Thermal management systems (TMS) are one of the key components of electric and hybrid electric vehicles to achieve high vehicle efficiency and performance under all operating conditions. Current improvements in electric battery technology allow vehicles to have relatively long ranges, fast acceleration, and long life while keeping low-maintenance costs and considerably lower emissions. However, the vehicle performance is significantly affected by the battery operating conditions. Moreover, the cell life cycle, safety, and possibility of thermal runaway significantly depend on peak temperature rise and temperature uniformity of the battery. Therefore, various TMSs are created to keep batteries within ideal operating ranges. In this article, three different TMS systems—passive cabin cooling (via air), active moderate liquid circulation (via refrigerant), and active liquid circulation (via refrigerant and coolant)—are analyzed and compared with electric and hybrid electric vehicles. A second law analysis is used to examine the areas of low exergy efficiency in each system and minimize the entropy generation based on the system configuration. Moreover, TMS systems are compared on the basis of battery temperature increase and temperature uniformity. Various parametric studies are conducted to compare the TMS in different ambient and operating conditions. On the basis of the analysis, the active liquid circulation (via refrigerant and coolant) is determined to have the lowest battery temperature increase (3.9 °C in 30 min) and most cell temperature uniformity (2.5 °C median) as well as the lowest entropy generation rate (0.0121 W/K) among the compared systems. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.