Basic Electric Car Specs & Terms Explained



Many motorists have a difficult time as it is comparing the performance specifications of conventionally powered cars and crossovers. Though some, like horsepower and torque, carry over into the brave new world of electric-powered vehicles, there are several new terms with which you’ll want to at least become familiar when shopping for a new or used battery-powered model.

Here’s a quick look at the terms you’ll commonly encounter with regard to electric vehicles, many of which you’ll find in the extensive (and free) used-EV listings here on


Short for ampere, this is a unit of electricity that refers to the steady current produced by one volt applied across a resistance of one ohm.


An essential EV component, this is an electric storage unit in which chemical energy is converted into electricity and used as a source of power. Federal regulations require automakers to cover EV batteries under warranty for at least eight years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first). See also Lithium-Ion Battery.


The process of replenishing an electric vehicle’s battery with electricity; this can either be accomplished at home via a standard wall outlet or a 220-volt line, or via a public or workplace-based charging station.


See Level 3 Charging.


Short for “electric vehicle,” it refers to any mode of transportation that uses one or more electric motors powered a rechargeable battery for propulsion. It’s alternatively called BEV, for “battery electric vehicle.”


This is a measurement of an engine or motor’s maximum power output; an electric motor’s output can also be expressed in terms of kilowatts (kW).


Short for “internal combustion engine,” this acronym describes any vehicle that runs on fossil fuels.


A measurement of electrical power, usually abbreviated as “kW.” When used to express an electric motor’s maximum output, this is roughly equivalent to 1.34 horsepower.


Short for “kilowatts per hour,” this is a measurement of electricity that’s equivalent to the amount of energy expended in one hour by one kilowatt of power. An EV’s battery capacity is expressed in terms of kWh. The Environmental Protection Agency uses the number of kilowatts per hour needed to run a vehicle for 100 miles (shortened to “kWh/100 mi”) to express an EV’s energy consumption.


The slowest way to charge an electric vehicle, Level 1 charging uses a standard 110-volt wall outlet. Depending on the model it may take between 8-24 hours to fully replenish a drained battery.


Level 2 charging, accomplished via a dedicated 240-volt electric circuit like those used for large electric appliances, roughly slashes charging time in half over Level 1 charging. You can have a Level 2 unit installed by a professional electrician at home, and it’s the type of charging used most often in public and workplace charging stations.


This is the quickest way to replenish an EV’s battery, though it’s limited to what is still a relative handful of public charging stations. Also called DC Fast Charging, it’s able to bring a depleted battery up to an 80% charge in around a half hour. If you’re taking an extended road with an EV, you’ll want to plan the route around the availability of Level 3 pubic charging stations.


This is a type of high-energy rechargeable battery, used in EVs and other products like laptop computers, that leverages lithium ions as a key component of its electrochemistry.


This is a miles-per-gallon equivalent measurement the Environmental Protection Agency created to help consumers compare an electric car’s energy consumption with those that run on fossil fuel. MPGe is calculated based on a conversion factor of 33.705 kilowatt-hours of electricity equaling one gallon of gasoline.


The number of miles an EV can travel before the battery becomes fully depleted.


A system used in EVs (and hybrid-powered cars) that recovers energy otherwise lost during deceleration and braking and sends it back to the battery pack to help maintain a charge. Some EVs, like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf, can maximize the regenerative braking effect to slow down – and even bring the vehicle to a stop – without using the brakes. This is commonly called “one pedal” driving.


Also called a “range-extended electric vehicle,” this refers to an EV with a small gasoline engine that kicks in to run a generator that, in turn, operates the motor once the battery becomes depleted. At that point the vehicle’s operating range is limited only by the amount of gas in the tank. This effectively eliminates worry over being stranded at the side of the road with a dead battery, which is often called “range anxiety.” The BMW i3 is available as both a pure EV and a REX.


Also known by the acronym SOC, it refers to the meter on an EV’s instrument panel that displays the current battery level as a percentage.


Torque is officially defined as the twisting force that causes rotation. It’s the force you feel when you’re pressed into your seat as a vehicle accelerates aggressively. Electric motors deliver 100% of their available torque instantaneously, which enables fast launches and strong passing abilities. Having a higher torque rating otherwise makes an engine or motor with limited horsepower feel quicker.


This abbreviation stands for “zero emissions vehicle,” which means it produces no tailpipe emissions. All pure electric vehicles are of the ZEV variety.


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18 Comments on "Basic Electric Car Specs & Terms Explained"

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kWh is kilowatt hours, a measure of energy, not kilowatts per hour. kWh could also be expressed in joules.

One Kilowatt-Hour equals 3,600,000 Joules, since 1 watt of power for 1 second of time is equal to 1 joule of energy.

Funny how they use a term like “rex” that applies to only 1 car yet leave out PHEV which applies to many. Hmmm.

Yes, this is a rather ill-informed lexicon. It incorrectly defines BEV as just another name for EV, when it’s a specific type of EV… as is PHEV, which is nowhere mentioned.

And it includes the seriously outdated term “Level 3 charging”.

Strange that IEVs chose to run an article with such obvious misinformation.

Watt’s an ohm? :p

Ohm my, this joke hertz.

Ohm is 1/2 of that dasturdly team of mean Aliens called the VOLTOHMS THAT ARE sure to attack earth any moment.

You refer to “110-volt” and “220-volt” as well as “240-volt”. In North America, residential power is 120 V and 240 V with many public chargers powered by 208 V commercial power.

kWh is not short for “kilowatts per hour”, a meaningless value whose abbreviation would be kW/h. kWh is short for “kilowatt-hour”.

Both AC and DC North American charging standards include “Level 1” and “Level 2”. Your “Level 1 Charging” and “Level 2 Charging” descriptions apply to AC Level 1 and AC Level 2 charging.

There is no “Level 3 Charging” standard yet! Please don’t continue this erroneous description because a DC Level 3 standard will likely exist to cover 800-900 V charging. There’s probably little reason to describe “DC Level 1 Charging” and “DC Level 2 Charging” because they differ only by charging power. Instead of “Level 3 Charging”, this should be “DC Fast Charging”. You could mention that DC Fast Charging is sometimes erroneously described as Level 3 charging.

These inaccuracies will lead to further confusion rather than to clarify as you intended.

1).Manufacturers still use the term ‘Level 3’, although yes, the current in-vogue phrase is dc FAST charge, or DCFC. The only reason the confusion exists is that the GOOFS at the SAE , like little kids, couldn’t make up their minds, and have now decided that Level 3 now means something else – and they ‘simplified’ it since now there are different level 3’s. 2). You’ve got some confusion yourself. Residential power supplied by my utility legally must be (although in my neighborhood, the UTILITY supplies 3rd world style electricity in the summertime due to 5 big reasons which I won’t get into here) 114 volts – 123 volts over a 60 second integrated average, with the exception in Network Areas they are allowed to be 4% higher (system voltage there is 125Y/216), at the point of legal demarcation (change of ownership between the utility and the customer). ‘System Excursion’ at the utilization point (i.e. where you plug your car in) is supposed to be 105-125, or 190-250 – depending on what system the wall box is connected to. Therefore, if someone wants to call their wall receptacle 105, 110, 115, 117, 120, or 125 for a receptacle that is… Read more »

If I may suggest for the levels of charging instead on the 8 – 24 hours for only Level 1, which is based on battery size and amps, list a more relatable 3-5 miles of charge. For Level 2 8-30 Miles per hour, and level 3 as 30-400 miles per hour.

The biggest issue that is leading to much consternation among new owners is the decision by manufacturers to treat estimated range like the gas gauge. Forums are rife with -“My XX is only charging to XX miles! Something is wrong with my battery!” While available range is indeed very important, I think the customer would be better served by having a gauge showing actual kWh. And manufacturers should be required to label/disclose usable kWh available in addition to pack capacity (BMW has been very good about this with the i3). I think the notion that people can’t wrap there head around what a kWh is nonsense. Gas is sold by the gallon, electricity is sold by the kWh. ICE vehicles are rated at MPG, EV’s should be rated at m/kWh (the current EPA range is calculated from kwH/100 miles which is easily converted – but it does include charging losses). While watt hours per mile is perhaps a better metric, mpkWh fits in with how people have learned the subject and is easily translatable. Tank capacity x mpg = range Battery capacity x mpkWh = range It’s a format and concept that people are used to and highlights the direct… Read more »

Really? KWH is kW per hour???? be nice if people understood what they were writing about.

A Watt is energy per time

a Watt-hour is energy per time x time = energy.

A watt per time is meaningless.

PLEASE correct your definition.
It should read:
Short for “Kilowatt-Hour,” this is a measurement of electricity that’s equivalent to the amount of energy expended in one hour by one kilowatt of power. An EV’s battery capacity is expressed in terms of kWh. The Environmental Protection Agency uses the number kilowatt-hour needed to run a vehicle for 100 miles (shortened to “kWh/100 mi”) to express an EV’s energy consumption.

TMS – Thermal management system.

Kilowatt-hour people have already corrected this

EV inludes PHEV, FCEV, and BEV, but not plain hybrids.

Level 3 does not equal DCFC.

Regenerative braking does not bring a car to a full stop. In order to work there must be motion. In One Pedal Braking, regenerative breaking slows the car until very low speeds then friction brakes automatically take over to bring the car to a complete stop.

Torque is not the force that presses you into your seat even if it is at the start of the chain of events that cause you to be pressed into the back of your seat

ZEV also includes hydrogen the fuel cell (HFCEV).

“ZEV also includes hydrogen the fuel cell (HFCEV).”

Well, it would also include wind-powered vehicles, and perhaps ones powered by springs, rubber bands, and other esoteric “motors”.

But in such a short article, there isn’t much point in mentioning fool cell cars (or other rare overgrown science experiments), which won’t be in production much longer.

No, none of those have electric motors. You know, the “E” in EV.

Not all EV’s use friction brakes to completely stop. I know that our i3 does not because I can always hear the friction brakes due to their infrequent use and the resulting rusty rotors. An i3 must apply a bit of reverse electrical power to the motor to completely stop.

Do not forget C (or C rate).
C is the rate a battery is charged/discharged.
Probably matters more for charging, though discharge will matter as more and more race cars move to EV.