How do electric cars work?

Hybrid and electric vehicles typically have a battery positioned low in the car to either supplement power from the traditional engine or to fully power the vehicle. Electric motors are used to drive the wheels. In front-wheel drive models, the motor is placed on the front axle, while in four-wheel drive models there are two motors – one on each axle.

Hybrid electric

Hybrid electric cars – or self-charging hybrids - combine conventional fuel with electric power, but do not need to be plugged in to charge. They can run short distances on electric power alone and the battery is recharged by power delivered from the engine and through regenerative braking. When accelerating, the electric motor kicks in, taking strain from the engine and improving fuel economy.

Plug-in hybrid

Plug-in hybrids feature a larger battery pack and can travel longer distances on electric power alone. They can run on electric or fuel power alone, or a combination of the two depending on the speed and driving style, and the battery needs to be charged from the mains electricity supply.

Fully electric

A fully electric car has no conventional engine at all, being powered purely by battery and electric motor. These vehicles must be plugged in to charge – which can take roughly between one and eight hours depending on the charger – and are particularly efficient for urban and short journeys, although the range on newer models is improving.

Fuel cell vehicles

These vehicles take their electricity from a hydrogen fuel cell, which combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water. The cells must be refilled at special hydrogen filling stations and can travel several hundred miles from full. Refilling also takes less than five minutes as opposed to the hours needed to top up an electric car.


Hybrid electric

Plug-in hybrid

Fully electric

Fuel cell

Conventional engine

Yes

Yes

No

No

Plug in required

No

Yes

Yes

No

If you’re thinking of investing in a hybrid or electric vehicle, contact us at Birchwood Group today.

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