Electric car charging guide

Lots of people have lots of questions around electric cars, and some of the most common ones centre around the issue of charging. Where do I charge my car? How do I charge it? How long will it take? What are the pitfalls?

Well, wonder no more. In this advice guide to charging your electric car, you’ll find out everything you need to know.

Electric car charging guide
Types of charger
Charging on the go
Charging at home
Charging at work

Types of charger: slow, fast and rapid

EV (electric vehicle) charging points are split into three main types: slow, fast and rapid. These are differentiated by how quickly they can charge up your car due to the maximum power output on offer. Let’s consider them one by one.

Slow chargers
Slow chargers have the lowest electricity power output, around 3kW. This is the same as you get from a normal three-pin domestic plug. Even an electric vehicle with a relatively modest battery (like a Nissan Leaf) will take 10-12 hours to charge up on a connection like this, while cars with high-capacity batteries, such as the Tesla Model 3, will take much longer, so you really need to be plugged in overnight to get any meaningful amount of charge into your car. Slow connections are usually found in the home, either by means of a wallbox or a domestic socket.

See our pick of the best electric cars

Fast chargers
Fast chargers have a power output of between 7kW and 22kW, meaning they can juice your electric vehicle up much more quickly. A 7kW connection will charge your Leaf in about five hours; a 22kW connection will do it one or two. Fast chargers make up the bulk of the public charging network, with the most common type currently being a 7kW untethered (you use your own charging cable rather than one attached to the charger itself) with a Type 2 (a type of socket) inlet. However, fast-charge wallbox chargers can be installed in the home as well, provided the electrics in your house are up to it. You can find out more about connectors in Electric Car Connector Types advice guide.

Rapid chargers
Rapid chargers are the quickest way to top up your battery and can be found at most motorway service stations. The most common ones are AC ones, which deliver 43kW, and DC ones (50kW), and both will fill your Leaf up to 80% capacity in less than an hour.

By the way, ever wondered why manufacturers always talk about charging up to 80%, rather than charging fully? There are two reasons. Firstly, topping up to 80% helps prolong the life of your battery; secondly, the last 20% takes a disproportionately long time. Imagine filling up a bucket of water from a tap and not wanting it to overflow: you turn on the tap at full pelt to begin with and, when the water level gets close to the top of the bucket, you turn the tap down to fill the last bit more slowly. Batteries work in a similar way.

Rapid chargers can be even more prompt, too. Tesla has its own network of 145kW chargers (although the firm’s cars can only currently only accept a maximum of 120kW), while DC chargers with speeds of 150kW and 175kW are also springing up here and there. However, these are still quite rare. In mainland Europe, 350kW chargers are being installed, and one of these will sort you out in literally five minutes.

Charging on the go

All the different networks and costs

The charging points that make up the UK’s charging infrastructure are run by a wide range of different bodies, including private companies, Government departments and charities. Most of them will require you to sign up for an account with them before you can use their facilities, but some do work on a just-turn-up-and-charge basis. 

Some points will offer subscription and charging for free, while others will make you pay every step of the way, including to subscribe to their service, to obtain an RFID card (Radio Frequency Identity card) or smartphone app to gain access to the facilities, and also for how much power you use when charging. 

Many of these networks are interlinked, so membership of one might gain you access to others, and many of the national providers are linked to other, smaller regional services. There are dozens upon dozens of different networks out there but, below, we’ve detailed some of the main ones, along with a little information on how their service works.

  • ChargePlace Scotland – subscription only, access through RFID card or smartphone app
  • Charge your Car – subscription and pay-as-you-go, both available via RFID card or smartphone app
  • ecarNI (Northern Ireland only) – free subscription via RFID card and free charging
  • Ecotricity – rapid chargers accessed via smartphone app, 22kW fast chargers via RFID cars
  • Engenie – pay-as-you-go via contactless credit/debit card or Apple Pay
  • ESB – subscription and pay-as-you-go, access via RFID card or smartphone app
  • ESB ecars (Republic of Ireland only) – free subscription, access through RFID card, free charging
  • GeniePoint – Pay-as-you-go available via both RFID card and smartphone app
  • Instavolt – pay-as-you-go via contactless credit/debit card
  • Pod point – free subscription and mostly free charging, access through smartphone app
  • Polar – subscription via RFID  card and pay-as-you-go via smartphone app
  • Source London – subscription via RFID card only
  • Shell Recharge – pay-as-you-go, access via smartphone app or contactless credit/debit card
  • Tesla – subscription, no RFID card or contactless card needed. You do, however, need a Tesla (the charge point communicates directly with the car)
  • Ubitricity – Subscription, access via ‘smart cable’, pay-as-you-go available through QR code
  • Zero Carbon World – no access system largely free to use at equipped hospitality locations
Tesla claims that its Superchargers can give you up to 180 miles of range in just fifteen minutes.

Charging etiquette

  • If you don’t have an EV, don’t park in a charging spot. Ever. (This is known as ICEing)
  • Don’t park in a charging space if you’re not charging
  • If you have been charging, move your car as soon as it’s charged
  • Use the various apps available to alert you when your car’s charged, and don’t wander too far away
  • Never unplug other cars to charge your own, unless there’s a note of that car telling you that you can
  • Respect the charge cables and connectors provided (don’t leave anything lying around)
  • Generally be considerate and help each other out

What happens if you drive an electric car until the batteries run out? Watch our video to find out.

Charging at home

Most electric cars come with a couple of charging cables: a main one and one with a three-pin domestic plug. The latter should only be used as a backup, as domestic sockets aren’t designed for such usage on a regular basis.

Most EV owners will get a home charging point installed, which should give you an output of between 7kW and 22kW, depending on the sturdiness of the electrics in your home. A wallbox can cost anywhere between a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand pounds, depending on what you’re after, and how much you’re prepared to pay. The minimum you’ll pay for a home charge point, fully installed, would be about £300.

However, electric car drivers do get an OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) grant of £500 towards the cost of purchasing and installing a home charger, so that will cut your outlay. Scottish residents can also claim an additional grant of up to £300.

Charging at work

Charging at work is important because, aside from your home, your workplace is where you spend most of your time. So, if you can charge at work, it might well mean that electric motoring becomes workable for people who don’t have off-street parking. It also means those that do can top-up, giving them a greater range. Even better, charging your electric car at your workplace is not a benefit-in-kind, so it’s not taxable.

Obviously your ability to charge at work will depend on whether your employer has installed charge points or not. If they haven’t, you could inform the business that a government grant is available, through the Workplace Charging Scheme, which reduces the cost of a new workplace charging station by up to 75%. This is capped at £500 per socket, but firms are allowed to claim for up to 20 sockets, effectively saving them up to £10,000. So, charging at work is good for employers as well as employees.

Find out more:
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
How long does it cost to charge an electric car
What are the different types of electric car connectors