Electric vehicle 101.

An electric car is any vehicle that is powered by a battery that has been charged by an external electricity source. Electric cars have been in existence as long as gasoline-powered cars, but have often been more expensive than conventional gas powered cars.

Modern interest in electric vehicle technology started in the 1970s as gas prices increased, leading Congress to pass the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act in 1976. In the 1990s, concerns about transportation emissions led to manufacturers modifying models for electric charging as well as the development of GM’s EV1 electric vehicle. However, high costs prevented these vehicles from becoming commercially viable.

Today, concerns about rising greenhouse gas emissions and a desire to save money at the gas pump have led more manufacturers to focus on fuel efficiency and electric vehicle technology. Since the release of the Toyota Prius in the early 2000s, companies such as Tesla, Chevrolet, and Nissan have all released cars with electric vehicle technology.

There are several different types of EVs that you’ll see on the road today: BEVs, PHEVs, and HEVs. Read on to learn more about these different types.


Battery Electric Vehicles have a battery and an electric motor instead of a gas tank and an internal combustion engine. Sometimes EVs are also referred to as “All Electric Vehicles” or “Plug-in Vehicles” (not to be confused with Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles). They run entirely on electricity and do not produce any exhaust from the burning of fuel.


Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles have an electric motor with a moderate to large battery AND a gas-powered internal combustion engine. Some PHEVs operate exclusively, or almost exclusively, on electricity until the battery is nearly depleted, then the gasoline-powered engine turns on to provide power. Like Battery Electric Vehicles, PHEVs can be plugged in to charge the battery when the vehicle is not in use.


Hybrid Electric Vehicles typically have an electric motor with a very small battery AND a gas-powered internal combustion engine but do not plug-in for charging. HEV can have substantial range on a single tank of gas, but they still burn fossil fuel, produce carbon emissions and require trips to the gas station.

All-electric vehicles (EVs) have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. The vehicle uses a large traction battery pack to power the electric motor and must be plugged in to a charging station or wall outlet to charge. Because it runs on electricity, the vehicle emits no exhaust from a tailpipe and does not contain the typical liquid fuel components, such as a fuel pump, fuel line, or fuel tank. Learn more about electric vehicles on the Alternative Fuels Data Center.

Each year we see more EV models hit the market. There are all-electric sedans, hatchbacks, SUVs, pick-up trucks, transit buses, and even refuse trucks! It can be difficult to get a sense of what’s available, but the Tennessee Valley Authority has developed a tool that can help.

Internal combustion is wasteful

Internal combustion engines are relatively inefficient at converting fuel energy to propulsion as most of the energy is wasted as heat. Typically, conventional gasoline engines effectively use only 15% of the fuel energy content to move the vehicle or to power accessories, while electric drive vehicles have on-board efficiency of around 80%.

EVs require less energy to move you

Electric motors are more efficient in converting stored energy into propulsion, and electric drive vehicles do not consume energy while at rest or coasting. Additionally, regenerative braking can be used to re-capture energy during braking.


Electric cars are not completely environmentally friendly as there can be significant issues to consider related to energy and material use in the manufacturing process. This may include energy-intensive manufacturing processes or the mining and refinement of chemicals and materials.

With growing research into new battery types that source materials from more abundant and less energy-intensive sources such as sodium, though, we are hopeful that this will change soon!

Researchers at the Nagoya Institute of Technology, for example, are working towards more efficient and less environmentally-taxing sodium ion battery technology.

Electric vehicles require less maintenance.

All-Electric Vehicles (BEV) require less maintenance than conventional vehicles because there are fewer fluids (like oil and transmission fluid) to change and far fewer moving parts. EV require minimal scheduled maintenance to their electrical systems, which can include the battery, electrical motor, and associated electronics. Because of regenerative braking, brake systems on EVs typically last longer than on conventional vehicles.

  • No Oil Changes: BEV do not require engine oil, thus there are no oil changes (normally required every 3,000 to 7,000 miles, requirements vary by automobile manufacturer)
  • No Spark Plugs and Wires: BEV do not require spark plugs and wires, thus no replacement (estimated replacement at 100,000 miles on gas engine)
  • No Exhaust System: BEV do not have mufflers or catalytic converters, two component of your exhaust system that can fail and result in expensive replacements.
  • No Emissions Testing: BEV do not burn fossil fuels and do not have a tailpipe, thus they do not emit byproducts that need to be tested. States typically grant EVs an emissions exemption.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV) and Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) have an electric motor and a gas motor. Cars with gas motors still require the standard maintenance a regular gas-powered vehicle requires (oil changes, spark plugs and wires, exhaust systems etc.)

With EVs, usually the most strenuous maintenance issue for your car is going to be rotating your tires!

Car batteries are an expense that was not given much consideration up until the introduction of EV’s. Now, more than ever, consumers are concerned with the potential costs and inconvenience of replacing batteries that are not only expensive, but come in large quantities. The ultimate question is: how does battery life in electric vehicles compare to the life of a gas powered engine? Would replacing batteries be an expense comparative to, for instance, a transmission? First, let’s examine the potential life span of a battery used in electric vehicles.

In real world use, some fleet Toyota Rav4 EV’s, using nickel hydride batteries, have exceeded 100,000 miles with little degradation in their daily range, pointing to the very strong likelihood of a 130,000 to 150,000-mile Nickel Metal Hydride battery and drive-train operational life. Also, recently the first Tesla Model S exceeded 100,000 miles and is still going strong. Electric vehicles can therefore match or exceed the lifecycle miles of comparable gas engine vehicles.

An electric company, SCE, has been using electric vehicles since 2003 in it’s daily operations such as meter reading, field representation, service planning, mail handling, and security patrols and carpools. It’s obvious to many familiar with these vocations that the wear and tear on a vehicle when performing some of these tasks is much greater than simple highway driving, yet SCE is so impressed with their durability, their plan is to continue using them well after they have all logged 100,000-miles. If you have an issue with your battery early on, remember that most vehicles come with a factory warranty on the battery of around 8 years/100,000 miles. Check with your dealer for the particulars on the model you are considering buying.

The second thing to address is how much does it cost to replace the batteries once they wear out and are out of warranty? Currently, batteries are by no means cheap! A replacement battery on an electric car can cost anywhere from about $1,000 (USD), to a more common figure of around $6,000 (USD). If this is a concern for you, it’s something to consider when purchasing a used EV or Hybrid that’s high in miles.

A positive thing to keep in mind is that due to the rate that battery improvements are being made, at the time batteries finally require replacing there may be better and less expensive battery options available. There are also companies that sell used Prius (and most likely other brands), electric car parts including batteries, which not only supports the environment but also may save you a considerable sum.

SOURCE: PlugInMotorWerks.com

Many wonder how an increase in lead batteries could affect the health of persons riding in an electric car. This has raised the question: are electric vehicles bad for your health? Some studies are currently being conducted, however because hybrid and electric vehicles are relatively new there is no conclusive evidence to support nor deny the effect that electric vehicles may have on one’s health.

Fortunately, quite a bit of research has been done on the batteries themselves, since lead batteries have been around for decades, and lithium ion began the experimentation process in the 1980’s. Even more research has been conducted in recent years to assess the impact of the increased demand for batteries, as well as to assess new battery technologies which have recently been introduced not only to our vehicles, but also our laptops, and cell phones. The most common of these newer battery types are nickel metal hydride and lithium ion.

SOURCE: PlugInMotorWerks.com

Automobile manufacturers have identified three types of rechargeable battery that are considered suitable for use in electric cars; lead-acid, nickel metal hydride, and lithium ion.

  • Lead-acid batteries are the oldest form of rechargeable battery still in use. They’ve been used in all types of cars and usually contain a mild solution of sulfuric acid in an open container. The major advantage of lead-acid batteries is that, after having been used for so many years, they are well understood and cheap to produce. However, they do produce dangerous gases while being used and, if the battery is overcharged, there is a risk of an explosion.
  • Nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries have been used widely for about twenty years. They have a high energy density and don’t contain any toxic metals, so they’re easier to recycle. These batteries have been used, or are currently being used in the General Motors EV1, Honda EV Plus, Ford Ranger EV and Vectrix scooter. Hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, Ford Escape Hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, and Honda Civic Hybrid also feature these batteries combined with a gas combustion engine.
  • Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which have been actively used for about ten years, have a very high energy density and are less likely than most batteries to lose their charge when not being used. Because of their light weight and low maintenance requirements, lithium-ion batteries are widely used in laptop computers. Some experts believe that lithium-ion batteries are close to perfect when it comes to designing a rechargeable battery, and the best candidate for powering electric cars. A variation on lithium-ion batteries, called lithium-ion polymer (Li-poly) batteries, may also prove valuable to the future of EVs. These batteries have the potential of costing less to build than lithium-ion batteries. At present lithium-ion polymer batteries are inconveniently expensive, but that is quickly changing. High profile companies are seeking ways to manufacture these batteries with much higher volume and lower cost.

SOURCE: PlugInMotorWerks.com

Most EVs are powered by lithium-ion batteries. This is the same battery technology that is in our cell phones, laptops and other cordless electric products. At the moment, the electronics industry is the largest user of these battery materials, but as EVs grow in popularity, they will become a large consumer as well.

There are some legitimate concerns about the sourcing and disposal of these batteries which carmakers as well as electronics producers are grappling with. For instance, some countries who produce cobalt, an ingredient in many batteries, have histories of poor labor practices. Many companies like Tesla and Apple purposely source their materials to avoid those problems. Some newer battery lithium-ion technology does not use cobalt at all.

Battery recycling has also become more available and viable and companies are emerging to drive the recovery of these expensive materials. Finally, battery technology is one of the largest areas for R&D investment in the world today. Progress on new battery technologies is being made which will continue to make them cheaper and easier to produce, and will avoid hard to source materials.

Here is a link to a a good article from The Union of Concerned Scientists on this topic of the materials in batteries, but the bottom line is that the materials used to produce batteries should not be used as a reason to avoid switching to an EV.

SOURCE: ReplaceNow.org

Happily, the answer is yes — the batteries that power electric cars (and hybrids, for that matter) can be recycled. For decades, the few electric vehicles that were on the road were powered by lead-acid batteries. The latest models, with their lighter weight and longer range, use lithium-ion batteries, just like laptops and cell phones. In either case, the batteries that power electric cars can be recycled.

In the case of the older-technology lead-acid batteries, 96 percent of the materials in the battery — including the nasty lead — is recovered. To compare, only 38 percent of the material in glass bottles is recovered in the recycling process. They can also be recharged and reused before being recycled. Hybrid cars currently on the road, like the Toyota Prius, use nickel metal hydride batteries, which can be dismantled and recycled in much the same way.

When the battery packs in a lithium-ion-powered vehicle are deemed too worn out for driving, they still have up to 80 percent of their charge left. So before they ever get to a recycling center, these batteries are used to prop up the grid, especially alongside energy sources that may not be quite as steady, like wind or solar power. The batteries can store power to help the flow of electricity stay on an even keel rather than ebb and flow with the weather.

Since lithium-ion battery-powered cars are just now coming to the mass market, the recycling centers that can reclaim their components are still in their infancy, too. Toxco, a big lead-acid battery recycler, is set to open the first lithium-ion battery recycling plant in the U.S. Companies like Tesla Motors, which has had lithium-powered electric sports cars on the road for a couple of years now, already sends its spent batteries to Toxco’s current facilities for recycling.

When lithium-ion batteries reach a recycling plant, there are two ways to pulverize them. If they are completely without a charge, they’re simply shredded so that the metal components, like copper and steel, can be easily sorted out. If the batteries could still possibly have a charge, though, they’re frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed to frozen bits (cool!). The liquid nitrogen is so cold, the batteries can’t react, so the smashing is safe. And probably fun. Then the metals are separated out for reuse.

SOURCE: HowStuffWorks.com