Electric cars — great, fun, quick, clean, smooth, quiet, convenient to charge at home and work. But wait, what’s life like with an electric car? How do you charge? Where do you charge? What do you need to charge? How do you protect the most valuable component of the car — the battery?
After living with an electric car for a month or two, there are a handful of basic intro points regarding charging an electric car that I think help to get anyone new to electric car life rolling.
1. Home Charging & Workplace Charging
At home, there are basically two options for charging your car. First of all, you can plug into any normal electricity outlet. Yes, a normal electricity outlet. That’s what they call “trickle charging,” because it just offers a trickle of electricity at a time, but it can still charge your car!
A preferred option for most electric car drivers is to get a “home charging station” or “EVSE.” One of these can charge the car considerably faster, and can basically assure that your car is at 100% every morning … except that you probably don’t want it to be at 100% every morning (it’s best to keep the battery charge between 40% and 80% — not that it’s not okay to charge to 100%, but like your computer, tablet, and smartphone batteries, the battery will hold up better in the long term the more you keep it around 50%).
Approximately as convenient as home charging is workplace charging. Many employers are now installing charging stations for their EV-driving staff. If you work a normal workday, like home charging, simply plugging in when you get to work and unplugging when you leave would probably cover ~99% of your charging needs.
2. Other “Destination” Charging
The convenience of an electric car is that you can charge it at your destination. The vast majority of charging is done at home and at work since those are the places people spend the most time. If you have charging options in these places, you just spend a few moments plugging in and unplugging whenever you need to.
Other places where you spend a considerable amount of time are increasingly putting in charging stations as well — hotels, shopping centers, grocery stores, IKEA, etc. Again, one of the core benefits is the ability to charge at your normal destinations (if they are progressive enough to put in charging stations by the time you are driving electric).
3. How to Find a Charging Station
Of course, you need to find these charging stations in order to be able to charge at them. The most popular service for finding charging stations is surely PlugShare, but EV Charge Hub is a very similar option with its own set of pros and cons. Choose your favorite — or use both!
Basically, these apps/websites show you charging stations of all types, varieties, flavors, and colors. If you need to find a charging station when you’re out on the road or planning a trip, they are the place to go.
4. Joining Charging Networks
Some charging stations are free to use and require no special membership — you just have to make sure you have a charging cord that can connect the car and the station (sometimes such cords come with the car, sometimes they are attached to the station, sometimes your car can’t use that cord at all, and sometimes you just have to find one on Amazon).
Most charging stations, however, require special membership and an RFID card or app. The most common such network in the United States and Canada is ChargePoint, but there are several others as well — Greenlots, Blink, eVgo, Aerovironment, Azra, SemaConnect, Circuit Électrique, RéseauVer, and Sun Country Highway, for example.
In Europe, common networks are Fastned (primarily in the Netherlands, but expanding), Pod Point’s Open Charge network (UK), Ecotricity (UK), GreenWay (Slovakia and Poland), PlugSurfing’s integrated network offering (Germany).
How you get a charging card varies, but you can typically register and order one via a network’s website or app.
5. But Wait, Which Plug?
Different electric cars use different plugs. Well, there are several different charging systems/plugs and most electric cars can use several of them. If you go to PlugShare or EV Charge Hub you can see the vast variety of options (screenshot via PlugShare on the right).
Typically, depending on the continent you live on, there are 3–5 core options for your car:
- A normal electricity outlet and cord (different in North America and Europe, of course).
- A normal “Level 2” outlet and cord (in Europe, I mostly use the Mennekes/Type 2 cord).
- A CCS or CHAdeMO “fast charging” outlet and cord (certain models are compatible with CCS, others with CHAdeMO, and some with neither).
→ Many auto companies give you the option to get an electric car without the fast charging port or with it for an extra fee.
→ If you have a Tesla, you can buy a CHAdeMO adapter, but there’s not yet a CCS adapter.
- A semi-fast outlet and cord, depending on location and model (explore the options in the list in the screenshot for more details).
- Supercharging — Tesla only.
At some stations, the cord is connected to the station and you just need to take it and plug it into your car (and maybe follow some instructions to start charging — depends on the network/station). At other stations, you need to have the cord in your car, take it out, and connect it to both your car’s charging port and the charging station.
6. Check that Your Car is Charging
Sometimes, you may think you’re charging and you’re not. Sure, once you get used to your car, you’ll get used to all the bells and whistles. Until then, it’s just a nice cautious thing to do — check whatever signals your car is supposed to give when it’s charging, check the charging station too if it has an indicator, and if you have an app that tells you when your car is charging, certainly check that.
Also be aware that it’s not common but there are times when you will start charging for a moment or even a little while and then a fault will occur and the charging will stop — this can happen at boring Level 2 stations as well as Tesla Superchargers. Again, the handiest thing is to have an app that notifies you if charging stops or that you can at least check remotely. Most electric cars and some charging networks offer this.
7. And the Cost of Charging?
Hmm, good question. There’s dramatic variation in cost. There’s a lot of free charging — of all speeds. There’s charging that has an hourly charging. There’s charging that has a per kWh charge. And there’s charging that just comes with a flat fee per session.
Again, PlugShare or EV Charge Hub provide information on this topic for many charging stations. Explore virtually before you actually need to charge. The thing to realize, though, is that the information is often provided by users, and policies on various stations/networks can change, so the information you find there can be incorrect or incomplete.
8. Help the Community!
Speaking of that user-provided information, it’s definitely a nice help if you participate and provide useful information on those apps/websites. If a charging station isn’t working, is working, has incorrect or incomplete information, chime in and help your fellow EV drivers!
9. Yes, You Can
Yes, you can charge an electric car in the rain — but if you are using a very basic electricity outlet or extension cord, you should of course try to protect the socket from the water.
Yes, your kid can plug in the car and unplug it. (Though, for legal purposes, I am not recommending this!)
10. Charging Etiquette
Last but certainly not least, if you are using a public charging station, try to follow perfect charging etiquette:
(1) If you don’t need a charge, then leave the space for someone else. (Or leave a phone number on the dash so someone needing a charge can quickly get a hold of you and ask you to move. EVANNEX offers some great signs for this as well.)
(2) When you’re full, move on ASAP.
(3) If you arrive next to a charging station in use, feel free to leave a note on the other car requesting that they plug you in when they’re done.
Some people say you shouldn’t unplug another car no matter what. Some say it’s fine to do if the car is no longer charging. Some say you can do it if you absolutely need to charge. Use your best judgement. (Note: Some electric cars can’t be unplugged until unlocked, so it may not even be possible for you to unplug them.)