Everything You Need to Know About Electric Vehicle Charging

Updated December 15, 2021

Running out of fuel is every driver’s worst nightmare. And with electric cars, it’s not as simple as driving up to a gas station and refilling the tank. You’ll need to know which electric vehicle charging method to use, how long it will take, and how much you’ll pay for it.

Charging your electric car doesn’t have to be a headache. There are more public charging stations than ever, and some businesses and workplaces even offer free electric vehicle (EV) charging as an incentive to employees and customers.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to charge an electric vehicle — whether you choose to do it at home, at work, or at a roadside charging station.

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Electric Vehicle Charging Levels

There are currently three different electric vehicle charging levels. They’ll determine how fast your EV charges and whether you’ll need to buy any additional components or accessories. EV chargers may also be referred to as charging stations, charging points, or EVSEs (electric vehicle supply equipment), but they all serve the same purpose.

Level 1

Level 1 charging refers to plugging an electric car into a standard 120-volt power outlet (like what you’ll find in your wall at home). You won’t need to pay for any additional equipment to use this charging method. The manufacturer usually provides a 3-prong cable when you buy an electric car.

But keep in mind that this is the slowest option and you’ll only get around 3 to 5 miles of charge per hour, which can be less than ideal if you use your car regularly.

Level 1 is best for drivers who park their car at home every night and don’t mind leaving it plugged in for extended periods to get a full charge. It’s also a great backup option if faster charging solutions aren’t available when your battery is running low.

Level 2

Level 2 charging is one of the most common methods for charging EVs and plug-in electric vehicles. That’s because it still uses AC power (alternating current) but at a higher voltage – around 240 volts, similar to some large appliances.

This method will give you around 25 miles of driving for every hour of charging. It can charge a typical EV battery overnight.

If you want to use this method at home, you’ll have to install a wall-mounted charger in your garage or wherever you park your vehicle. You can expect to pay around $500 for a Level 2 charger, along with the cost of an electrician to install it.

Level 2 chargers are what you’ll find at many businesses, supermarkets, parking lots, and other public spaces.

Fast Charging

Level 3, or DC fast chargers, use a 480-volt or higher direct current (DC), so you can expect to get over 100 miles of charge per charging hour. Level 3 charging costs more, though — both to install the equipment and to plug in your vehicle.

A fast charging station can cost thousands of dollars to install, so you’ll mostly find them at roadside charging stations where customers need to charge quickly. Some batteries can get close to a full charge with just half an hour of DC charging.

Types of Connectors

Before plugging your EV in, you’ll need to make sure that you have the right connectors. Level 1 and 2 charging use similar equipment, but DC charging isn’t compatible with all EVs. You may need to check your manual before using this method.

AC Connectors

Level 1 cables plug directly into a power outlet using a 3-prong plug. If you have a Level 2 charger, the EVSE will plug into a 240-volt outlet and the cable will be connected to the charging unit.

The other end of each cable will have either a standard (J17772) connector or a proprietary Tesla connector.

DC Connectors

If your EV is compatible with DC charging, then you may have a second charge port for a DC charger. There are three main types:

  • Tesla connectors are compatible with Tesla’s Supercharger network, but drivers can purchase an adapter to use with other charging systems.
  • Combined Charging System (CCS) plugs can be used for both AC and DC charging, with a maximum charging speed of 350 kW. That’s enough to get your battery to an 80% charge in less than half an hour (if your chargepoint supports it).
  • CHAdeMO plugs are found mostly in cars produced in Asia, such as the Nissan LEAF and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. (The name is an abbreviation for “Charge de Move” and is derived from a Japanese phrase.)

Where to Charge an Electric Car

Charging an EV at a grocery store

The best place to charge your electric car depends on where you live and how often you drive. In urban areas, you may have more options for free charging, while frequent roadtrippers may want to join a premium charging network. Let’s explore your three main options: home charging, public charging, and charging networks.

Home Charging

Home charging is your best bet if you live in a house with a garage or a dedicated parking spot, park your car there every night, and plan to invest in a Level 2 charging station. You can either hire an electrician to install the entire EVSE unit or just pay them to install a 240-volt outlet and mount the unit yourself.

Remember that you’ll still have to pay for the electricity you use to charge your car. If you can, plan ahead and charge your car at off-peak hours to get lower rates (if your local energy provider offers variable rates).

Depending on your region and electricity provider, you may be able to get a smart meter or a discounted plan for EV drivers. You can also consider installing solar panels so you can charge your car using renewable energy. This is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint — and tireprint — even further!

Public Charging Stations

Some cities and states are trying to encourage electric vehicle ownership by installing public charging stations, many of which are free to use. Many commercial centers and office buildings offer free charging stations as a way to attract more paying customers (or simply to make it easier for EV owners to commute to work).

You can also find public charging stations at many supermarkets, shopping centers, hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and more. This is a great way to charge your vehicle while at work or running errands. Keep in mind that these stations are likely to be Level 2 chargers and will require several hours to fully charge your battery.

Charging Networks

According to the Pew Research Center, the number of EV charging stations can vary widely from state to state, with over 22,600 in California and only 26 in Alaska!

You may want to join a charging network, such as ChargePoint or EVgo. These are perfect for those who travel frequently and want access to DC fast charging stations wherever they go. They’re also a good option for apartment dwellers or those without the option to install a home charging station.

These networks typically charge a flat fee for each session as well as a per-minute charging cost (we’ll break this down below). Some offer monthly memberships to reduce these costs, which typically range from $4-8 per month and give you a discount on charging fees.

There are also apps you can download that will show you where charging stations are located, which connection types are supported, and how many plugs are currently available. One example is ChargeHub, which is available on iOS and Android.

How to Charge an Electric Car

Woman charges her electric car

In most cases, charging an electric car is as easy as plugging it in and leaving it for a while. If you’re at a commercial charging station, you’ll need to swipe your credit card or membership card, just as you would at a gas station. But how long will it take to charge and how much will it cost you?

How Long it Takes

As we’ve seen, electric vehicle charging times can vary widely. The amount of charge time your car needs will depend on what charging equipment you’re using. A Level 1 electric vehicle charger can take all day and night to reach full charge, while a DC charger can get your battery to as high as 80% in half an hour.

If it seems like that last 20% is taking longer, that’s because it is — once the charge reaches 80%, it slows down to avoid overheating the battery.

In fact, Carfax recommends that EV owners don’t rely exclusively on DC charging. It’s better to use Level 2 charging whenever possible to extend battery life.

How Much it Costs

Finally, how much will it cost to charge your car? A battery with 200 miles of range will cost around $9 to charge at home, or around 4 cents per mile. That’s based on an electricity rate of 13 cents per kWh (your rate will vary based on where you live). For context, Oklahoma residents are paying the lowest electricity rate in the U.S. at 8.92 cents per kWh while Hawaii residents pay the most, at 30.55 cents per kWh.

As for public charging, the cost will depend on the capacity of your battery and the rate charged by the network. You can expect to pay around 8 to 9 cents per mile for public charging — or $12-$13.50 for 150 miles of driving.

Some manufacturers, such as Tesla, offer free public charging if you use their network, which may be worth factoring into your purchase decision. These offers come and go, though, so double-check before relying on them.

How it All Adds Up

Electric car ownership takes a little bit of planning, since you’ll need to decide whether to install a home charging station and which charging methods to use. You might also want to buy a membership to a public charging network or download an app so you can find public charging stations on the go. These decisions will all determine how quickly you can charge your EV and how much you’ll pay for it.

Of course, electric vehicle charging is just one of the costs to keep in mind when buying an electric car. There’s also insurance and maintenance to consider.

Fortunately, EVs and plug-in hybrids are some of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market and cost less to maintain than conventional cars.

Lastly, be sure to compare car insurance rates by model before you purchase a new EV. That way, you can add the price to your charging and maintenance fees to estimate your monthly ownership costs.

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