Electric Vehicle Basics | Electrify Your Ride VA

Electric Vehicle Basics

Electric cars are showing up in neighborhoods across Virginia as more everyday people discover a better way to drive. Electric cars are more fun behind the wheel, less expensive to maintain, and unbelievably efficient compared to (last century's) gas-powered technology. And they're now affordable for millions of Virginia drivers. 

What is an EV?

An electric car, also called an electric vehicle (EV) is a vehicle that runs on an electric current. There are three main types of vehicles commonly called "electric," and it's worth knowing the difference:

  1. Battery electric vehicles

    Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) run only on electricity. With a BEV, you charge the car's battery with electricity. That battery then powers the electric motor, which propels the car forward. Since the car itself is not burning a fuel to generate movement, there are no tail-pipe emissions. Instead, the carbon footprint of a BEV depends on how the electricity that runs it is produced.

  2. Plug-in hybrids

    Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) combine a battery-powered electric motor with an internal combustion engine. You charge your vehicle with electricity and use it much like an all-electric vehicle. However, if and when you run out of charge, the internal combustion engine serves as a back-up. While running only on electricity, a PHEV's carbon footprint again depends on the fuel mix that generated the electricity. As soon as the internal combustion engine switches on, the engine's tail-pipe emissions add to the vehicle's carbon footprint.

  3. Hybrid electric vehicles

    Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) also combine an internal combustion engine and an electric propulsion system. However, HEVs are “charged” with gasoline; you cannot plug them in to charge them with electricity, so they are not strictly speaking “EVs." However, HEVs are more efficient than traditional internal combustion engines because they take advantage of technologies such as regenerative braking.

When we talk about “EVs,” we’re talking about battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).

EVs contrast with conventional vehicles, which run on an internal combustion engine: you add a fuel (gasoline, diesel fuel, or ethanol), it ignites and releases energy that is translated into motion. In the process, however, the vehicle releases carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. In Virginia, 45.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector, more than two times more than any other sector.

Why should I get an electric car?

Electric cars enable you to play a part in Virginia's transition to clean energy, as electric transportation is a critical piece of the puzzle that'll get us to a future powered by clean energy. 

Want to hear from real people why they chose to go electric? Check out our Testimonials page!


Electric cars undergo the same safety testing and meet the same safety standards required of traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. There are further electric-specific safety standards that must be met: according to the United States Department of Energy, these standards test to limit chemical spillage from batteries, secure batteries during a crash, and isolate the chassis from the high-voltage system to prevent electric shock.  Fun fact: EVs have a lower center of gravity due to battery placement that makes them less likely to roll over.

We can refer you to three sources of information about EV car safety, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and Consumer Reports.  Sometimes ratings are a year behind for very new models. What we recommend is that you consider a couple of electric models that appeal to you for reasons of cost, electric range, size, and other features. Then look up their safety ratings from the three sources we list above. Generally, you will find that electric cars are safer than their gasoline-powered counterparts. 

  1. Electric Cars That Offer Advanced Safety Systems

    Want to learn more about EVs and advanced safety systems? Check out this article by MYEV.com. You'll learn which cars offer adaptive crusie control, blind-spot warning and more!

  2. Electric & Hybrid Cars Have Better IIHS Safety Ratings Than "Gasmobiles"

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has shown that electric cars have significantly better IIHS safety ratings. To read more about it, check out this article by Clean Technica.

Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline-powered cars

Electric cars have a smaller carbon footprint than gas-powered cars, not just because gas-powered cars rely on fossil fuels, but because they're more efficient machines. 

A little background: cars can move because they convert energy from fuel (diesel, gasoline, or electricity) into kinetic energy, or the energy of motion. Efficiency measures how much of the energy in fuel is converted into kinetic energy to get the tires rolling.

It is impossible for any machine to be 100% efficient because some energy is always lost to generating heat in the process. Due to physical limitations of cars, some energy will be lost to wind resistance and rolling resistance from tires. But in general, the higher the efficiency, the less energy we need to power our car. In other words, efficiency means achieving the same performance without consuming as much energy.

(This has big implications for moving towards a low-carbon future. For every unit of energy we don't have to use because of improved efficiency, we are reducing our demand for energy and making it more feasible for renewables to dominate our electrical grid. It means we're doing more with less, or creating what environmentalist Amory Lovins would call a "negawatt.")

Gas- and diesel-powered vehicles are not very efficient because they rely on internal combustion engines, which generate a lot of waste heat. There are also a lot more moving parts in thermal engines, like fuel pumps, and they use some of the gasoline's energy but don't contribute to the car's motion. As a result, gas-powered cars can convert only about 17% - 21% of the available energy in gasoline to kinetic energy. You can see a breakdown of where all that lost energy goes here.

Fuel Economy Graphic

Regenerative braking, which recovers the energy that is otherwise wasted when we use brakes, has been instrumental in improving vehicle efficiency. Hybrid cars have this feature. Regenerative braking can improve the efficiency of a fossil-fuel-powered car up to between 21% and 40%. That means that even the most efficient gas-powered cars can use only about 40% of the available energy stored in gasoline.

By comparison, the efficiency of an electric car typically hovers around 60%, jumping up to about 77% if you include the effects of regenerative braking – which you should, since all electric cars use it – some better than others. Electric car efficiency is then four times better than the average gas-powered car and two times better than the most efficient hybrid. So by driving an electric car, you're not only reducing demand for oil specifically, but you're consuming less overall energy to travel the same number of miles.

This difference in efficiency has two big implications. First, it costs less to run a car on electricity than petroleum. Second, it adds to the environmental benefits of EVs.

Eventually, when electric cars are the norm, instead of asking how many miles per gallon a car gets, people will ask how many miles per kilowatt-hour.