How Do Electric Golf Carts Work?

If you’re wondering “how do electric golf carts work,” you’ve come to the right place.

I’m not going to give you a full history lesson on the inner-workings of an electric golf cart, but when it’s all said and done, you’ll be just a wee bit wiser in regards to my favorite electric vehicle.

So let’s get this party started with a common but seemingly obvious question:

How do electric golf carts work?

Does a Golf Cart Have a Motor?

Yes. In order for a golf cart to move from point A to point B, it must have a motor. If you’re trying to figure out how a golf cart works, your first order of business is determining what type of motor is powering the vehicle.

If the golf cart is quiet when it runs, it’s probably an electric golf car.

On the flipside, if you can hear the engine running or smell fumes from the exhaust, you’re dealing with a gas powered cart.

Can a golf cart be solar powered?

Yes, there are solar powered golf carts. A new golf cart may come equipped with solar panels on the roof. A cart with this setup is actually an electric cart that has the unique ability to recharge itself as it sits in the sun. It still has an electric motor, but the lead acid battery series can be replenished throughout the day without being connected to the battery charger.

Eco-Worthy has a great write-up on how to build a solar-powered golf cart.

So back to the original question:

How Do Electric Golf Carts Work?

To understand how an electric golf cart works, you need to be familiar with several key components.

The Key Components of an Electric Golf Cart

I don’t want to bore you to death, but understanding these pieces of the puzzle with give you the best understanding of how a golf cart does what it does.

Plus, if you know about these parts, you’ll be smarter than the average golf cart owner.

Part 1: Golf Cart Battery or Battery Pack

Most electric golf carts have a series of six batteries that are wired together to provide the voltage needed to power the cart (typically 36v or 48v). A new electric cart may just have one or two lithium ion batteries.

A deep cycle battery is charged up and stores power when it is connected to a golf cart battery charger.

Part 2: Solenoid

A solenoid is like the heart of your cart. Your heart pumps blood throughout your body. If it’s not functioning properly, you’re in trouble.

A solenoid transfers energy (think: blood) from your batteries to your motor. Every time you press on the pedal, the solenoid goes to work. If it’s not functioning properly, you’re in trouble.

Part 3: Speed Controller

This nifty device regulates the current moving through the electrical system. Simply put, the controller keeps the cart under control.

Part 4: Throttle

This part controls both the solenoid and the speed controller. When activated, the throttle sends electrical energy to the solenoid and the speed controller, when then drives the motor.

Speaking of which…

Part 5: The Electric Golf Cart Motor

Unless you’re riding with the Flintstones, an electric car needs a motor to turn the wheels of the vehicle.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of engines, but it’s worth noting that there are different types of electric golf cart motors (both AC motor and DC motor options). Pros and cons exist with each.

How These Components Work

The process starts with lead acid batteries (or lithium batteries) that are holding a charge.

When you step on the gas pedal (though it’s technically not a gas pedal since we’re talking about an electric cart), the solenoid is a switch (or a relay to be more specific) that allows power to move from the batteries to the electric motor.

However, unless you have the pedal down to the floor, you don’t necessarily want the full power that the batteries have to offer. That’s where the speed controller comes into play.

The speed controller has the ability to limit the amount of voltage that reaches the motor. It uses electric resistance to accomplish this (look up “variable resistor” if you want to do a full deep dive).

If you barely push down the pedal, the controller will consume most of the electrical energy and turn the motor slowly. However, the more you push down the pedal, the less energy the controller consumes. As a result, more energy reaches the electric motor and your speed increases.

But what about the throttle that we talked about earlier?

Great question. When you push down that “gas” pedal on your Club Car, you’re actually pushing a rod through an inductive sensor coil. This coil regulates the speed controller and tells it how much voltage it should consume.

In the end, all of these parts work together to send the right amount of power to the motor, which then turns the wheels.

I hope that explanation demystifies how electric carts work.

Here’s my quick summary of gas powered golf carts.

Understanding Gasoline Golf Carts

Golf carts powered by gasoline operate in the same way that cars do. The cart’s wheels are powered by a small gas powered engine. When the engine is turned on, however, there is a significant difference between a regular automobile and a gasoline-powered golf cart.

When you turn the key in a car, the engine starts and continues to run until you turn off the ignition. When you step on the pedal in a gas cart, the motor starts to move you and your golf bag forward. When you lift your foot off the pedal, the engine stops. This feature saves gas, reduces pollutants, and helps keep the golf course quiet.

Troubleshooting Electric Golf Cart Batteries

So back to electric carts.

If you are a golf cart owner who is experiencing problems, you’ll want to begin troubleshooting with your batteries.

1. Inspect each battery terminal and make sure it has a good connection.

2. Check the distilled water level in each battery. Are the battery cells (plates) covered? If not, add distilled water.

Corrosion, age, and a lack of normal maintenance can all contribute to poor battery performance. As your batteries age, they lose their ability to hold a charge as well. As a result, they struggle to generate enough power under load.

We recommend doing a load test on these batteries to get a true picture of their condition. When your batteries are stationary, you may discover that they produce the correct voltage. But the instant they start climbing a slope, golf cart speed or power is lost. Older batteries lose their capacity to generate sufficient torque to your cart, affecting its performance traveling uphill.

It only takes one faulty battery to degrade your cart’s overall performance. As a result, inspect your batteries on a regular basis and ensure that your golf cart batteries are routinely watered and maintained.

Other Common Questions

Are Electric Golf Carts Better than Gas?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. A gas golf cart will give your more run time and distance, but an electric golf cart will probably cost you less up front and have less overall maintenance costs during its lifespan.

If you want to fully engage with the gas golf cart vs electric golf cart discussion, I’d encourage you to read my detailed write-up.

Can Electric Golf Carts Get Wet?

Yes, electric golf carts can get wet. However, you don’t want to leave them in conditions where they constantly have to deal with moisture. Moisture can have a negative effect on the golf cart batteries.

How Far Can an Electric Golf Cart Go?

An electric golf cart typically has 20-30 miles of range, depending on the condition of the batteries. I have a more detailed write-up addressing “how far will a golf cart go on a full charge.” Feel free to check that out.

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