How an electric vehicle works

Author profile picture

Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

electric car charging


When Nikola Tesla invented the alternating current motor in 1887, he paved the way for the invention of the electric vehicle more than a century later. Electric vehicles could make gas- and diesel-powered vehicles obsolete by the year 2025, effectively ending the reign of the internal combustion engine.

The acceptance of EVs into car culture has already begun with the Tesla Model S winning the Motor Trend Car of the Year in 2013. And with electric car sales growing by 81 percent from 2017 to 2018, it seems electric cars could be the norm sooner rather than later.


Components of an electric vehicle

Animated infographic of how an electric vehicle works

Understanding how an electric vehicle works is actually much simpler than understanding how a gas- or diesel-powered car works. That’s why we created the infographic below — to help readers understand the basics of electric vehicles and how they could be instrumental in changing our environment for the better.



how an EV battery pack works


Batteries in electric vehicles are not the same as your typical ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle’s battery. Electric vehicle batteries power everything in your car, most importantly the electric motor.

When a battery in an electric vehicle runs out of charge, you simply recharge it through grid electricity as you would your phone or laptop. Charging can be done at home through a wall outlet (there are many home charging setups) or at a designated charging station in a public parking area.

Almost all electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries. These are low maintenance, lightweight, and more efficient than other batteries. Lithium-ion batteries tend to be more expensive to manufacture than nickel-metal hydride or lead-acid batteries.

Most lithium-ion batteries last for between 8 and 12 years, depending on the climate and maintenance schedule.



To charge an electric car, you just plug it into a charger connected to the electric grid. Charging occurs through the car's electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE). Three levels of EVSEs exist, each with its own charging speeds and equipment.


levels of electric vehicle charging


Level 1 Home Charging

Level one charging uses a 120-volt plug and a standard outlet. Level one charging requires no special equipment and is typically done at home. Level one chargers take the longest time to charge your electric vehicle, averaging about three to five miles per hour of charge.

Level 2 EVSE Home Charging

Level two EVSEs use a 240-volt plug and typically need to be installed by an electrician. They can be used for either home or commercial charging. Many electric car automakers provide purchase options for level two EVSEs at the time of vehicle purchase, and private companies also offer electric vehicle chargers.

Level two chargers are much faster than level one chargers, offering up to 60 miles of range per hour of charge. They are capable of fully charging an electric car battery in about two hours.

Level 3 EVSE DC Fast Chargers

DC fast chargers are the charging stations you’ll see in parking lots around town. They can deliver up to 100 miles of power in about 20 minutes of charging. These highly specialized pieces of equipment aren't compatible with all plug-in hybrid vehicles.

DC fast chargers can be accessed through payment apps or specific cards set up for use at public charging stations.






Batteries can store only direct current electricity, but many electric cars run on alternating current electricity. The inverter takes the direct current electricity and converts it into alternating current electricity for the electric motor to use.

The inverter controls the frequency of the alternating current sent to the electric motor, which essentially means the inverter controls the speed of the vehicle. It acts as the brain of the system, directing the motor and other components.


Induction motor

The induction motor is an AC motor, meaning it runs on alternating current electricity. This alternating current creates a rotating magnetic field within the induction motor which causes it to rotate. The speed at which the motor turns is based on the alternating current frequency sent from the inverter.

Induction motors work efficiently at any speed range, giving it a sizeable advantage over an internal combustion engine which only has limited efficiency and torque. This is why internal combustion engines need multiple gears, so that they can stay within their power band. Induction motors don’t need multiple gears because their power band doesn’t drop in efficiency and power.


Regenerative braking




Regenerative braking is a valuable feature of many electric cars. Regenerative braking allows the vehicle to recharge while decelerating by using the induction motor as a generator. The induction motor turns into a generator when the wheels and drivetrain rotate faster than does the induction motor.

That electricity is then sent back to the battery pack for later use.


Animation of how an electric vehicle works

Electric vehicles are more efficient than standard gas and diesel-powered engines in many ways. Below are some of the advantages of electric vehicles:

  • High performance: Electric vehicles have instant acceleration, allowing them to reach incredible speeds in seconds. The Tesla Model S is the second-fastest production vehicle, with a 0–to-60 MPH time of 2.28 seconds.
  • No noise: WIth no internal combustion engine, electric vehicles are significantly quieter than gas or diesel powered vehicles.
  • No pollution: According to the EPA, motor vehicles collectively cause 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S. Electric vehicles generate no pollution at the vehicle level.
  • Lower maintenance and driving costs: With fewer mechanical parts and a simpler design, electric vehicles don’t run into many of the mechanical issues encountered by gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Electric vehicles are helping us pave the wave for real environmental change, but if you don’t have the resources to buy a new Tesla there are still many things you can do to help improve the world we live in. Consider using natural cleaning products and reducing your plastic waste. When driving, stay calm and alert and make sure your vehicle’s maintenance and insurance are up-to-date.


how an electric car works


Sources: Learn Engineering | AddOhms | Fleetcarma

Ready to start saving?

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.