For those entering the world of electric cars, the world of cables (or more importantly the connectors at the end of them) can appear incredibly confusing. Because the car business is run by engineers and people obsessed with acronyms, navigating and understanding the different names of connectors is WAY more complicated than it should be. Which is where we come in. Our mission to demystify the world of electric cars covers everything, from cables to connectors to chargers. So together with bp pulse, we’ve compiled this guide to steer you through the basics and allow you to become a cable and charging ninja.
AC or DC? How to avoid the Highway to Hell
Before we go any further, let’s start with the absolute basics. There are two ways in which you can charge your electric car. Slowly via AC* and rapidly via DC. AC (alternating current) is what your house has, and is used for slow to medium speed charging. If you have a wallbox or use a domestic plug cable and adaptor, then you’ll be charging on AC. DC (direct current) charging uses much higher electrical loads and can only be done at a dedicated rapid charger. All DC chargers have their own cables tethered to the charging unit, so you can leave your own cables tucked away in your boot.
Why do the connectors look different? Which one do I need?
There are four different kinds of connectors in use within the world of electric cars, but thankfully this is rapidly becoming narrowed down to just two main ones.
AC (low to medium speed charging)
Type 1: Originally fitted to very early electric cars (Mk1 Nissan LEAF, Mk1 Kia Soul, Citroen C-Zero, Peugeot iON, Mitsubishi iMiev) and all Mitsubishi Outlanders, these connectors are pretty rare. If you do have an early car with a Type 1 connector, we’d recommend getting a Type 1 to Type 2 adaptor. This will allow you to access the 1,000s of Type 2 public charging units around the UK.
Type 2: This has become the default connector for AC charging and is fitted to all new electric vehicles. All 3.6 and 7kW public and domestic charging units use a Type 2 connection and it’s very likely that your electric car was supplied with a cable with Type 2 connectors at either end.
DC (rapid charging)
CCS: Combined Charging System has become the industry standard connector for DC rapid charging. Unless your car has a Nissan or Lexus badge on the bonnet, it will be fitted with a CCS charging port. The connector plug combines an AC element at the top with two additional terminals at the bottom. Most cars have a rubber protector that covers the two lower connectors, so make sure you remove it before you plug in!
CHADeMO: Although CHADeMO was the first DC connector to be adopted by the car industry, it has been replaced by CCS. It operates in the same way as a CCS connector and despite its dwindling popularity with car makers, almost all public rapid chargers are equipped with a CHADeMO connector.
Take the (really) slow route
If you find yourself without access to a home wallbox or charger, you can still recharge your electric car via what is affectionately known as a ‘Granny’ charger. This consists of a three-pin domestic plug at one end, a box of control electronics in the middle and a Type 2 connector at the other end for attaching to your car. Although a lot of car makers are no longer including these units (they’re also known as Mode 2 chargers), they can be life-savers if you run out of options. Be warned, though, they are very slow and only deliver 2.3kW of power.
During any charging session, you’ll notice that the connector is ‘locked’ into the charging port of your car. When charging ends, the process of releasing the connector from your car can vary according to the type of charger you’re on and your car. At all DC rapid chargers, the unit will unlock the connection when either the car is full or you have ended the charge via the touchscreen. You will then be able to remove the connector. On an AC charger, you will often have to end the charge yourself via the car. This varies from model to model, with some cars (BMW i3 for example) requiring a single press of the unlock button to release the locking pin, and others (like the Volkswagen ID.3) needing two clicks of the remote. Some cars (like the Citroën e-C4) have a button next to the charging port.
At home or at an AC public charging point
How fast can I charge my car with an AC connection?
Okay, you’ve mastered the cables and connectors, now it’s time to start filling your battery. Some home wallboxes have a 3.6kW output while others have a 7kW output. The amount of time it will take will depend on the speed of your connection and the size of your battery. Some home wallboxes have a 3.6kW output while others have a 7kW output.
There is, however, a rule of thumb that will give you a fairly accurate idea of how long it will take.
Let’s say your Volkswagen ID3 has a usable battery capacity of 58kWh and you have a wallbox with a 7kW output. That means it can add 7kW of charge into your battery in an hour. Therefore it will take just over eight hours (58 divided by 7) to charge from empty to full.
Most new electric cars can take an AC charge at a maximum of 7kW, which is ideal because that’s the most a single-phase domestic house supply can muster. There are, however, some exceptions, notably the Renault Zoe. Early versions of the Zoe come with the option of ‘fast AC’ charging. This allows the Zoe to charge at speeds of up to 43kW on a suitable charger. Unfortunately, charge units fitted with a fast AC connector are becoming increasingly rare and Renault’s decision to adopt CCS for the latest model means that fewer rapid charging units are likely to support these cars in the future.
Other electric cars can charge on AC at speeds of up to 22kW, but require a three-phase connection to do so. These are pretty rare in the UK, so it’s usually best to assume that the fastest you’ll get will be 7kW.
Is your car charging slower than it should?
Many electric cars allow you to alter the rate at which AC power is accepted by the battery pack. By default, most car-makers set their cars to draw a low amount of power to protect the circuits in your house. If you’re connected to a professionally installed wallbox, you can instruct your car to draw the maximum power - usually via the vehicle settings menu on the infotainment system. Not all cars have this option, but it is worth investigating if your car is charging slower than you would expect.
At a rapid charging point
Where to find a rapid charger
Thankfully, this aspect of electric car ownership is getting better every week. Thanks to innovative charge point operators like bp pulse, the UK rapid charging network is expanding exponentially with new locations going live all the time.
Locating a charger either on your journey or at the end of it is pretty simple. You can either check the live maps of the operator - the bp pulse one can be found here - or use a smartphone app such as ZapMap, PlugShare or WattsApp. These combine the live status feeds from the various charge point brands onto one map. This allows you to see what chargers are available along with reviews and reports from users.
My car can charge at 125kW - why aren’t I getting that speed?
One important thing to know about rapid charging speeds is that they fluctuate. When you use any rapid charger, your car instructs the charger to start slowly before it runs at full speed. Even at full speed, your car may well trim a few kW off the amount the charger can actually deliver to ensure that the battery isn’t getting too hot. Then, usually at around 70-80%, the power delivery is turned down again to eliminate the risk of damaging the battery.
If you look at the FASTNED charging ‘map’ of a Tesla Model 3 on a 150kW charger below, you can see that the car charges at a maximum of 125kW until it is nearly 50% full. After this, the power is reduced to protect the battery.
Will my car be compatible with any rapid charger?
It should be. However, there are a few small exceptions that electric car drivers should be aware of. Firstly, if your car has CCS rapid charging, be a little wary of older Electric Highway rapid charger units on the motorway network. These units were funded with help from Nissan and a number only have CHAdeMO connectors. Oh, and don’t forget that Tesla Supercharger hubs are reserved for Tesla owners only.
How do I pay?
Payment is another aspect of electric car ownership that has become smoother over recent years with most rapid chargers in the UK now accepting contactless payment.
For those who rapid charge regularly, some operators, such as bp pulse offer drivers the opportunity to enjoy lower costs via subscription and pay as you go plans. By registering with bp pulse and using a smartphone app to start charging sessions, drivers can use the brand’s vast network of charging points at a lower cost than with contactless payment. More frequent users can save even more with a bp pulse subscription that offers the lowest cost per kWh rate and an RFID card. For more information on bp pulse’s payment options, check out our previous article or visit bp pulse.