Fuel for free - where you can charge without being charged

Martin Gurdon

22.7.2022

Imagine you turn up at a hotel where you are staying for the night. As well as the little sachets of coffee and a tiny bottle of shower gel, the proprietor fills up your car with petrol overnight, for free. Wouldn’t that be great? Perhaps the same could happen at the supermarket or a tourist attraction. While you are inside the business enjoying yourself, your tank is being slowly filled for you. 

This seems like a crazy dream, but for electric car owners it is already a reality. At several thousand places around the UK, you can plug in and charge for free. 

The most likely spot for some free watts is your local supermarket. Tesco has delivered more than 2 million free charges to customers through its tie up with Volkswagen and PodPoint. We’ve even done a handy guide to show you how to use them. 

Although Tesco is the most universally generous provider, it isn’t the only supermarket that uses free electric charging points to lure in shoppers. Anyone pushing a trolley round Sainsbury’s is entitled to a free (slow) top up while they’re doing this, if the chargers are linked to the store rather than just being nearby. Other supermarkets where there are sometimes free charging points include Lidl and Aldi.

Tesco is the most generous of the supermarkets when it comes to charging

Supermarkets aren’t the only providers of free charging. Last September the Zap-Map charging point finder app reckoned that nationwide some 5,350 of them don’t want your money - and given the rapid spread of chargers, that figure will probably have gone up again. 

Scotland boasted 1,500 of them, around 1,000 of which are run by the government-backed ChargePlace Scotland operation, which requires a one off £10 joining fee. Bear in mind that some of its posts are chargeable as well as charging. 

According to Zap-Map the South East is the second most generous place for free chargers, with almost 700 of them, followed by Yorkshire (509). With some 154 freebie posts, it seems the North East as Britain’s stingiest region. Some local authorities that are keen to clean up the air in their areas have free charging posts, which can sometimes be found in public car parks. Brighton seems to be especially keen on this.

Brighton Council electric car charge point on street Brighton is great for charging, and some points are free to use

Some hotels and leisure centres and so called ‘entertainment venues’ like theme parks also offer free charging facilities, but generally these are used as incentives for clients. Just turning up and plugging in is unlikely to work, or go down well. 

For a combination of amps and culture you could do worse than join the National Trust, which has charging points at 36 of its English and Welsh properties as part of its plan to become a net zero operation by the end of this decade. The charging points were installed five years ago, and the Trust concedes that they’re not the most modern or the fastest, so are best used during extended stately home visits followed by leisurely cream teas. Trust members can use its charging points gratis, but are asked to make a voluntary donation. 

The next category of free ride may require you to smile sweetly or put up with a sales pitch. Many car dealers will have charging facilities which they will use to power up demonstrators and check faulty cars. If you ask nicely, they might let you use one too. Nissan dealers used to be obliged to let any Leaf driver top up their car on a 50kW DC rapid, but sadly those days are over. There are few dealers who would turn away a potential customer in a pickle though.

National Trust Charger Culture volt-ure: the National Trust lets you recharge while perusing a portcullis

The next category is a place where you wouldn’t expect to get anything for free – transport hubs such as Heathrow Airport. Here and at several other travel interchanges such as railway stations and even the Eurostar Terminal, you can get a charge for nothing. You may have to pay a small fortune to park, however. Heathrow’s PodPoint chargers, for example, are in the short term parking areas where a space is £11.40 for an hour. They earn more than some of the people working at the airport. 

The final place you might be able to get a free ride could also be the most profitable – at your workplace. Many employers will allow staff to plug in at work, either at dedicated points or simply using a 3-pin socket. Unlike fuel supplied by your employer, this power is not a taxable benefit either. Just check you have permission, as taking the power without it is technically stealing and you could find yourself with a P45 instead of a full battery. 

Do you know of any other free places to get a charge? Let us know!

Some workplaces will let you plug in for free, and it's not a taxable benefit

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