Do Electric Cars Make a Noise?

Do electric cars make a noise? As the world shifts towards electric cars we need to understand the noises that EVs produce.

This article explores the various noises that EVs make, investigating their hums and whirs and the engineering behind their quiet operation. We also explore the artificial sounds that have been added to EVs for safety and why these are important for EV owners.

White tesla charging on a Gridserve forecourt

Do electric cars make a noise?

Electric cars do make noise while being driven, but the noise levels are much lower than the familiar roar of a petrol or diesel engine. The absence of a loud combustion engine in EVs shifts the source of their noise output to other components. Noise comes from the electric motor itself, which, while efficiently quiet, emits a distinct hum or whir as it converts electrical energy into motion.

Additionally, the electric cars tyres on the road surface contribute significantly to the noise of electric cars. As EVs lack the masking noise of a combustion engine, the rolling noise of tyres becomes more pronounced, especially at higher speeds.

Aerodynamic turbulence is another contributor to the noise of electric cars. As these vehicles slice through the air, the flow around mirrors, bodywork, and undercarriage creates wind noise, especially at higher speeds. The design of the vehicle plays a crucial role in determining the level of aerodynamic noise, with sleeker models achieving quieter performance through reduced air resistance.

Manufacturers have introduced artificial noise generators in some models. These systems are required by law in the UK, they produce synthetic sounds at lower speeds to alert pedestrians of approaching vehicles. This feature addresses safety concerns arising from the quietness of EVs.

What noises do electric cars make?

Let’s explore the list of sounds that EVs make in more detail:

  1. The electric motor
    The electric motor in an electric car turns the electrical energy into mechanical energy to drive the wheels and make the car go! Pretty important. When the motor is going it generates a very distinctive whirring or humming sound. Unlike petrol engines, electric motors are not very loud. Instead, it’s smoother and more consistent, resulting in quieter performance.

    The level of noise produced by an electric motor can sometimes vary depending on the type of motor used and how powerful it is. Some high-performance electric cars like Teslas can be louder when they accelerate. As EV technology continues to evolve, advancements in motor design, insulation, and vibration reduction can further minimise the noise produced by electric motors, making electric cars even quieter in the future.

  2. Noise from the tyres
    This is common in all vehicle types, not just EVs. As the tyres roll over the surface of the road they will generate noise, it’s unavoidable! The best EV tyres are designed to reduce this noise using special tread patterns, however, you will hear this noise more in EVs simply because they don’t have the roar of an engine and other sounds travel through more than they might in a petrol car.

  3. Aerodynamic noise
    Again another common feature of all vehicle types, aerodynamic noise happens as a car moves through the air. The shape, weight and design of the EV will influence the amount of aerodynamic noise made, as will the speed you are travelling.

Do electric cars have fake noise?

Electric cars do have fake noise in the UK. The government introduced regulations in 2019 to make it a requirement that all new EVs have fake noise.  Due to the quiet nature of electric vehicles, especially when they are driven at low speeds, there has been a growing concern for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and visually impaired people who may not be able to hear the approach of an electric car.

The fake noises made by electric vehicles are not always the same, it tends to vary between manufacturers and models. Some of them are simple continuous tones, while others have designed more complex sounds that change depending on the vehicle’s speed and direction. 

BMW even collaborated with composer Hans Zimmer to create a distinctive sound for their EV. The ability to customise the sound your car makes is an engaging feature for the owner.

Fake noise in EVs is not a feature that’s liked by everyone, some people have said that the artificial sounds are annoying or intrusive. As regulations spread manufacturers need to work out how to get a balance between safety and public acceptance.

Why do electric cars make a humming noise?

Electric cars make a humming noise primarily because of their electric motors and other electrical components at work. Unlike cars with combustion engines that produce noise due to explosions of fuel, electric cars are much quieter.

However, they are not silent. The humming or whirring noise you hear in an EV comes from the electric motor as it converts electrical energy into mechanical energy to move the car. Other components, such as the inverter, cooling system, and transmission, can also contribute to this sound.

Why are electric cars so quiet?

Electric cars don’t make as much noise as their petrol or diesel counterparts due to the differences in their drive systems. Here are some key reasons why electric cars are so quiet:

  • No engine: Petrol and diesel car engines basically work by setting off a series of controlled explosions to generate power. EVs use electric motors that convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, as you would expect the lack of ‘explosions’ means this doesn’t make much noise. During an Electric Car MOT the technicians are not required to check for engine noise, as they would in an MOT for a petrol or diesel vehicle.  

  • Simpler drivetrain: Electric vehicles have a simpler drivetrain with fewer moving parts than petrol cars. There are no pistons, valves, or crankshafts that make loud noises and vibrations

  • Fewer vibrations: Electric vehicles don’t vibrate as much due to the reasons mentioned above! So fewer vibrations mean less noise transmitted through the car and into the cabin

  • Regenerative braking: Electric vehicles use regenerative braking, this new technology captures energy as you brake and recycles it back to the battery. This process is much less noisy than the old-style systems because no brake pads are coming into contact with each other

Do electric cars have engines?

Traditionally, cars have been powered by combustion engines, designed to convert the energy of fuel into mechanical energy. This process involves igniting fuel-air mixtures in combustion chambers, where the explosion forces pistons to move, ultimately turning the wheels of the car. This method of propulsion has dominated the UK car industry since Fredrick Bremer drove the first car in the UK in 1894.

Electric cars, however, represent a total shift in how cars are powered. Instead of relying on a combustion engine, EVs have completely electric motors. These motors convert electrical energy into mechanical energy in a clean, efficient, and quiet manner. The source of this electrical energy is a rechargeable battery pack, which stores electricity to be used by the motor.

The motors use electromagnetism. When electric current passes through a coil within a magnetic field, it generates a force that rotates the motor’s shaft and, subsequently, the vehicle’s wheels. This process is not only highly efficient but also produces zero emissions at the point of use, contributing to the environmental benefits of electric vehicles.

Why do electric cars make a noise in reverse?

Electric cars make noise in reverse for the same reasons they make noise while moving forward: the operation of the electric motor and other components. Many EVs also produce a distinct sound while reversing to alert pedestrians and other road users to their presence, given the vehicle’s natural quietness.

This is particularly important at low speeds where tyre and wind noise are minimal. These sounds can be artificially generated and are often different from the forward motion noise to make it clear that the vehicle is reversing. This is an EV safety feature designed to compensate for the lack of engine noise that people traditionally rely on to detect a moving vehicle.

What are the current UK laws on EV noise levels?

Since September 2021, the United Kingdom has adopted the European Union’s regulations on electric vehicle noise levels, which require the use of an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) in electric and hybrid vehicles.

The five key parts to consider when it comes to UK laws on EV noise levels are:

  1. Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS): Electric and hybrid vehicles must be equipped with an AVAS that generates an artificial noise to alert pedestrians and cyclists of the vehicle’s presence

  2. Speed: The AVAS must make a noise when the vehicle is travelling at speeds below 20 km/h (12 mph) or when reversing. Above this speed threshold, the noise generated by the tires and aerodynamics is considered enough for pedestrians to hear

  3. The sound made: The artificial sound produced by the AVAS must be easily identifiable as car noise and should increase in pitch and volume as the vehicle gets faster

  4. No off-switch: The AVAS must be on at all times while the vehicle is being driven and the driver is not allowed to turn off the system

  5. Existing electric vehicles: Electric and hybrid vehicles that were registered before July 1, 2019, don’t need to have an AVAS installed. However, it is a good idea to consider fitting one as part of the EV service maintenance to improve the safety of your vehicle

Do electric cars make a noise when charging?

They don’t make very much noise, but EVs are not silent when charging. You will hear a few sounds as the vehicle charges from your home EV charger:

  • Contactors clicking: Contactors are high-voltage switches that control the flow of electricity between the charger and the vehicle’s battery. When you plug in the charging cable and initiate charging, you will usually hear a clicking sound as the contactors engage

  • Cooling system: When an electric vehicle is charging the battery will generate a bit of heat. To prevent overheating, the car’s cooling system can kick in to regulate the temperature. This can produce a little bit of a humming noise

  • Battery management system: The battery management system (BMS) is in charge of the charging process to ensure optimal battery performance and longevity. While the BMS itself doesn’t create noise, its operation may result in subtle sounds, such as low humming or buzzing, as it manages the flow of electricity.

Do EV charging points make a noise?

Generally, EV charging points are pretty quiet. The EV charging unit or station itself might make a slight humming noise as the electricity flows and other parts work, like internal cooling fans or transformers. Fast public EV chargers may make more noise than lower-output home units.

EVtronic public EV charger
None of the components in public chargers should create noise

What research is being done on electric car noise?

There is a lot of research in this field that is keeping the car sector moving forward and adapting the approach to EV noise.

Several studies have been conducted to work out the best sounds that will alert pedestrians that an electric car is approaching. The trick is to find a sound that is not too loud or intrusive. These studies have involved the use of various sounds, including simulated engine noise, beeps, and chimes. As far back as 2013 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) studied the various audio options that might work with pedestrians.

In 2019, a study conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that electric vehicles with fake engine sounds would lower the number of accidents involving pedestrians in comparison to EVs that make no sound.

The final word on electric car noises

Electric cars are much quieter than petrol or diesel cars, but they will still make some noise. Charging an electric car is also nearly silent, with EV chargers making a gentle hum as the electricity is transferred. 

The fact that EVs are so quiet does create a safety risk to pedestrians and cyclists who are used to hearing the sound of approaching traffic on the road. Since 2019 all EVs in the UK have been required to make a simulated noise, using the Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) system.

While some electric car manufacturers have developed their own unique sounds for electric vehicles, regulatory bodies have also established guidelines for electric car noise to ensure we keep pedestrians safe. It is crucial to keep developing in this area to prevent accidents and promote safety on our roads.

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