How Do Electric Cars Work?

If you’ve ever wondered how electric cars work, now’s the time to plug in and supercharge your knowledge. Producing power for the vehicle via a battery, and recharging the battery when needed, are two of the crucial components. But there’s a bit more to it than that.

Discover everything you need to know about electric car technology with Honda. With 90% less moving parts than petrol cars, and a longer history than you might realise, EVs aren’t as science fiction as you’d think. But they are the future.

Key Parts of an Electric Car

Electric car technology is actually quite straightforward. To get an idea of how streamlined electric cars are, there’s only three different parts you really need to learn about.

How does an electric car motor work?

In simple terms, an electric car motor produces and pumps power from the battery to the wheels. It’s there to guide electricity to the right place, creating usable torque (a turning force that gets the car moving).

Torque is measured in RPM – or Revolutions Per Minute – and a typical electric motor can peak at 2,500 to 4,000 RPM. For reference, a typical tumble dryer spins at around 50 RPM, so that’s some serious power.

Where things get slightly more complex is when we talk about the vehicle’s ‘electric drivetrain’. This is the electric car’s engine-room so to speak, which is made up of the motor, the drive shafts, and the transmission. The drive shafts transfer power from the motor to the wheels, while the transmission helps to regulate the motor.

The brakes

Brakes are one of the most familiar and vital components of a car, or any vehicle for that matter. However, regenerative brakes are an essential piece of electric car technology that not everyone will know about.

• Stripping things down, you have ‘regenerative’ which is all about renewal, combined with the brakes used for slowing or stopping vehicles.

• In short, regenerative braking takes the kinetic energy usually lost from a car’s momentum when it brakes, and transforms this energy into electricity, making your vehicle more efficient.

Based on the needs of your car, this power can be stored and used immediately.

Want to learn more about regenerative braking? Read our guide to jolt your knowledge further.

The battery

At one time, battery-powered cars sounded like something from a futuristic novel. But we all know that kids have been driving into doorframes and toes with them for years.

In fact, this kind of electric power stretches all the way back to 1832, with more recognisable technology being explored in the 1970s. Modern day electric cars are a bit different, but the batteries couldn’t be simpler.

The modern EV is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which discharges an electric current to power the motor of your car (or motors, plural, if you have a four-wheel drive). This battery can benefit from regenerative braking, to give it a boost, or it can be charged while parked with the right equipment.

You can learn all about car batteries in our handy guide, in fact.

Charging an Electric Car

Charging your EV doesn’t have to be rocket science. But there are a few things worth knowing about, to jumpstart your understanding.

• Since August 2019, the number of available charge points in the UK has more than quadrupled, from 9,199 to nearly 46,000.

• While some of these are free, many require registration, subscription, or payment.

However, it’s not all about charge points. Unlike petrol vehicles, you can ‘refuel’ your electric car from home – and you don’t need a laboratory to do it.

It’s as simple as charging by socket or, ideally, having your own charging point installed which uses your mains power. The cost of this may be covered by a government grant of up to £350, and it can make charging more efficient and convenient.

Once you’re ready to charge, plug your car in and then get on with whatever else you have planned – you don’t need to wait around for it to complete. At home, most properties use a 230V outlet, but faster charging options do exist.

Charge times can vary, depending on the size of your battery, but your electric car doesn’t need to be at 100% charge to drive.

It’s also unlikely you’ll fully deplete it day-by-day if you are doing local journeys, so you may not need to charge from empty to full.

The Future of Charging

As technology continues to evolve, you can expect all aspects of electric car technology to adapt and improve.

Honda is leading the way in charge point technology, helping to bolster EV infrastructure and radicalise home charging. With state-of-the-art 940v charge points, support for multiple connections, and a zero-emission friendly design, the future of EV has never been brighter.

Discover more about Honda’s efforts to power-up electric car charging technology today.


How do electric cars work, step by step?

How electric cars work is simple, once you break things down into basic steps:

1. A lithium-ion battery generates electricity, which is sent to the motor.

2. Once powered, the motor turns the electricity from the battery into ‘torque’.

3. The torque from the motor powers the wheels through the driveshafts, accelerating the vehicle.

4. At the same time, the motor spins the transmission, which also regulates the motor. This means it doesn’t overspin and generate too much torque too quickly.

5. If you decide to brake, the motor can spin in reverse and send power back to the battery.

Do electric cars recharge while driving?

Electric cars can recharge to some extent while driving, but not necessarily while accelerating. For example, by using regenerative braking, an EV can transfer potential lost kinetic energy into power for the battery. This won’t ‘recharge’ the car in the same sense that a charger would, but it can give it a bit more power, to journey for longer, if used intelligently.

How long do electric cars last?

Just like petrol vehicles, the lifecycle of an electric car can vary. Most manufacturers advise around 100,000 miles of driving time, or roughly ten years. However, many drivers have reported longer lasting vehicles than this. When it comes to battery degradation, the EV shouldn’t be affected – though the time it holds charge may lessen, which may in turn reduce its range.

You can only charge a vehicle’s battery at the maximum charge rate the vehicle can accept. For example, if your vehicle’s max charge rate is 7kW, you won’t charge any faster by using a 22kW charge point. The time it takes to charge will also be limited by the max charging rate of the charge point you are using. For example, even if your vehicle can charge at 11kW, it will only charge at 7kW on a 7kW charge point.