How do I charge an electric car?

One of the things we get asked about the most at electrifying is charging. How do you do it, where can you do it, what cables do I need? The good news is that the whole business of charging actually sounds more complicated than it is. Yes, there’s some new terminology to get your head around and a few new skills to master, but it’s really no more hassle than plugging your phone in every night.

In simple terms, electric cars can be charged at two speeds - slow and rapid.

If you have a charging point at home, or even a three-pin plug socket, then you can slow charge your car. If you do this overnight you can take advantage of cheaper electricity rates and, of course, wake up to a fully charged car the next morning.

An average-sized electric car like a Hyundai Kona or Nissan Leaf will take around ten hours to charge from completely empty to full if you have a home charger unit, but less if you are just topping up or charging to 80% - which is what we’d recommend if you don’t need to use all of the range capability. That’s because it helps keep the battery healthy to not always charge to full.

A lot of rapid chargers have an output of 50kW, which is seven times more than you’ll get from your home charger. The latest generation of rapid chargers can charge at up to 350kW, which is 50 times faster than you’ll manage at home.

Obviously, home charging is simple and cheap, but what if you need to recharge mid-journey? That’s when you’ll need to use a public rapid charger. These come in all shapes and sizes but they all do the same thing - put a lot of electricity into your battery in a short space of time.

Finding a charger is pretty simple. There are loads of smartphone apps that not only show where charging points are, they also show you if someone is using it. We’d recommend ZapMap, PlugShare and WattsApp as great places to start.

But there’s a catch here. Not a big one, but one every buyer should be aware of. All electric cars have a maximum charging speed. Some cars, like a BMW i3, have a maximum of 50kWh while some newer models like the new Hyundai IONIQ 5 can charge at over 200kW.

The rate a car will charge will also depend on other factors, such as the outside temperature and how many other cars are plugged in at the same time. Sometimes you may see you car actually accept more than the quoted charge rate for a few minutes, while you might also see the gauge drop to frustrating low levels.

Although rapid chargers come in all shapes and sizes, they all work in the same way. You plug in, choose to pay by contactless or through an app and that’s basically it. When you want to stop, you either end the session on the charger or by tapping your contactless card on the pad.

Watch our video to see Ginny explain it all in more detail.

​​Download our Beginners' Guide to Going Electric, produced with the Department for Transport.​

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