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What is an Electric Car?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 17, 2024
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An electric car is, quite simply, an automobile that is powered by electricity. These cars usually look just like their gasoline-guzzling counterparts, at least on the outside. This is especially true of gasoline-powered cars that are converted into electric ones. There is one thing that may serve to make identifying a car that runs on electricity easier, even before taking a look under the hood. Sound can help, as these cars are practically silent.

When someone looks under the hood of an electric car, he'll see some major differences from what he could expect to see under the hood of a gasoline-powered vehicle. It has an electric motor and a controller for powering the motor. Rechargeable batteries are used to provide power to the controller. In comparison to traditional cars, electric ones have more wires. Gas-powered cars, on the other hand, have an abundance of hoses, pipes, and fuel lines.

Many people think that cars that run on electricity are a new invention, but this is a misconception, as they’ve been around for many years. In fact, they were among the first automobiles and dominated the market at one point in time. In the early years of the 20th century, electric vehicles held records for both speed and distance over land.

The electric car is gaining in popularity once more as people search for ways to cut transportation costs and reduce pollution. They tend to be pricey in comparison to traditional gas-powered vehicles, however. Many predict that costs will eventually decrease in response to higher production volumes and improvements in the manufacturing process.

People who are interested in purchasing a car that runs on electricity might choose to buy one that has been converted from a gas-powered vehicle. There are companies that specialize in converting cars, as well as businesses that sell conversion kits. People should do their research before buying such a kit, however, to ensure that the converted vehicle meets crash safety standards.

The electric car offers many benefits. Top among these is the fact that a car powered by electricity does not require the purchase of high-priced gasoline. Instead, an individual owning one need only pay to recharge the vehicle’s batteries.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By kentuckycat — On Sep 09, 2012

@Emilski - Those are all good points. I think that's why hybrids are the best of both worlds at this point.

Unfortunately, I don't own a hybrid, but I've gotten to drive a couple for work. They easily get 75+ MPG, which is amazing when you think about it. Also, hybrids aren't nearly as expensive as purely electric cars. You'll never get stranded, either.

I have heard that the batteries wear out soon on some of them. Conveniently enough, it's often right when the warranty expires. Interesting how that works.

By Emilski — On Sep 09, 2012

@Burlap - You're absolutely right. I don't know why anyone would buy an electric car at this point. There just don't seem to be many redeeming qualities to it.

I was looking at them the other day, and I couldn't believe how expensive they were! You could buy a sports car for the price of some of them. Not to mention, I've heard it's kind of a pain to charge them.

My biggest complaint would be their traveling distance. Most of them can't go more than 100 miles without needing recharged. That's great if you're driving around a city, but anyone who does real traveling will still have to have a gas car and take on the costs associated with that.

By JimmyT — On Sep 08, 2012

I was no aware that electric cars had been around for so long. I know they came out with a documentary several years ago called something like "Who Killed the Electric Car?" I never saw it, though. Maybe I should find it and watch it.

I am really interested in learning about things like this, but there just don't seem to be a lot of good sources that lay it out as clearly as what's here.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 07, 2012

@NightChef - I think that logic is a little bit flawed, though. Yes, electric cars do eliminate the need for gas in those cars. At the same time, though, you have to think about where the electricity comes from.

A lot of people dissociate electricity from its source because it just sort of comes out of the wall. At the current time, though, the vast majority of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, and that isn't changing for several years.

Granted, the amount of fuel needed to produce the electricity for a car is still less than that needed in gasoline. People should just remember that because it's electric doesn't mean it has no impact on the environment.

By Burlap — On Dec 04, 2010

The reality exists when it comes to electric vehicles in the American society today, we simply do not have an electric vehicle that can compete in both economy and performance with our current combustion engine models. Until we actually see a vehicle come from a major manufacturer that has the ability to accelerate as well as travel just as far as their competing models will we actually see a turned towards the purchase of electric vehicles by our mass society.

Until then, electric car sales are simply going to be dismal. After many failed attempts of different types of electric vehicles, third-party manufacturers and obscure, fly-by-night operations will attempt to create products that are oversold and under performing. It's sad but true but we truly do not have an actually competitive electric vehicle on the market today.

By FrogFriend — On Dec 02, 2010

Electric car technology has vastly improved over the last two decades, and even during the 1970s we were able to see the advent of electric vehicles and their technologies becoming an actual reality for the American consumer. Small-scale electric vehicles like the ev1 electric car or the GEM electric car have started to turn people's opinion on the subject of electric vehicles.

While a hybrid electric cars are available the market today are an improvement from combustion only based vehicles, they are somewhat of a compromise that is simply not worth the extra effort and I truly think that manufacturers of vehicles should make headway into developing electric exclusive vehicles.

By GraniteChief — On Dec 01, 2010

One very commonly overlooked fact about electric vehicles that people seem to ignore when advocating their mass introduction into our society is the actual batteries that are needed inside of an electric vehicle. These costly batteries are not cheap nor are they cheap for our environment to be able to recycle. The heavy metals and toxic chemicals used to develop these batteries mean that we are introducing a nasty toxic mix back into the environment when these first generations of electric vehicles are obsolete.

The battery technology itself is another issue. While most of the alternative vehicles that are available from manufacturers today are hybrid electric cars, true electric vehicles are far and few between. Only a handful of models are actually available and only a couple of them are actually being manufactured on a wide scale and in production.

Until the battery technology overcomes some of the basic physical constraints of what it can output, we are limited in the use of our electric vehicles. Until then we are stuck with either expensive or under performing electric vehicles.

By NightChef — On Nov 29, 2010

The concept of electric cars is amazing what I can't understand about our economy today is why we have not embraced the use of them. It seems to make sense, that the utilization of electricity is produced on a mass scale would be extremely more efficient than a small combustion engine burning precious fossil fuels within an individual automobile.

I truly think that it is a public perception issue concerning the use of electric cars that people can't seem to get over. Once we embrace the concept of electric cars we will be saving our environment and generations to come the nausea and hardships of the damaged environment.

It seems to me that the misinformation concerning electric cars is what is making the public perception difficult for manufacturers that are trying to introduce electric vehicles. With so many motor enthusiasts caught up in the use of combustion engines and the way that they sound and feel, it will be very difficult to turn this tide of public opinion.

By russell2 — On Dec 03, 2008

maybe that you guys have some really great stuff. I need more on turbine motors the Navy, yes the United States Navy. there big boats used to run with a series of turbines and a little different configuration of transmissions.

and I would be loving it if I could complete my assignments In Alternative fuels class... UVU ( Utah Valley University)

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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