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EV Basics: Level 2 vs. Level 3 Charging

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by Nick Versaw Updated April 8th, 2022

Level 2 vs level 3 charging: woman on the phone and drinking coffee while waiting for her car to finish charging

From color to cargo room to finding the financing package that works for you, choosing a new car can be hard enough. And when it comes to picking a new or pre-owned electric vehicle, you’ll have even more decisions to make, including which electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) is right for you. Thankfully, it’s not as confusing as it seems — EVSE is just the technical name for a charging station or EV charger. If you’re in the market for a new or pre-owned EV, you already know that recharging one is slightly more complex than pulling over at the nearest gas station.

There are three different levels of EV charging: Level 1 is the slowest, Level 2 is in the middle, and Level 3 is the fastest. We’ve covered Level 1 vs. Level 2 here. In this article, we’ll illustrate the differences between Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging equipment, the difference in cost, and who each type of charging is best suited to.

Level 2 EV Chargers

What’s the main difference when it comes to Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging? Power. Level 2 chargers have a smaller power output than Level 3 chargers. That said, Level 2 chargers are much more effective at charging EVs than the basic Level 1 chargers that come with new electric cars and plug directly into standard outlets.

Power Output

Level 2 chargers operate on alternating current (AC) power, similar to most residential power grids. Level 2 EVSE offers a power output of 12-80 amps, and operates on the same amount of voltage as a modern appliance like a dishwasher — approximately 240 volts.

EV Charging Time

Precise EV charging times can vary on the type of EV, climate conditions, and length of charge. That said, it’s widely accepted that a Level 2 charging station can charge a standard EV battery to a full charge in about four to 10 hours, making them the second-fastest way of charging an electric vehicle.

Cost and Installation

As of this writing, the cost of a Level 2 EV charger ranges from $350-$900 depending on which make and model you choose. Some Level 2 chargers are no-frills machines that simply charge your vehicle, while others have smart features that allow you to monitor your charging time and rates from a mobile device. 

You must have a Level 2 charger installed by a professional electrician, who in some instances may need to make adjustments to your home power grid for the charger to safely function. As of this writing, the cost of a Level 2 charger installation can range from as low as $160 to as high as $2,200.

Best Suited For

Level 2 EV chargers suit just about any and all EV drivers, so it will be no surprise to learn that they are the most commonly used home charging stations. In fact, about 80% of EV drivers in the United States charge their vehicles at home using either a Level 1 or Level 2 charger. Level 2 chargers are great for those who drive both short and long distances and who utilize their EV as their sole means of transportation.

When it comes to home charging, Level 2 chargers are the popular choice because they charge EVs much quicker than Level 1 chargers that can be plugged directly into a household outlet. The relative affordability of Level 2 chargers makes them easily accessible, and their reasonable charging times mean you’ll never have to wait too long to “fill up.”

Level 3 EV Chargers

Level 2 vs level 3 charging: man holding an EV charger

When it comes to Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging, there’s no doubt which one is more powerful: Level 3. This type of charger is the fastest charging system available. However, the tremendous power utilized by Level 3 has one significant drawback: They are too powerful to install onto residential power grids. If you’re looking to install a Level 3 charging system at home, you’re out of luck. But that doesn’t mean they’re not great options when you’re on the road.

Power Output

Level 3 charging stations utilize between a 400- to 900-volt direct current (DC), which is why they’re also called DC Fast Chargers. The amount of electricity needed to use them isn’t always readily available, which is why they’re only utilized at specific charging sites.

EV Charging Time

A Level 3 DC Fast Charger can provide an average of 100 miles of charge per hour, far and away the fastest EV charging time currently available. DC charging can fully charge some EV car batteries in about 30 minutes.

Cost and Installation

Given the large amount of power they utilize, Level 3 chargers cost much more than their Level 2 and Level 1 counterparts. A single Level 3 charger and installation can cost as much as $50,000. These huge costs are also why Level 3 chargers are the common choice of both public charging stations and privately owned charging companies. The EV charging network Chargepoint and the Tesla Supercharger network use Level 3 chargers.

While purchasing a Level 3 charger is very expensive, using one isn’t. Recharging an EV battery at a Level 3 charger costs between $10 and $30. 

Best Suited For

Fast charging stations are best suited for EV drivers looking to “refuel” during road trips that take them a long distance from their home charger. Level 3 EV charging stations are also increasingly popular at prominent destinations like hotel and stadium parking lots.

Automakers like Tesla are increasingly looking for ways to monetize their charging networks. They often leverage residential, dining, and commercial properties to install destination chargers as a way to attract clientele.

Alternatives to Level 2 and Level 3 Charging

Man using his phone while waiting for his car to finish charging

If you’re looking for an alternative to Level 2 vs. Level 3 charging, the pickings are slim. Every EV comes with a Level 1 charging cable that’s capable of being plugged in directly to a wall outlet. However, relying solely on a Level 1 charging cable is not advisable.

Level 1 chargers only provide 4 to 5 miles of range per hour of charging. This charging rate may work for folks who rarely drive or who only drive short distances once in a while. They’re also useful for drivers who have plug-in hybrid electric vehicles that are powered by gas as a backup source. However, those who utilize their EV daily or as their sole means of transportation will be much more comfortable relying on higher EV charging levels to power up their car.

Fill Up on EV Know-how

Whether you’re curious about Level 2 charger installation, the charging speed of different EVSE, or simply looking for a reasonably priced EV in your area, Compare.com can help. Our comprehensive library of EV articles will help make you a whiz on all things related to electric cars in no time. 

If you’re ready to start shopping for an electric vehicle, simply enter your ZIP code below to see used EVs in your area.


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