So ever wonder how electric cars work?  It’s an odd feeling for many to think that there cars out there that do not require them to stop at a gas station every couple hundred miles for a fill-up. In essence, electric cars are nothing more than the world’s largest remote control vehicles…without the remote control. They run strictly on battery power. Just like an RC car, they get plugged into the wall to charge and once they’ve reached capacity, they’re ready to go. But there’s not too many people who would feel safe riding around in their son’s remote control toy car. So what makes these electronic wonders safe enough and capable enough to drive down a major highway? Where do they get their power? What are the inner workings that make them so different as to not need the power of an internal combustion engine?

First off is the biggest difference – the power source. A standard gasoline-driven car utilizes an internal combustion engine being fed through a fuel pump in giant tank filled with flammable liquid. An electric car works in somewhat the same way, only instead of being fed from a line carrying fuel, the engine gets its power from a line connected to an array of giant battery cells, typically stored in the rear of the vehicle. These batteries are much larger than a standard car battery and maintain a much higher charge. Most of the popular electric cars, such as the Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus BEV, house their batteries in the rear of the vehicle. Unlike a normal car battery, which uses most of its power just for starting the vehicle, the electric motor batteries actually run the vehicle.

The next big difference is the engine. The electric engine is unique in the fact that it operates off what’s called a “controller.” The controller is like the fuel pump in a standard car. It delivers the power stored in the rechargeable battery cells to the electric motor. The controller gets its signal from a pair of potentiometers (variable resistors) which are hooked to the accelerator pedal. When the pedal is pushed, the potentiometers tell the controller exactly how much energy to send to the motor. The controller is typically the first thing you’ll see when opening the hood of an electric vehicle.

The engine in an electric car is also unique in the fact that it not only works as a motor, but also as a generator. When receiving power from the controller on acceleration, it powers the vehicle. On braking, however, the electric motor turns into a generator and delivers power back into the batteries. This would be like an internal combustion engine that could actually put gas back into your tank during braking. This process lengthens the charge of the batteries and, in turn, the distance the electric car can travel. The technology of the motor and battery charge differs from vehicle to vehicle. For instance, the Tesla Roadster and Toyota Prius PHV are rated to travel up to 300 miles on a single charge. Other electrics, such as the Ford Focus BEV and the Nissan Leaf, are rated for only 100 miles on a charge.

Like a standard fuel-driven vehicle, the electric cars utilize a transmission. The transmissions act the same way, distributing power from the motor to the wheels. The internal workings of the electric car transmission, however, can be vastly different than a gasoline-driven car. Most electric cars utilize a standard transmission as opposed to an automatic. Automatic transmissions are not as energy efficient, and provide a much higher drain on the batteries than a standard. There is also no need for a liquid cooling system in an electric car. Granted, cars like the Tesla Roadster and Toyota Prius PHV are still going to generate a significant amount of heat during operation. However, these motors are air-cooled, eliminating the need for anti-freeze.

The electric car is a new animal. As such, it is going to have its advantages and its drawbacks. Pollution could be a thing of the past with electric vehicles as there is no need to burn fossil fuels. On the other hand, filling up your gas-driven car takes only a few minutes, as opposed to charging your electric, which could take up to 22 hours. Only time will tell if the benefits of the electric-driven automobile will outweigh the adjustments which would need to be made to adapt to the many differences they possess.

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