10 things you need to know about electric car charging

Key Takeaways

  • There are three levels of EV charging: Level 1 charging is slow, Level 2 charging is faster, and Level 3 charging is the fastest for road trips.
  • Charging is convenient and quick: Level 2 charging at home is hassle-free and road trip charging can be done during short breaks. No need to worry about gas stations.
  • Charging at night can save money: Check if your electricity provider offers off-peak rates. Charging during off-peak hours can result in lower energy costs for your EV.

If you’ve just acquired your first electric vehicle, you’ll find there’s a learning curve in getting to know your new car. Many day-to-day considerations will differ from those of the internal combustion engine car you’re probably used to. One of the first things you must get used to is charging your car rather than filling it up with fuel.

To help ease the transition, we’ve compiled a list of the most important things you need to know about charging your electric vehicle.

1. There are three levels of EV charging

There are generally considered to be three levels of EV charging. You’ll hear them called Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 charging. These levels represent the following:

Level 1 charging refers to the “trickle charge” from the standard 120-volt outlet you have in your house or garage. It’s the same outlet you’d plug your phone charger into. You may wonder how the outlet that charges your phone battery can charge a battery almost 5,000 times larger. The answer is very, very slowly. Level 1 charging adds back three to five miles of range per hour, depending on your make and model of EV. For many commuters, this wouldn’t even be enough to make up for their daily drive, assuming they plug in at home overnight, but you can make it work with very careful planning and limited driving.

Level 2 is charging performed at 240 volts. This is achieved via a high-amperage outlet like the one you plug your dryer into. Many people already have this type of outlet in their garage or will install one for their EVs. At this level of charging, you can expect to add 20 to 60 miles of range per hour, depending on the amperage of the outlet and your particular EV. A dedicated NEMA 14-50 outlet can add 40 to 60 miles per hour of range on most EVs. You should always consult a local electrician to get one installed professionally, as there are fire hazards and local ordinances to consider.

tesla plans to double the number of supercharger stations in 2017 image 1

Level 3 charging is what many call “supercharging.” This charging utilizes DC (direct current) to achieve the highest charging speeds available for your vehicle. These chargers clock in at 480 volts or higher and can deliver around 1,000 miles of range per hour under optimal conditions. This is the charging used on road trips to quickly top up and get back on the road.

2. Charging can take less time and be less intrusive than you’d think

Some new EV owners worry that spending time charging could become a nuisance, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. With level 2 charging in your garage, you’ll plug in when you’re home and rarely worry about having enough charge for your day. Additionally, you’ll never have to stop at a gas station again for standard daily driving since you’ll charge at your home instead of stopping for gas.

Road trip charging is also less difficult than some may fear. Today’s EVs and superchargers can charge from 0 to 50% in as little as 10 minutes. Level 3 chargers are almost always in the parking lot of a gas station, strip mall, or other commercial business. Typically, you’ll arrive at a supercharger with 5-10% battery, plug in, and then head in for a restroom break or to grab a snack. By the time you return to your car, you should have enough charge to continue your journey. In practice, this forces you to stretch your legs for a few minutes every 2 hours or so, which can be a welcome break on a long trip.

3. Charging at night might be cheaper depending on where you live

Depending on where you live, you may be able to save some money by charging at off-peak hours. Check with your electricity provider to see if they offer a time-of-use plan. These plans charge more per kilowatt during peak hours and far less during off-peak hours, which are typically in the late evening, night, and early morning. Coordinating your EV charging at home to your time-of-use rates can result in drastically lower energy costs for charging your EV.

4. Not all EVs use the same charging connector

Whether you are visiting a friend who owns an EV, trying to find the right charger to stop at, or buying an EV charging cable online, it’s important to note that not all cars use the same charging connector. Some cars use the CCS or Combined Charging Standard, a combination of the J1772 connector type and a 2-pin DC connector. These are different from the connectors used in Teslas. However, Tesla has recently made its proprietary connector available for use by any car manufacturer. This has now become known as the NACS or North American Charging Standard, so you’ll see it in many more electric vehicles in the years to come.

ev charging at home

5. If you live in multifamily housing, consider your charging options

Not everyone has a garage, driveway, or easy place to park their EV at home while it charges from a Level 1 or Level 2 wall plug. If you live in an apartment complex, condo, or any multifamily development, explore charging options at your residence. These days more and more parking garages are having EV chargers installed. Still, it’s important to consider their cost, availability, and ease of use when buying an electric car. If you don’t have a stable charging situation where you live, then you’ll be relying on finding charging away from home, which, while doable, can be a hassle.

6. You can find charging for free

When was the last time a restaurant, movie theater, or workplace gave you a free tank of gas? With EV adoption on the rise, more businesses are supporting the movement by offering convenient charging on premises which, more often than not, is free. Businesses where you might be spending a lot of time, like movie theaters, restaurants, and shopping malls, increasingly offer free EV charging in their parking lots and garages. Not only is the charging typically free, but it’s usually a fantastic parking spot. Nothing is cooler than parking your car, going to a shop, grabbing a meal, and returning with more battery than you arrived.

Chevy expands the Bolt family with the Bolt EUV, an electric utility vehicle photo 3

7. You can track your car charging on your phone

No matter what charging speed you are hooked up to, you’ll want to know exactly how much battery you have at any given time. Luckily, EV auto manufacturers have made this a simple task with their native apps. Your new electric car will come with a branded app with which to interact with your car.

While specific features within these apps vary across brands, one constant is the ability to check your charge level and the estimated time of charging completion. Most of these apps will also let you adjust the maximum charge percentage while connected.

8. The government might pay you to install a charger at home

The US government currently offers several tax credits for installing EV chargers in your home. You should consult a tax professional, as eligibility for the credits varies based on income, tax liability, and many other factors.

If you qualify, you may be eligible for up to 30% of the hardware and installation cost up to $1,000 for personal use cases. If you own a business and are installing charging systems at your place of business, the credits can be much higher. Always consult a tax professional.

9. You don’t always want to charge to 100%, depending on your type of battery

EV batteries are, at their most basic, chemistry at work. Most EV batteries on the road today are Lithium-ion batteries, the same type of battery found in most consumer electronic devices. The rules you’ve long heard for your phone apply to your EV if it uses a Li-Ion battery. You shouldn’t let it sit at 0% or extended periods, nor should you let it sit at 100% for extended periods. Long-term use at these extremes can speed up the degradation of Li-Ion batteries and reduce the overall capacity over a shorter period of time than if it were otherwise cared for properly. EVs with Li-ion batteries should ideally be kept between a 50% and 80% state of charge.

More recently, some EVs are being made with LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries, which bring with them myriad advantages. LFP batteries tend to have a longer life cycle than Li-ion, meaning they will usually experience less degradation over time. LFPs are also more stable in their chemistry and can withstand being held at a 100% state of charge much more readily than their Li-ion counterparts.

10. You can plan your charging ahead

You can use tools like A Better Route Planner to plan your charging way ahead of time, so you’ll know what to expect when you hit the road. You input your car’s make, model, and some information about your range efficiency, and ABRP can help you plan out exactly what stops you’ll need to make, how long you’ll be at each one, and how much charge you’ll have at the end of your trip. Planning your charging ahead can take a lot of stress out of your long drive.

Eventually, all these considerations and practices will become normal in your everyday life, and charging your car will become second nature. So really, don’t overthink the range, battery, and charging stuff. You’ll quickly get used to it and wonder why you ever worried at all.

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