Electric cars are not as complicated as many people tend to imagine. EVs, as they are commonly abbreviated, work by converting direct current into alternating current. Essentially, they draw direct current electricity from an electric motor before converting it into alternating current required to propel the car.
From the outside, it is impossible to tell that a particular car is electric, considering the fact that they bear similar features to regular cars. However, when you open the hood, you’ll notice that the car has an electric motor instead of an engine and batteries instead of a gas tank.
Notably, EVs do not require coolants, radiators, tailpipes and fuel lines found in a normal car. Therefore, if you are planning to buy an electric car in the near future, you won’t have a problem wrapping your head around its main parts.
The only challenge you could face is to comprehend how an electric car works compared to a normal car. However, if you have experience driving a gasoline car, getting a grip on how an EV works won’t be a problem!
To learn how EVs work compared to regular cars, you need to know the following:
-What defines an electric car
-Primary components of an electric car
-Main levels of charging
Here are the finer details of how EVs work.
What Defines an Electric Car?
To true its name, an electric car is any automobile than runs on an electric motor rather than an internal combustion (gasoline) engine. In essence, EVs get their power from one or more electric motors that use energy stored in rechargeable batteries.
As with gasoline, which requires gasoline or petroleum to run, electric cars need a battery pack to operate. The vehicle utilizes a large traction battery to propel the electric motor. Nevertheless, the car can only run as long as the charge in the battery lasts. Considering this, electric vehicle owners have to recharge their cars plugging into a charging station or a wall outlet whenever the battery runs out of charge.
Nevertheless, the fact that electric cars use electricity means that they produce zero carbon emissions. In essence, they do not have liquid fuel components that leave carbon footprints. Moreover, electric cars are comparatively cheaper to run and maintain, hence it is not surprising that more motorists are now turning to EVs as their preferred mode of transport.
Now that you know what an electric car is all about, let’s look at its key components and learn how they work.
Main Components of an Electric Car
What makes electric vehicles different from regular cars, are the components. In essence, electric cars do not require gasoline engines, mufflers, tailpipes, gas tanks, catalytic converters, and a clutch assembly to work. Instead, EVs only require an AC electric motor, an electric controller and a battery pack in order to run. Here are the key components that largely describe how an electric car works.
Electric cars do not use gasoline for propulsion neither do they have a combustion engine. Instead, they come installed with a battery pack made up of over 7,000 common lithium-ion cells that store electricity for use by the electric motor. The motor, in turn, drives the wheels of the car causing the vehicle to move.
The battery pack also supplies the electricity required to power the vehicle’s accessories. To keep the cells from overheating, the battery pack consists of a coolant that turns on automatically when the car is running.
Regular cars, on the other hand, have a fuel tank with pipe connections that supply gasoline to the internal combustion engine. The engine then provides the power required to propel the car. Even though regular cars also have a battery, the purpose of this battery is very much different from that used in an electric vehicle. It essentially provides power to start the engine and control vehicle accessories and electronics.
EVs use electricity to function. However, depending on the type of EV, the electric motor cannot utilize electrical energy in the form of direct current (DC). In effect, the car must convert the direct current (DC) into alternating current (AC) to perform its functions.
The battery pack stores and delivers electrical energy as DC, which flows in one direction only. Nevertheless, for the electric motor to function, it requires AC, which is a type of current that changes direction at a determined frequency. This is where the importance of an inverter comes into play.
An inverter is a component, found in electric cars, which converts direct current electricity to alternating current. The alternating current from the inverter powers the electric motor and determines the speed upon which the motor rotates. Inverters can also increase or decrease the torque of the electric motor by modifying the amplitude of the signal.
Electric cars work using mainly two types of motors. These include DC motors and AC motors. Under AC motors, the induction (asynchronous) motor is one of the most vital components incorporated into electric vehicles. The induction motor produces a revolving magnetic field that causes it to rotate. The revolving magnetic field essentially interacts with the stationary rotor conductors consequently inducing current flows through the conductors.
Notably, the induced current flows through the conductors also establish their own magnetic field. When the revolving magnetic field of the motor interacts with the field formed by the induced current, it gives rise to unidirectional torque. Considering this, induction motors are also known as asynchronous motors given that the speed of the rotor is less than the speed of the revolving magnetic field.
As you might be aware, regular gasoline cars do not have an induction motor since they rely on a petrol engine for torque. The engine receives petrol from the fuel tank in order to perform its functions.
As mentioned earlier, the battery pack not only supplies the motor with electrical energy but also powers the vehicle’s accessories. However, the electricity stored in the battery pack is normally higher-voltage DC, meaning that the vehicle has to convert the power to lower voltage in order to run vehicle accessories efficiently without causing damage. This calls for a DC/DC converter.
Essentially, a DC/DC converter is a special component installed in an electric car that converts a higher voltage DC from the battery pack to the lower voltage DC required to recharge the auxiliary battery and run the vehicle accessories.
In contrast, a normal car does not have a DC/DC converter given that the power supplied by the installed car battery is of lower voltage. In addition, the battery of a conventional car is exclusively designed to start the car engine and power vehicle accessories thus it does not require a DC/DC converter.
A charge port is a vital component installed in nearly all types of electric cars. It allows electric cars to connect to an external power supply (charging point or wall outlet) to charge the vehicle’s batteries. Without this port, you won’t be able to charge your car whenever the battery pack runs out of power.
The charge port works in conjunction with a charging cable and a charger connector or a plug. You have to plug in the charging cable into the charge port of the electric vehicle and connect it to the power outlet or the charging station.
The charge port is equivalent to the gas tank opening of a conventional car. Instead of refueling the gas tank with petroleum, you have to connect your car to a charging station from the charge port using a charging cable.
Like any other electrical device, you have to charge your EV for it to function appropriately. Electric cars come with an onboard charger that converts the incoming AC from the charge port to DC power required to charge the battery pack.
The onboard charger performs several other functions apart from converting AC to DC. It also monitors the status of the battery such as current, temperature, voltage and state of charge to prevent overcharging and overheating the battery pack.
The battery-pack charger essentially controls the voltage level of the cells by adjusting the rate of charge and monitors cell temperatures to keep the battery healthy. Moreover, you can use the onboard charger to determine when your car needs a recharge.
Power Electronics Controller
As the name implies, the controller manages all the parameters of the electric car. Essentially, it controls the rate of charge delivered by the battery pack to the motor and translates the pressure on the accelerator pedal thus adjusting the speed of the inverter motor and the subsequent torque it produces.
Comparatively, the controller unit works like the Engine Control Module (ECM) or the Engine Control Unit (ECU) of a gasoline-driven car. The ECM primarily manages the amount of fuel that enters the engine from the gas tank. The ECM also controls the ignition timing, fuel-air mixture, idle speed, and the emissions system, and safeguards the engine to ensure optimal performance.
The major difference between power electronic controllers and engine control units revolve around their mode of operation and design. The power electronic controller of an electric car is simpler in design and seamless in performance.
Electric Transmission / Drive-train
Most electric vehicles have a single-speed transmission that distributes mechanical power from the electric motor to the wheels. The transmission system or the drive train essentially conveys power from the electric motor to the drive wheels on the car in order to control the amount of torque. It also provides various transmission ratios that are important in enabling the speed of the motor to adapt to different driving situations.
In comparison, the drivetrain of a gasoline-driven car transfers mechanical power from the engine to drive the wheels. Regular cars do not have an electric motor thus the transmission system distributes power from the engine rather than a motor to the wheels.
For an electric vehicle to function efficiently, it is important to maintain an ideal temperature range for the battery pack, the electric motor, and the power electronics. This calls for an advanced thermal management system that includes a battery cooler, chiller, an electrical compressor, a coolant stop valve, a thermostat, a high-voltage coolant heater, a low-temperature cooler, and an auxiliary heater, among other essential components. All these components work together to ensure that the temperature range remains ideal when it gets too hot or too cold.
Conversely, the thermal system of a combustion engine is relatively different but still aims at performing the same function. It controls the temperature range of all combustion engine components to prevent overheating, control fuel consumption and reduce carbon emissions. Some of the components that form the thermal system of a gasoline car include an air conditioning blower motor, coolant pump, engine cooling fan and a coolant switch valve.
Regenerative Braking System
One of the most amazing aspects of electric cars is their regenerative braking system. This braking mechanism works by converting kinetic energy into electricity, which is sent back to the battery pack of the car for later use.
When the car is decelerating or coming to a standstill, the regenerative braking system captures the kinetic energy formed due to the motion of the vehicle and converts it into a form that is ideal for immediate or future use. This system sets electric cars in a class above its conventional counterparts, as it can store energy that would have been otherwise wasted. This helps keep the battery charged for longer allowing EV owners to enjoy a longer driving range.
In comparison, normal cars do not have a regenerative braking system. Instead, they employ a variety of braking systems including hydraulic braking, mechanical braking, servo braking, and electromagnetic braking systems. These systems require frequent replacement and maintenance of brake discs and pads.
Main Levels of Charging
Another differentiating factor that defines how an electric car works compared to a normal car is the mode of propulsion. For normal cars, you have to drive to a filling station to replenish the gas tank with petrol required to power the engine. Conversely, electric cars do not use gasoline. Instead, you have to charge the car’s battery pack for the motor to function as expected.
Notably, there are three main levels of charging an electric car. The level that you use to charge your electric car will decide the charging speeds and the time taken to charge the battery pack fully.
The three levels of charging include:
Level 1 – Basic Home Charging
Level 1 charging or basic home charging, entails plugging in your electric car into a standard 120 Volt outlet. Normally, most electrical vehicles come with an AC adapter that can plug into a standard household power outlet. This makes it convenient for you to charge your EV at home without investing in expensive charging equipment.
The only major concern associated with this type of charging is that it tends to be slow. Essentially, it takes anywhere between 8 and 10 hours to charge an electric car using basic home charging. This adds 2-5 miles per hour of uninterrupted charging, making it ideal for short commutes.
Level 2 – Home or Public Charging
Let’s face it. Basic home charging is very slow. For this reason, most EV owners opt to upgrade to Level 2 charging that uses a higher output, electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) on a 240-Volt circuit. This makes it faster and more convenient for charging. Moreover, Level 2 charging is compatible with all plug-in vehicles and it is capable of adding up to 25 miles per hour of charge.
Nevertheless, installing a Level 2 charging station at home is comparatively costly and it requires the expertise of a professional electrician to set up the charger. In addition, you may have to modify your car’s charging inlet and probably adjust your home’s power system to support Level 2 charging. Considering this, it is not surprising that most Level 2 chargers are only common in public places rather than the home.
Level 3 – DC Fast Charging
True to its name, DC fast charging, is the fastest, most powerful and advanced charger for electric vehicles. It uses a DC charging electric vehicle supply equipment to charge your car. This mode of charging can add up to 80% charge in less than 10 minutes, translating to roughly 50 miles of range within the same time frame.
Level 3 chargers use very high voltage ranging from 600 Volts to 1000 volts. For this reason, it is not surprising that they are the fastest mode of EV charging. Nevertheless, DC fast chargers are costly, making them ideal for service stations only. Moreover, various reports suggest that regular use of DC fast chargers may damage your EV battery pack and reduce its lifespan.
Make the switch
Now that you know how an electric car works compared to a normal car, it is easy to see the benefits of owning and driving an EV. Electric cars are smooth, silent and comparatively powerful. Moreover, they cost less to operate and maintain. Considering all these benefits, it is only logical that you make the switch.