Tips and advice

How to charge an electric car

There are a number of different ways to charge your electric car’s battery pack. Here’s our comprehensive guide

We’re in the process of a transition in the way we think about cars – in just a few years you won’t be able to buy a car without a battery pack, and soon after that there won’t be petrol or diesel engines in any new cars. This means we’re all going to have to know how to go about getting some charge into those batteries.

If you think about how you charge your mobile phone, there’s only really one option: plug it into the wall at home. This is one of the ways you charge a car, but you might also need to charge it while out and about, at what’s called a public charger.

There are a number of things to think about when charging your electric car, though. You ought to be considering the cost of each type of charging, the speed it can charge at and the amount of charge you’ll need. Then there are even things like government incentives that can help make things cheaper if you can take advantage of them.

Best electric cars to buy

Keep reading for an in-depth guide to charging your electric car.

Charging at home

There are a couple of options when charging an electric car at home. The simplest is to use a three-pin plug like you would with any electric device, but the better way is to get a dedicated home charge point installed.

The former option is useful for if you’re away from home at a friend’s house for example, but it’s not a good idea to use this regularly because it’s slow and manufacturers don’t recommend it for long-term use. It can take more than 24 hours to charge some electric cars in this way, which shows just how slow it is.

Around 80% of all car charging is done at home, which means you’ll reap the benefits of a wallbox charger. You need to have a driveway or parking space where this can be installed, but it’s well worth doing for faster and safer charging. It’s also worth noting that the Government will cover up to 75% (up to a maximum of £350) of the cost of having the fast-charging point installed. 

You are eligible for the grant, which is called the OLEV if you own or drive an electric car – and Scottish buyers can save under another scheme called Energy Savings Trust Scotland. Bear in mind that fast-charging points can only be installed by an approved contractor.

However, you don’t have to apply for the grant. Some car manufacturers will supply you with a complimentary home fast-charging point with your electric car.

How long will it take to charge my electric car?

How long it takes to charge an electric vehicle (EV) at home depends on a number of different factors, including which car you have, its battery capacity and what sort of charging system you’re using.

The charger’s speed will depend on how many kilowatts (kW) it can provide, and how many your car can accept: the higher the number of watts the car can handle, the faster the car will charge. At home, you get a choice of two speeds:

  • Slow charging. Rate 3kW. If you charge your car from ‘empty’ (either at home or at a charging station), a full slow charge will take 8-14 hours.
  • Fast charging. Rate 7-22kW. A fast-charging point will take around three to four hours to fully replenish an electric car’s batteries from zero charge.

Public charging stations often charge at a faster rate:

  • Rapid charging – rate 43-50kW. More and more electric cars are now compatible with rapid charging, so if you own a car such as the Tesla Model S or Kia Soul EV, a rapid charger will give you an 80% charge in as little as 30 minutes. They’re not as common as fast-chargers, but the number of rapid chargers is increasing almost by the day. Tesla has its own proprietary Supercharger network for use exclusively with its cars.
  • Ultra-rapid charging – rate 50-250kW. Some cars are now able to accept up to 350kW charging, and chargers capable of supplying this are cropping up around the UK. These can add an 80% charge to compatible cars in less than 20 minutes.

It’s important to remember that not all cars are compatible with fast charging, either because their wattage is too low or because their connector doesn’t fit with the fast-charging unit.

Also, slow and fast charging can come with different plug connectors. Most slow chargers will use the Type 1 connector. This can be plugged into either a fast-charging point or directly into the domestic electricity supply via a regular wall socket. The other main type of connector is the Type 2 seven-pin connector, which can only be plugged into a proper EV charging point. This is more common on fast-charging cars, but you will find it on some slow-charging models.

How much will it cost to charge my car at home?

Again, this is entirely dependent on exactly what sort of electric car you have. Some – especially those with short electric ranges and plug-in hybrids – won’t need as much electricity to fully charge the batteries, so they’ll cost you less, but you may have to charge your car more frequently than other models. The principle is the same in a car with a small petrol tank – it’ll cost less to fill up, but you won’t be able to cover as many miles as a car with a far larger tank.

One thing is for certain, however, and that’s that it will cost you considerably less to charge an electric car than it would to fill a car’s fuel tank with petrol or diesel. We suggest that you get yourself on an Economy 7 electricity tariff because this means that electricity will be much cheaper in the dead of night, significantly reducing the cost of charging your car. Even fully charging your car from ‘empty’ should cost you no more than a few pounds if you charge it overnight on this sort of tariff.

Using public charging points

There will be occasions when the charge you get at home won’t be enough for you to reach your destination, or for you to get back home again. Under these circumstances, you’ll need to make use of the rapidly expanding network of public charging points.

How do I find a public charging point?

A lot of new electric cars come with a sat-nav system that will direct you to the nearest charging point. Alternatively, there are websites that list the position of charging points and can even show whether or not they are in use or not. These include Zap-Map, which shows the charging points nearest to where you are searching from, what sort of connector they are compatible with and how fast they’ll charge your car.

Nationwide, there are around 16,000 locations offering over 25,000 individual charging stations (as of August 2021). Many more are now being added every month, so there are now more charging points than fuel stations in the UK. Of course, a fuel station tends to have many pumps, whereas electric vehicle charging points may only have a couple of chargers. You won’t be surprised to learn that the vast majority of charging points are found in cities and urban areas, and are more sparse elsewhere.

How do I use a public charging point?

Most chargers use contactless card payments these days, although some public charging points require you to have their provider’s swipecard, or mobile phone app, to unlock the charging point. This will allow you to connect the charging cable from your car to the charging point.

Often, the charging point will include a lock around its cable to stop it from being disconnected (either maliciously or accidentally). You’ll usually need to use a credit card, swipecard or app again to disconnect the electricity supply and unlock the cable.

Be aware, however, that different providers may have different ways of operating their charging points, so it’s worth doing specific research into how each company works. This will avoid or reduce the amount of time spent in the pouring rain, trying to work out how on earth you work that particular charging point.

Which charging points can I use?

You’re limited by a number of factors when choosing which public points you can use. Firstly, there are a number of different operators that own the charging points. Companies such as BP Pulse, Osprey and Ecotricity are some of the biggest, but there are also a variety of regional ones.

To use these, you’ll often have to become a member, which means you pay a flat fee each month for unlimited use of that company’s charging stations. As different operators often dominate different regions, it’s wise to join a number of schemes.

Some networks charge a monthly fee, but others don’t charge at all. For example, Zero Carbon World doesn’t ask you to subscribe and there’s no charge to use its stations, either, while Nissan allows Leaf owners to use the charging points at its dealerships.

It’s Tesla that’s forging ahead with charging, however. It provides a UK network of hundreds of ‘Supercharger’ charging points for owners of its electric cars, plus‘destination chargers’ at hotels, restaurants and landmarks. Use of the Superchargers is no longer free, as the number of owners increases and the company looks to become more profitable. Tesla’s Superchargers now cost about 24 pence per kW/h to use.

The points provide what’s known as rapid charging and can give you as much as an 80% charge in just 30 minutes, which means you can stop for a coffee and be on your way again with the best part of the car’s full range. 

Charging on the motorway

Several charging stations are now available on the motorway, and the network is currently undergoing a huge expansion. Prices do vary across providers, so it’s worth planning ahead for long trips to find the most cost-effective chargers to complete your journey. 

Some manufacturers, such as Tesla, have introduced ‘idle fees’ that penalise drivers who stay parked in electric car spaces after their battery has finished charging.

Get the latest electric and hybrid car news, reviews and analysis on DrivingElectric.com

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