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How Do Electric Cars Work?

How Do Electric Cars Work?

By Jeff Youngs, August 10, 2012
A non-electric vehicle contains an internal combustion engine and related parts such as a fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel-injection systems, cooling system, and an exhaust system. Electric cars, on the other hand, are powered directly by electricity rather than a combustible fuel.

An electric car has an array of rechargeable batteries, at least one electric motor, a controller that feeds electricity to the electric motor(s) based on input from the accelerator pedal, and a charging system. In modern electric passenger cars, the electricity to power the electric motor(s) is provided by a rechargeable battery pack, an onboard gasoline-engine generator, or a hydrogen fuel cell.

In most electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, electricity is supplied by a rechargeable battery pack that can be plugged into one of three power sources: a standard household outlet, an upgraded home charging system that cuts recharging time in half, or a quick-charge station provided by a city or public utility. When an electric car's battery pack needs to be recharged, plugging the car in to one of these three sources is as easy as plugging in a heavy-duty extension cord. It can take as little as one hour to recharge the car using a high-voltage public quick-charge station or as long as 12 hours using a standard household outlet.

The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that features a small gas-powered engine/generator. The Volt's battery can be charged by a standard household 120-volt outlet in approximately 10 hours. When the battery pack is empty, the Volt's gasoline engine turns on and generates energy that is converted to electricity, which extends the driving range by an additional 300 miles or so.

The Honda FCX Clarity is a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) that combines hydrogen with oxygen to make electricity. The only byproduct of this vehicle is water vapor, which makes it one of the most environmentally friendly cars on the road. FCEVs must be refueled at a designated hydrogen refueling station, just as a normal car is refilled at a gas station.

Engineers are also starting to build special solar-powered cars as demonstration vehicles for how such technology works. These experimental vehicles are exploratory in nature and are not suitable for daily driving. Some vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius, do employ solar-cell technology to run ancillary vehicle systems.

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