Electric cars and how they work

As people become more and more environmentally conscious, there has been a greater trend to purchase electric cars, mainly because these cars pollute less than our standard gas-using vehicles. Though contrary to popular belief, electric cars can in fact contribute to pollution; it all depends on where you get the electricity for your car.

The basic inner workings of an electric car are pretty simple: a battery and electric engine. In fact, that is pretty much all that goes into electric cars that differ from a normal car, though there are other components that come together that make those two major pieces work as they do. These other components are a potentiometer and, depending on the engine, an AC or DC controller.

The potentiometer is what tells the controller how much power to distribute to the engine where the throttle in a normal car controls the gas flow to the engine allowing one to control the speed of their car. This does the same, but with the flow of electricity. Normally the potentiometer is tied directly into the gas pedal of the car, allowing for there to be no noticeable difference between a normal gas-powered car and one driven by electricity.

The AC or DC controller is the most important piece in the entire assembly. Its job is pretty self-explanatory, but you could think of it as a giant switch tied directly to the motor. The accelerator pedal would allow you to push the switch to an on/off position. That would be fairly impractical though; the car would go full-out from the start, allowing the driver very little control of the vehicle’s speed. Instead, what the controller actually does in an electric car is it controls the flow of electricity in such a way that the driver can easily manage the acceleration of their vehicle without the need to constantly pump the pedal to an on/off position.

AC motors and controllers have an advantage over their DC motor counterparts. This advantage is why the majority of cars on the market make use of AC motors instead of DC motors. This advantage is when it comes to energy regen. During braking, some cars have been built to recover some of the energy they exerted during acceleration. This is done by briefly turning the AC motor into an AC generator and recharging the batteries somewhat.

The components to an electric car are so simple that some people began converting standard gas vehicles into electric ones. While the process is fairly simple to achieve, it tends to be a rather costly one when compared to just keeping your old gas-powered car the way it is.

There are some problems with electric cars, and those problems are mainly focused on its batteries. The batteries for electric cars have a short lifespan of about three years. They tend to be acid-lead batteries, which are very bad for the environment. The batteries themselves are fairly heavy, limiting the function of the cars further. Though advances in batteries have been made, these advanced batteries are still too expensive to go into commercial vehicles. That is why the electric cars of the future are expected to be fuel- cell cars powered by hydrogen. It will be some time before these hydrogen cars of the future become a reality. Until then, enjoy this brief overview of the basic mechanics of electric cars.

Cover and story photo from Creative Commons