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How Do I Charge an EV? Getting Ready for the Electric Revolution

Every driver is extremely familiar with the process of refueling a gas or diesel vehicle (well, unless you live in New Jersey or Oregon, which ban self-service gas stations). However, the process of recharging an electric vehicle is still shrouded in mystery for the vast majority of drivers. Whether you are looking at buying an EV or are simply interested in learning more about this fast-growing technology, here are the answers to all your questions, as well as some interesting details that you might not have thought about. While plugging in an electric car is no more difficult than plugging in your smartphone, the ins and outs of EV charging have a few tips and tricks that might not be apparent at first glance.

Where Can I Charge an EV?

Unlike gasoline vehicles, which have to visit a gas station to refuel, you can charge an EV almost anywhere that has electricity. EV charging stations can be found in parking lots, at businesses, and even at home. In fact, the vast majority of EV charging occurs right in the owner’s driveway or garage. While it takes longer to charge an electric car than it does to refuel a gasoline car, the fact that you can charge in so many different places makes owning an EV extremely convenient.

How Long Does It Take to Charge an EV?

How long it takes to charge actually depends on a number of different factors, but a modern car can be fully charged in well under an hour. While all gas pumps will refuel your car in roughly the same amount of time, different chargers supply electricity at vastly different rates, and that is something that you need to keep in mind when driving an EV. To start with, there are three different levels of charging to be aware of.

  • Level 1 Charging is really just a fancy name for using a standard 120-volt wall outlet. While it will take the better part of a day to fully charge an EV using a Level 1 charger, it gives you the convenience of recharging virtually anywhere. This system is best for new EV owners who don’t want to invest in a Level 2 home charging station.
  • Level 2 Charging is the most common style and can be easily installed in any home that is wired for 240-volt power. A Level 2 charger can fully charge an EV in a couple of hours, making it extremely convenient for home use. However, these chargers are also found at many public charging stations. Level 2 public chargers are best used for topping off an EV while eating, shopping, or enjoying another activity. If you are on a road trip, they are best avoided.
  • Level 3 Charging is an all-encompassing term for DC Fast Charging. These systems are only encountered at public charging stations and are intended to quickly get you back out on the road. Level 3 chargers range from 200-volt to 600-volt and can fully charge an EV in under an hour. This technology is still evolving, and we have yet to see just how fast EV charging can get. However, excessive use of Level 3 chargers will reduce a vehicle’s battery life compared to the more gentle Level 1 and Level 2 chargers.

While many drivers are concerned about how much longer it takes to charge an EV, the truth is that recharging is generally more convenient than refueling a gasoline car. Because you can charge at home, you generally never need to go somewhere to recharge. Simply plug in when at the end of the day and you have a full battery in the morning. Even if you are on a longer trip, chargers will often be located at or near your destination, allowing you to recharge your car while you are occupied with something else.

A man is shown holding an EV charger.

EV Plug Types

One feature of EV charging that you might not have considered is that, just like smartphones, not all electric cars use the same plugs. In fact, there are a few competing standards, and different vehicles from different manufacturers use different plugs. Even more confusingly, not every vehicle from the same model even has the same charging capabilities. This makes understanding the charging capabilities of an EV an important part of its specs, even if that is something we just take for granted with gasoline cars.

  • J1772 is the standard plug that you will find on just about every EV sold in America. It is equipped for Level 1 and Level 2 charging and is what you would use when charging at home or from low-speed “destination” chargers.
  • CCS1 is the current standard for Level 3 DC Fast Charging. This standard was introduced by Electrify America charging network and has since been adopted by most other manufacturers for their EV offerings. The CCS1 plug is actually a J1772 plug with two additional sockets for high-voltage charging, simplifying car design. Interestingly, European EVs use a different system called CCS2, which is not interchangeable and is based on the European Mennekes Level 2 charger.
  • CHAdeMO is an older DC Fast Charging plug that was introduced to America with the debut of the Nissan Leaf. This is the primary Level 3 plug in Japan, but the American market has been dropping it in favor of CCS1 because CHAdeMO requires separate plugs for AC and DC charging.
  • Tesla has its own standard for EV charging that is not compatible with any other electric car on the market. Tesla combines Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 charging in a single plug, making things simpler for owners. Tesla also sells adaptors allowing its customers to use J1772 and CCS plugs, giving them ultimate flexibility when it comes to charging.

How Much Does It Cost to Charge an EV?

Electricity is cheaper than gasoline, but how much cheaper depends a lot on where you are getting it from. Home charging will usually be the cheapest option for EV owners, but even then, the cost can vary depending on when you are charging. Many home charging stations will allow the user to schedule charging for off-peak hours to enjoy maximum savings. The cost of the charging station itself will generally run you a couple of hundred dollars, plus the installation fee (although any certified electrician can install a charging station).

The cost of public charging is more variable. In fact, many Level 2 public chargers are operated by businesses and offer free charging for customers. However, public charging will generally cost more than home charging, particularly if you are using a Level 3 charger. Interestingly, several states have laws against reselling electricity, so a public charger may actually be charging you based on the time you spend at the station rather than the amount of electricity you use.

On average, home electricity costs around 10¢ per kWh, while a Tesla Supercharger costs around 50¢ per kWh. To put that into perspective, a gallon of gasoline also costs around 10¢ per kWh. At first glance, it may appear that electric cars must cost far more to operate than gasoline cars. However, an EV is far more efficient than a gas vehicle. While a 2021 BMW 330i is rated for 30 MPG combined, a 2021 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range is rated for an incredible 142 MPGe. That means that the cost per mile for a gasoline car is several times that of an EV.

White cars are shown parked at EV charging stations.

How Do You Pay for Public Charging?

Paying for public EV charging is similar to paying for gasoline, but not quite the same. Tesla offers a particularly streamlined system where you simply pull up, plug in your car, and the Supercharger automatically bills your account, allowing you to pay online later. Electrify America, the second-largest public charging network after Tesla, offers a two-tier system. While you can simply swipe your card like you would at a gas station, you can also download their mobile account and pay from your phone. Other charging networks generally follow similar patterns to these major players – of course, that means that an EV owner may need multiple apps and accounts to access all of the charging networks in their area.

EV Charging Tips and Tricks

Another difference of charging an EV is battery management. Unlike a gas tank, a battery charges more slowly when it is extremely low or nearly full. This means that to enjoy the maximum charging speed, you will want to recharge roughly between 20% and 80% of the maximum battery capacity. While this generally only becomes important when hitting multiple Level 3 chargers on long road trips, strategically planning multiple short charging stops can take significantly less time than a single charge from empty to full.

Battery temperature also plays an important role in charging speeds. A very cold or very hot battery cannot charge at its full rate, but most modern electric cars come with advanced computer-controlled battery thermal management systems to keep battery temperatures stable. Some manufacturers, particularly Tesla, have special preconditioning modes that can be engaged to prep the battery for charging before arriving at a Level 3 charging station.

If you are visiting a public charging station, try not to use the same charger stall as another driver. This isn’t because EV drivers aren’t friendly – it’s because many public charging stations throttle down if they have to split current between more than one vehicle. One vehicle per stall means you can enjoy the maximum charger speed. Also, don’t forget to move to a normal parking space once you are done charging. Blocking a public charging station with a fully charged car is considered a serious faux pas in the EV world.

Explore the New World of Electric Cars

While driving an EV requires some different considerations than a gasoline car, charging is fairly straightforward once you get used to it. While visits to the gas station are a familiar fact of life for drivers today, it doesn’t take long to adapt to plugging in your vehicle instead. However, electric cars are still a very new technology, and charging is still evolving at a rapid pace. The industry has yet to settle on a single charging standard, and chargings speeds continue to get faster as new designs are introduced. As the EV revolution continues, we expect that charging will only become simpler and more convenient.