What is an Electric Vehicle?

An electric vehicle (EV) is any vehicle that is powered entirely or partially by electricity.

EV’s can be categorized into the following main types:

Hybrid (HEV) – Hybrids have both a gasoline engine and an electric motor for increased fuel economy, but operates like a traditional car. The vehicle operates on the electric motor from idle to minimal speeds, generally up to 40 miles per hour, and runs on the internal combustion engine at higher speeds.

Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV) – Like a traditional hybrid, PHEVs combine an electric motor with a traditional combustion engine. Unlike hybrids, PHEVs include powerful batteries that can be charged with a plug through a wall socket. PHEVs have a larger battery than traditional hybrids, which increases the amount of electricity that can be used to propel the vehicle.

Battery Electric (BEV) – BEVs run on electrical power from battery packs, and do not contain an internal combustion engine. BEVs are 100% electric, and must be plugged in to charge.

Extended-Range Electric (ER-EV) – ER-EVs are a cross between a plug-in hybrid and a battery electric vehicle. ER-EVs run on an electric motor to provide power to the drive train but also include a gasoline internal combustion engine serving as an internal generator to provide electricity and to charge the battery. In most cases, ER-EVs can also be plugged in to charge.

Neighborhood Electric (NEV) – NEVs are Battery Operated Electric Vehicles with limited acceleration and a top speed between 20-25 miles per hour. They are legally limited to streets with speed limits less than 35 mph. NEVs are charged by plugging into a wall outlet.

Other forms of Electric Transportation

Electric Bicycles: Electric bicycles use a motor for propulsion and can travel up to 15 to 20 miles per hour.

Electric Motorcycles and Motor-scooters: These vehicles have two or three wheels and use electric motors to move. They are typically operated by batteries, but new developments in fuel cell technology have led to several prototypes. Petroleum hybrid motorcycles are also available. They generally reach speeds of 20 – 45 mph.

Electric Buses: Battery electric buses and hybrid electric buses are in operation across the world and are gaining popularity.

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Choosing Your Electric Vehicle

When deciding what kind of electric vehicle is right for you, the following should be considered:

How long is your daily commute?

  • Neighborhood electric vehicles have a range of 20-40 miles, and are ideal for trips within the neighborhood or for short commutes.
  • Battery Electric Vehicles are ideal for commuting and city driving, but travel cannot exceed 120 miles without requiring a charge.
  • All other electric vehicles are equipped for longer commutes and city driving.

Do you make long drives regularly?

  • Hybrids, Plug-In Hybrids and Extended-Range Electric Vehicles can all drive over 400 miles without requiring a charge.

Do you want to eliminate all emissions, or are you just looking to be more fuel efficient?

  • Hybrid vehicles operate on both gas and battery power, reducing emissions, whereas battery-operated vehicles are zero emission.

While an electric vehicle might very well be the right choice for you, there are still some things you need to consider before you drive one home. Watch ESFI’s Electric Vehicle Safety video for information about important safety considerations.

Public Charging Stations

As EVs gain popularity, the power delivery infrastructure that enables vehicles to charge at home, at work, and in public spaces is simultaneously being rolled out. By 2017, Pike Research forecasts that more than 1.5 million locations to charge vehicles will be available in the United States, with a total of nearly 7.7 million locations worldwide.

Websites such as http://www.mychargepoint.net/ can help consumers find charging stations in their area.

Electric Vehicle Conversion

People who aren’t in the market for a new vehicle may be considering converting their conventional vehicles to electric ones. While many conversion companies are beginning to emerge, there is also a growing market for do-it-yourself conversion kits. People who do not have practical experience with electricity should not attempt to convert their vehicle due to the danger of fire or electric shock.

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Electrical Vehicles in the Home

Electric vehicle batteries can take anywhere from 4 to 20 hours to charge, making home charging necessary for many operators to achieve optimal performance from their vehicles. As consumers get ready to hit the road with their plug-in and battery electric vehicles, there are considerations that must be taken to ensure that their home is ready as well.

Home Evaluation

Before purchasing an electric vehicle (EV), consumers should have an electrical evaluation of their home performed by a licensed, qualified professional to determine that their home is adequate for EV charging. This evaluation should include examination of the following:

  • Electrical Service- This includes utility lines and the electric meter controlled by your local electric utility.
  • Electrical Panel- Every home has a service panel that distributes electricity to switches, outlets, and appliances. The service panel is usually found in the basement, garage, or utility area.
  • Home Wiring System- The wiring system delivers electricity from the panel to the circuits.

Installation Process

  • A licensed electrician can determine if an electrical system upgrade or other improvements are needed to support an electric charging system.
  • Your city or county may require permits and inspections, which can be facilitated by your electrician.
  • Once your home has passed an evaluation by a licensed contractor or the local utility, the charging equipment can be installed.
  • Installation should be performed by a licensed, qualified electrician in accordance with all applicable local and national codes.

Charging Requirements

EV charging can be performed at three levels.

  • Level 1: Uses 120 volts and takes 8-12 hours to fully charge
  • Level 2: Uses 240 volts and takes roughly 6-8 hours to fully charge
  • Level 3: Converts 208 volts or 480 volts into direct current (DC). It can take as little as 30 minutes to fully charge. Level 3 technology is currently impractical for home-based charging units.

Components of Home Charging Equipment

If your EV has a smaller battery or you simply drive less, you can charge your electric car within a few hours using a standard household 120-volt outlet. If your electric car has a larger battery and you drive more, you may require a home charging station to enable faster charging. All charging equipment should be bear the logo of an independent testing laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL), or CSA International, signifying that it has been tested by a nationally recognized safety laboratory.

  • Power Supply Device (Charging Station): For Level 2 charging, this piece of equipment can mount on your garage wall to safely supply 240 volts of electrical power.
  • Power Cord: For Level 1 and Level 2 charging, this cord or cable conducts electricity from the power supply device to the charger or receiving unit onboard the vehicle.
  • Connector: This is a plug on the power cord that connects the supply device to the on-board charger.

Charging Safety Tips

  • Carefully read the Owner’s Manual for your charging station upon installation.
  • Never use an extension cord to charge the vehicle. Use of extension cords can increase risk of electric shock and other hazards.
  • Inspect for damaged cords and plugs, which could result in shock and fire hazards.
  • Charging equipment should not be installed in an area with heavy foot traffic, or near any materials that are flammable or explosive.
  • Outdoor charging equipment is weatherproof, but should be protected from damage.

Investigating Battery Safety

In early 2012, the safety of electric vehicle batteries was called into question after three incidents of battery fires occurred during crash tests. This led to a voluntary recall by the manufacturer of the vehicle containing the battery, which offered free repairs to update the steel and cooling system that surround the battery. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated subsequently that it does not believe electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.

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Electric Vehicles on the Road

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that by 2015, there will be more than one million advanced electric vehicles (EVs) on the road, which is in line with the goal President Barack Obama stated during his 2011 State of the Union address. Here are some key characteristics of EV performance to help consumers better understand these vehicles, which are becoming more prevalent on our roadways.

Driving Range

The advertised driving range of an EV that relies solely on batteries varies from about 20 miles to 120 miles. The actual range depends heavily on driving habits and environmental conditions. For plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, the advertised range for different models varies from 13- 60 miles between charges, depending on battery size. If the vehicle is not plugged in, the expected driving range is about 300-400 miles. If the vehicle is plugged in daily, as recommended, it may be possible to drive the vehicle 1000-2000 miles or more between fill-ups.


EVs do not require the tune-ups or oil changes associated with conventional vehicles. In addition, EVs do not have timing belts, water pumps, radiators, fuel injectors, or tailpipes to replace. Before purchasing an EV, consumers should check with the dealer about battery life and warranties and consider the manufacturer’s battery recycling policy. In some models, the batteries are designed to last for the expected lifetime of the vehicle.

Safety Requirements

Electric vehicles undergo the same rigorous safety testing as conventional vehicles sold in the United States and must meet the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The exception is neighborhood electric vehicles, which are subject to less-stringent standards because they are typically limited to roadways specified by state and local regulations.

Safety Considerations

  • EV operators should keep in mind the quietness of their vehicles and exercise extreme caution when driving through neighborhoods or streets where children could be present.
  • Battery performance diminishes during cold temperatures, making EVs susceptible to a shorter battery life during the winter months. EV operators should take this into account when driving in cold climates.
  • Be sure your vehicle is serviced by a professional who is experienced with working with EVs. Service professionals at the dealership where your vehicle was purchased are guaranteed to be equipped to service your vehicle.

Danger After Crashes

The high-voltage electricity associated with EVs presents new hazards for firefighters, first responders, and those involved in car accidents. The U.S. Fire Administration offers these tips when dealing with crashes involving EVs:

  • Always assume the vehicle is powered-up despite no engine noises.
  • Put vehicle in park, turn ignition off, and remove key to disable the high-voltage system.
  • Consider the electrical system unsafe for a full five minutes after ignition shutdown
  • Never touch, cut, or open any orange cable or components protected by orange shields.
  • Remain a safe distance from vehicle if it is on fire.

Training for Emergency Responders

The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Electric Vehicle Safety Training project provides firefighters and first responders with the information and materials necessary to respond to emergency situations involving electric vehicles. This training helps first responders identify electric vehicles and respond to common hazards. The project is being funded by a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Did you know?

Electric vehicles have been around for over 180 years. Though the inventor of the first EV is uncertain, they have been traced back as early as 1828 when Hungarian Ányos Jedlik made a model car that was propelled by a small electric engine.

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