How Does Regenerative Braking Work?

Regenerative braking has revolutionised the way EVs operate. Designed to enhance energy efficiency and improve the range of your car, the system is an absolute game-changer for electric cars.

So what is regenerative braking and how does it work? In this article, we explore everything you need to know about regenerative braking, focusing on how it works, the system’s benefits and potential disadvantages to your electric car.

Electric Vauxhall charging with a double rainbow in the sky

How does regenerative braking work?

Regenerative braking works by using the electric motor of an EV as a generator when the driver releases the accelerator or applies the brakes.

When you hit the brakes, instead of solely relying on the friction that brake pads provide, the electric motor switches into generator mode and converts the vehicle’s kinetic energy into electrical energy, which is then fed back into the battery for storage.

The car slows down and the normal brakes will quickly kick in, but not before energy that would have been wasted as heat in conventional braking is recovered and recycled to extend the vehicle’s range and energy efficiency.

The benefits of regenerative braking

There are loads of great benefits to using a regenerative braking system:

  1. Extended brake pad life
    By reducing the reliance on traditional friction brake pads, regenerative braking minimises wear and tear on brake pads, which will help reduce costs when it comes to your EVs MOT.

  2. Smoother driving
    Braking is pretty seamless, as the regenerative braking system automatically engages.

  3. It’s good for the planet
    As regenerative braking reduces energy waste and promotes greater energy efficiency, it contributes to an EV owner’s lower carbon footprint.

  4. You can save money
    Electric vehicles equipped with regenerative braking can help save money in the long run. The captured energy during braking means you don’t need to charge your EV as much.

  5. Increased energy efficiency and range
    This is the primary benefit of regenerative braking, it allows electric vehicles to recapture and store energy that would otherwise be lost when the car brakes. This gives your EV a longer driving range!

Does regenerative braking use brake pads?

The regenerative braking system itself does not use brake pads – it uses the electric motor of the EV to slow down the car. The EV will still use brake pads as part of a traditional braking system running alongside regenerative braking. So once the car has slowed initially thanks to regenerative braking, the brake pads will engage.

How much does regenerative braking help?

Regenerative braking can significantly help improve the energy efficiency and overall performance of electric cars. However, how much it helps you will depend on where and how you drive the car.

Where you drive: Regenerative braking is most helpful in city centres where there is a lot of stopping and starting. When you are on a motorway driving at a constant high speed you won’t see as much benefit.

How you drive: If you are good at anticipating stopping distances and rely less on slamming down the brake, you can benefit more from regenerative braking.

If you are looking to geek down further into the science behind regenerative braking, then check out the IOP Science working principles of regenerative braking document, this scientific paper fully analyses the operating principles of the regenerative braking system in electric and hybrid vehicles.

What cars have regenerative braking?

Regenerative braking has become a standard feature in all new electric and hybrid vehicles, here are Electric Car Guides’ favourite 20 EVs that use regenerative braking technology:

  • Tesla (all models since the latest regen braking software update!) 
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Chevrolet Bolt EV
  • BMW i3
  • Audi e-tron
  • Hyundai Kona Electric
  • Kia Soul EV
  • Jaguar I-PACE
  • Volkswagen ID.3
  • Renault ZOE
  • Mercedes-Benz EQC
  • Porsche Taycan
  • Ford Mustang Mach-E
  • MG ZS EV
  • Peugeot e-208
  • Vauxhall Corsa-e
  • Mini Electric
  • Honda e
  • Polestar 2
  • Volvo XC40 Recharge

InsideEVs tested the effectiveness of the regenerative braking of a range of EVs, this research concluded that Tesla’s regenerative braking system is still considered the best for EV drivers.

pair of new VW EVs in a garage forecourt
Most new EVs come with regenerative braking as standard

Are there disadvantages to regenerative braking?

For the most part, regenerative braking offers a vast amount of benefits, let’s look at any negatives:

  • Limited effectiveness at high speeds
    Regenerative braking is most effective at lower speeds and stop-and-go traffic. At higher speeds, the energy recovery through regenerative braking becomes less, and the normal brakes provide most of the stopping power.

  • You need battery space
    Regenerative braking relies on the availability of battery capacity to store the captured energy. If the battery is already near its maximum capacity then the regenerative braking system may not have anywhere to store energy.

  • Weight increase
    Regenerative braking systems will add a little additional weight to the EV.

What to do if your regenerative braking is not working?

If you find that your regenerative braking is not working then there are a few things you can do to try and fix it:

  1. Check the settings
    Make sure that regenerative braking is enabled in your vehicle’s settings. Sometimes, it may accidentally get disabled.

  2. Check your battery state of charge
    Remember that regenerative braking relies on the availability of battery capacity to store the captured energy. If the battery is at maximum capacity or low due to EV charging issues, the regenerative braking system may be limited or temporarily disabled.

  3. Software updates
    Occasionally, software updates may be released to address any bugs or improve the performance of the regenerative braking system. Double-check that your vehicle’s software is up to date.

  4. Mechanical issues If you have run through the above steps without any luck then you have to conclude it’s a mechanical issue with the system. In such cases, it is recommended to contact your vehicle manufacturer, or authorised EV service centre to formally diagnose and sort out the problem.

Do hybrid cars use regenerative braking?

Hybrid cars use regenerative braking in exactly the same way as fully electric vehicles. When the driver applies the brakes, the hybrid car’s regenerative braking system converts the kinetic energy into electrical energy. This captured energy is then stored in the vehicle’s battery and can be reused later. This helps with the range of the hybrid car and the overall energy efficiency.

Do the brake lights still come on with regenerative braking?

The brake lights will still come on if the car uses regenerative braking. Regardless of whether the braking happens with regenerative braking or traditional friction brakes, you need brake lights to let other drivers know that the vehicle is slowing down or coming to a stop.

Depending on the model of EV you have, you might be able to adjust the brake light settings during regenerative braking. For example, you might have the option to select different intensity levels or activation patterns based on how you fancy setting up your EV.

The final word on how regenerative braking works

We think regenerative braking is a remarkable technology that has really transformed the way we approach braking in electric vehicles.

By using kinetic energy electric vehicles can recapture and store energy that would otherwise be lost when you brake. Therefore regenerative braking not only extends a car’s driving range it also reduces any damage that breaking can cause EV brake pads and EV tyres, leading to lower overall maintenance costs for EV owners.

Regenerative braking is pretty much a standard feature in new electric vehicles and hybrids and is playing an increasingly vital role in improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and advancing the overall performance of electric cars.

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