How does an electric car work? Demystifying the EV

An electric car is cleaner and cheaper to run than a conventional one, but if you're thinking about going electric you've probably got a lot of questions. Worried about flat batteries or whether people will hear you coming? In this post, we're going to tackle some of the most common questions about buying, owning and driving an electric car. If you're EV curious, why not join us while we demystify the electric car.

The basics

To start: let's separate electric cars from hybrid vehicles and conventional cars. We all know that conventional cars get their power from burning fuel. In a hybrid, the internal combustion engine (ICE) gets help from a small electric motor, which might be able to propel the car by itself. A plug-in hybrid gets a bigger battery pack that can be charged from the mains, giving it a bigger all-electric range.

An EV doesn't have an ICE. Instead, it's got one or more motors, powered by electricity stored in a big battery. If you've got an EV, you'll need to charge it up a bit more frequently than you'd put fuel in a conventional car.


How does driving an electric car compare to a conventional car? Turn the key or push the button and there's no noise, just a few lights to tell you the car's ready. Pull away and you'll notice things are quieter and smoother. Electric motors work well at any speed, so there are no gears to worry about. Although an EV's brakes work differently (recovering energy rather than just wasting it) they feel the same.

All EVs and hybrids have at least an accelerator and brake pedal, but some have a single-pedal mode where the accelerator controls both acceleration and regenerative braking. With that switched off, driving is very similar to a normal car. With it switched on, you'd only use the brake pedal for hard stops.

Performance and range

In many ways, electric motors are better than normal engines. For a start, electric cars are faster accelerators than a car with a normal engine (they produce their maximum torque from standstill). Electric cars are usually geared for good performance at normal speeds, rather than outright speed – they usually can't go as fast as the equivalent petrol model.

Even at everyday speeds, an electric car has a shorter range than a conventional one – anything from 60 or so miles up to 300 plus. Just like a conventional car, how far you'll actually go depends heavily on where and how you drive, but the details are different. In an EV, you'll get the most from the battery at slow speeds, whereas a conventional car is usually most efficient just after you change into top gear.

Because electric cars can't store as much energy as conventional ones, other uses of power become more important. Running the air conditioning, heating or lights all have a bigger hit on your electric range – it's best to get the cabin comfortable while you're still plugged in. With any car, you'll only get the expected range if you avoid stop-start traffic, and drive smoothly and slowly.

Charging ahead

Aside from a shorter range, the biggest practical difference between using an EV and a conventional car is filling up. You can brim a fuel tank in five minutes then drive for hundreds of miles, but it takes longer to get an EV back into action. The main reason is simply the amount of electricity they store, which is massive compared to what's used by a typical household appliance.

You can charge an EV from a regular home socket, but it could take well over a day to finish the job. Get a 7kW fast charger installed and you could recharge a mid-range EV like the Nissan Leaf overnight. Typically you'd start with some charge remaining, so it would be quicker.

Out and about you're likely to find fast chargers capable of recharging a Leaf in 2-4 hours, depending on their type. Find a rapid charger – in a motorway service station, for example – and you could get to 80% in 20-40 minutes; just long enough to stretch your legs and grab a coffee.

Want to read more about charging? We've got a whole page for you! Or if you're interested in buying an electric car charger – take a look at our GoElectric charger

Everything EV

Electric cars are the future: the new generation of travel. And as the UK leader in low-carbon energy, we’re here to get you on the road and ahead of the curve.

We offer a range of electric car options – from our stand-alone EV tariff all the way up to our complete option that includes our tariff, charger and an electric car lease. Enjoy 10,000 miles free for a year or a free charger when you go electric with us(1).

A new era of travel starts here. Are you ready?

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