the future and won't have to worry about legislation like this.

Questions to Ask Yourself to See If an Electric Car Is Right for You:

  1. How many miles do I drive in a typical day? 
  2. Would I like to save money on gasoline and maintenance costs? 
  3. Can I charge my electric vehicle at home or do I live close to a charging station?
electric cars

Popular Electric Car Brands

You've probably heard of well known electric car models like Tesla and the Nissan Leaf, but every year new models come on the market. Right now there are around 30 different electric cars that are mass-produced, but in the next 5-7 years, there are expected to be over 70 different mass-market electric car models to choose from. In this part of the topic, we'll list the top electric car brands that you should know by type of car, to help you identify which one you might be interested in.


  • Fiat 500e 
  • Mitsubishi i-MiEV
  • Hyundai Ioniq 
  • 2018 Telsa Model-3
  • BMW i3
  • Chevrolet Volt


  • Chevrolet Bolt
  • Ford C-Max Energi
  • Ford Focus EV
  • Opel Ampera-e
  • Smart Fortwo-eq
  • Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh
  • Renault Zoe
  • Kia Soul EV
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Toyota Prius Prime
  • Volkswagen eGolf
electric suv


  • Ford Fusion Energi
  • Hyundai Sonata Plug-in
  • Kia Optima
  • BMW X5 xDrive 4.0e
  • Chrysler Pacifica
  • Tesla Model X
  • Volvo XC90 T8

How Do Electric Cars Work?

Electric cars at a base level seem self-explanatory—they run on electricity. But there is so much more to understand about an electric car before you purchase one. The crucial question "How do electric cars work?" isn't as simple as just electricity. In this section of the topic, we will answer this question by going over the engine, the charge, and everything in between.

electric car charging station

What Are The Different Types of Electric Vehicles?

There are two different electric car models on the market. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The range on plug-in hybrids is far greater than vehicles that completely rely on electricity to power their battery. Plug-in hybrids can extend their range for long trips using a combination of gasoline and electricity but only use electricity for short commutes. However, a truly electric vehicle doesn't have this option and most models are better suited for shorter city driving. 

What Is the Range of an Electric Car?

The range of an electric car tells how many miles the car can drive before they need to be recharged. Most mass-market electric cars have a range of 75 to 150 miles. It is also safe to assume that the range on your electric car is 25% less than what the manufacturer tells you. This causes range anxiety in electric car drivers. The range of your electric car also takes a hit if you are driving in a hilly area, and in the winter time when you need to use heat.

fastest electric car

How Does an Electric Car Differ from a Internal Combustion Engine Car?

The interworkings of an electric car engine are straightforward. Direct current electricity powers the electric car battery, and that powers the car. An internal combustion engine has over 100 different parts that connect to fuel the engine. In an electric car, a drive train connects the engine to the wheels in the same way that an internal combustion engine is connected to the wheels. The main difference between the two designs is that the motor is electric, and a controller regulates the speed that an electric car moves at.

The gas tank equivalent on an electric vehicle is a lithium powered battery which gives energy to the motor. In terms of distance, a tank of gas will propel a car around 300 to 400 miles before it needs to be refilled, but a fully charged battery will only get you between 75-150 miles before it needs to be recharged.

What Are the Core Components of the Electric Car?


Electric Engine

Every electric car runs on stored electricity. The best illustration of this is a fan. You plug the fan in and electricity from the source of the fan drives the fan to create wind. Electric motors are all similar, but different models will run on different currents. AC current engines run on the same power you would find in a wall outlet. But DC current engines run on true battery power. These are the main two types of currents used on mass-produced cars. 


The controller is the brain of an electric car. It is the main connection between the battery and the motor and gives the engine instructions on what to do--telling the engine on how much energy it should give to the wheels of the car, but also making sure the battery stays cool and doesn't burn out.

Rechargeable Batteries

If the controller is the brain of an electric car, the battery is the heart and stores the car's life or energy. The three different types of batteries used in mass-produced electric cars include Lithium-Ion, Nickel-Metal Hydride, and Lead-Acid batteries. A battery in an electric car is stored at a very low point for the best weight distribution. The battery weighs a lot. The rechargeable battery of an electric car gets its energy from two sources. Either an external power source or regenerative brakes. 

rechargeable battery

What Should You Know about Electric Vehicle Charging?

How Long Does Charging Your Electric Car Take?

The charge time on electric cars varies depending on your battery size and the volt you are charging the battery. A standard charge, which most electric cars use, is a 240-volt charger that will take between 4 to 6 hours to charge an electric vehicle fully. There are also fast chargers that are slowly coming on the market. These can give up to 100 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes. 

How Do You Charge an Electric Car?

You can charge an electric car through one of two sources. The first is an external power source. This is where you attach your battery to a plug to charge it. Most electric car owners will install a 240-volt charger at their house. The other way is through regenerative brakes, which is the more energy efficient option. Regenerative brakes recycle your car's generated energy by preventing it from expelling energy every time you stop. Your car's motor becomes the electricity generator when your brakes are engaged, and that recharges the battery.

charging points

Where Do You Charge an Electric Car?

The most likely place you will charge your electric vehicle is at your home. You'll get the full benefit of the electric car cost-efficiency if you charge the car overnight when energy rates are at their lowest. The other alternative to charge your electric vehicle is at a public charging station. Charging stations are being installed throughout the United States, and if you are in a city, you are much more likely to use these charging stations. But this is still on a case-by-case basis as charging station locations differ from place to place.


The electric car is at the start of a revolution that will change the face of the automobile industry as we know it. There is a range of reasons to start thinking about purchasing an electric car. Whether the environment is your deciding factor, or the long-term benefits are what makes you interested in these vehicles, we hope that this topic has helped clarify questions you have had and points you in the right direction for your future electric vehicle purchase. For further questions on electric cars, how they work, and if you should invest in one, contact a dealership or the manufacturer today.

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