How Do Electric Cars Work

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Aug 4, 2021

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What You Should Know

  • How an electric car functions depends on the model, battery type, and environment 
  • Instead of using fuel, electric cars are powered by a rechargeable electric battery
  • Make sure to equip your electric car with the correct battery and undergo regular maintenance checks

Consumers are prioritizing sustainability in their daily lives, and nowhere is this more relevant than the cars we drive, as people increasingly consider, “Are electric cars better for the environment?” Electric vehicles are fast becoming the way of a more environment-friendly future, and for good reason: they’re fuel-efficient, low on emissions, and easy to operate.

But how does an electric vehicle work compared to a conventional car? 

How electric cars work depends upon a multitude of factors—battery type, environment, and even budget will play a role, especially when seeking an insurance plan. Follow this guide to learn more about how each type of electric car functions and how to best maintain it.

What Are Electric Cars? 

Electric cars are vehicles that are powered by electricity rather than fuel like gasoline or petrol. Instead, electric cars feature a rechargeable battery pack that fuels an electric motor. 

Unlike a traditional car, an electric car has no gas tank or internal combustion engine. Instead, they rely solely on renewable energy sources to function. When comparing the cost of an electric car vs. gas powered car, it’s important to remember that fueling your car with electricity is generally cheaper than fueling it with gas.

Electric cars are also unique in their makeup. The average electric vehicle will typically feature four key components: 

  • Battery Most electric car batteries are made with lithium-ion, nickel-metal hybrid, lead-acid, or ultracapacitors (a combination of liquid, electrodes, and electrolytes). The electric car battery contains the energy needed to operate the vehicle’s primary functions, such as starting and stopping the car.
  • Charging Station The outlet in which a car owner can plug in an electrical power source to refuel the car’s battery.
  • Electric motor A device that converts electrical energy into mechanical energy. With energy generated from the battery pack, the motor can control the vehicle’s wheels and other functions, such as braking.
  • DC-DC converter Converts battery power from high-voltage to low-voltage to operate the car’s features.

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Electric Car Types

Electric cars come in a variety of models. Some function exclusively on electricity, while others function through a combination of electricity and liquid fuel. When exploring how electric cars work, it’s important to consider the differences between them since their features and efficiency vary depending on the make and model of the car. 

There are three main types of electric vehicles to choose from:

  • All-Electric Vehicles (EV) – Also known as Battery Electric Vehicles, EVs operate solely on electricity fueled through a battery that can be charged with a standard outlet. They do not have an internal combustion engine or a gas tank and do not produce direct tailpipe emissions. Unlike hybrid models, no liquid fuel is needed to operate battery electric cars. 
  • Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV) – HEVs are operated using both electricity and an internal combustion engine. Unlike all-electric cars, HEVs cannot be recharged using a standard charging station. Instead, battery life is drawn through “regenerative braking,” which conducts energy by storing the kinetic energy generated when the car slows down. Essentially, the car recharges while you drive it. When it comes to renewability, this feature makes hybrids particularly effective
  • Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) – PHEVs consist of an electric battery and a conventional engine, which work in tandem to drive the car. PHEVs typically utilize the electric battery until the battery is drained. Then, the car will use the gas tank to fuel the electric motor. PHEVs tend to charge faster than other electric cars due to their small batteries, making them more efficient and convenient for the on-the-go driver. 

Charging Your Vehicle

How do electric cars work when it comes to fuel? Rather than filling up the car with gasoline or petrol at a gas station, electric vehicles need to have their batteries electrically recharged. 

EVs can be plugged in at a public charging point or at home with a nearby outlet. Many public spaces, such as hotels, parking garages, and retail parking lots, may also offer this service. Workplaces have started offering charging units for their ecologically-minded employees, too. 

How Long Does Charging Take?

A variety of charging stations are available with different voltages that affect the amount of time it takes to charge your electric car.

  • A 120-volt outlet is standard and typically takes 10 hours to charge 50 miles’ worth of energy.1
  • A 240-volt outlet provides a faster charge, accruing 15 to 25 miles per hour charged.2 

When determining your car’s battery life, take into account the type of electric vehicle you have. Your fuel economy label, which indicates how eco-friendly your car is, also reflects how many miles you can drive based on battery life alone, letting you plan accordingly. 

Maintaining a power level of at least 70 to 80% is adequate for routine driving and also preserves the battery’s longevity. 

Battery Life

In addition to regular maintenance, the battery’s longevity depends on the car manufacturer and the specific model of vehicle, but in most cases, the battery should last as long as the car does. 

However, the outside temperature can affect the efficiency of an electric vehicle. For example, extremely low or high temperatures can reduce a battery’s lifespan. Specific battery types like lead-acid are more sensitive to temperature changes, while batteries like lithium-ion are less affected by ambient temperatures. 

Luckily, when driven in moderate temperatures, the average lifespan of an electric battery is around 17 years, or 200,000 miles total.3 


In the case of battery damage, federal regulations mandate that electric car manufacturers include a minimum eight-year warranty period on their electric batteries. If the battery fails outside of the warranty window, you can still replace the piece, but it will be expensive.

Drivers also have the option of selling the battery to a dealership or scrapyard. In addition to the battery, drivers of electric cars must also periodically check the vehicle’s:

  • Tires
  • Coolant system
  • Windshield wiper blades
  • Air filters

Insuring Your Electric Car with 4AutoInsuranceQuote

In addition to equipping your electric car with the right battery and taking it in for regular maintenance checks and repairs, getting the proper insurance is a vital aspect of getting the car on the road.

Are hybrids more expensive to insure than electric vehicles? EVs can usually rake up higher insurance costs than regular and hybrid vehicles, but they don’t have to with the right insurance plan. Let 4AutoInsuranceQuote help. 

With our free comparison tool, you’ll discover affordable rates from the nation’s top insurance companies.  We’ll match you with affordable rates with three simple steps: enter your zip code, share your vehicle information, and view your list of customized insurance rates from the most reputable car insurance companies in the United States. 

Our blog can also answer your most pressing questions, like “What are the differences between hydrogen vs electric cars?

It’s that easy with 4AutoInsuranceQuote. 


  1. Environmental Protection Agency. Learn About Green Vehicles.
  2. NPR. Nice Car, But How Do You Charge That Thing? Let Us Count The Ways.
  3. Car Magazine. How long do electric car batteries last?
  4. U.S. Department of Energy. Alternative Fuels Data Center.

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