How Electric Vehicles Work


Wondering How Electric Vehicles Work?

Whilst many vehicle owners will be familiar with how an ICE powered vehicle works, you may be wondering how an electric car or van moves.

It's a lot different to ICE, so here's our guide to the basics of how electric vehicles work.

And why not check out our guides to charging EVs and EV finance too!

    What's Inside   

What's Inside An Electric Vehicle?

Lift up the bonnet of a traditional ICE powered car you'll typically see an engine compartment filled with components like this:


It's a lot different with an electric car or van.

EVs contain only about 90% of the mechanical components used to move an ICE vehicle, so if you lift up the bonnet then instead of an engine you'll probably find more of the storage space that would typically be in the boot of an ICE powered car.

What actually drives an electric vehicle is mainly hidden from view and typically comprises:

  • A battery pack under the cabin floor to store electricity to power the vehicle.
  • An power inverter to change the direct current stored in the batteries to the alternating current typically required for the motors in modern electric cars and vans.
  • An electric motor on the front and/or rear axle to drive the vehicle (electric vehicles are often four-wheel drive).

The rest of the components required in an ICE powered vehicle, such as the air intake/radiator grill, radiator, fuel mixing system, engine, exhaust, starter motor, gearbox and transmission aren't required in an EV.

Here's what you usually get instead:


Most of the components are hidden from view, such as the battery pack, inverter and electric motors.

    How Do EVs Work?   

How Do Electric Vehicles Work?

With an internal combustion engine you:

  • Fill it with fuel
  • Mix the fuel with air and set fire to it
  • Use the resulting explosion to drive a block of metal called a 'piston' down a cylinder
  • Via linkages, turn the downwards movement of the piston into circular movement of the wheels

In an electric vehicle the concept is broadly the same - fill it with fuel, discharge the fuel to a motor and use the spinning of the motor to drive the wheels.

However, because a lot of the fuel energy used in an ICE vehicle is wasted generating heat during the explosion, discharging the heat and transmitting the power through the linkages to the wheels, the overall efficiency of the engine isn't great.

In addition, a lot of harmful gases are discharged when the fuel is burned, such as carbon monoxide ('CO'), carbon dioxide ('CO2') and oxides of nitrogen ('NOx').

With electric cars and vans the power stored in the fuel (electricity in the batteries) is sent straight to the motors.

Because the motors are attached directly to the wheels there's far less energy lost transmitting power to move the vehicle.

Not only that, electric motors develop their maximum power the moment they begin to spin. As a result, EVs have proportionately faster acceleration than equivalent ICE powered vehicles.

However, all that electricity still has to get to the batteries in the first place and to do this many power stations burn fossil fuels with harmful emissions like those of petrol and diesel.

Electric cars and vans do, though, have a way of regenerating some of the battery energy 'lost' when moving. The braking systems in EVs are designed to recapture some of the energy applied in braking in order to recharge the batteries.

    What's The Difference?   

What Difference Do EVs Make?

At the moment the jury is still out on the comparative environmental efficiency of ICE and electric vehicles, in other words the total energy used and the emissions produced to travel the same distance in each vehicle.

For the moment though, there are advantages to users of electric cars and vans due mainly to the way that electricity is priced and taxed.

As a result of the low level of taxation of electricity production, when an electric car is recharged the cost of fuel per mile travelled is much less than that for fossil fuels such as petrol or diesel.

However, against this must be set the comparatively higher purchase price of electric cars and vans which tends to rebalance the total running costs over the entire vehicle lifecycle compared to ICE vehicles.

You can use our e-Go! EV cost calculator to compare the running costs of petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric cars and vans.

Click on this link to try our e-Go! tool.

If your looking specifically for the impact of ICE vs electric vehicles on company car taxation you can use our Search Engine to track down and compare company cars with petrol, diesel, hybrid and electric power.


If you're looking for cars with improved environmental credentials then we can help.

From RDE2 compliant diesels to fully electric cars with fast recharge times, we can track them down.

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