So you've got a brand new (to you) electric car. Before the battery runs down...
What are your electric car charging options?
We will discuss the different levels of charging, charging station apps, and how-to tips for charging all kinds of electric cars.
My LEAF, like all electric cars, came with a level 1 electric car charging cord in a bag in the back of the car. That's 120 V, just like the toaster. You can plug this into any grounded outlet. My LEAF's charger pulls 15 amps, so if your wiring is old like mine, you might have to shut off everything else on that circuit while you charge (or reset your breaker when it pops). The car will regain about 5 miles of range per hour of level 1 charging.
I've found this to be the most convenient way to recharge my own car. I just plug it in when I get home, go about my business, and in the morning the car is topped up and ready to go again. If you've got a grounded outlet near where you park, and you don't tend to drive more than about 100 miles – the 24 kwh LEAF's range – in one day, this might be your choice too.
Level 2 charging is 240 volts, just like your kitchen range or your dryer. If you've got 240 volt wiring already in place in your garage, you can either plug in a portable Level 2 charger to the existing outlet, or you can have a permanent level 2 charger installed. This cuts your recharge time considerably. My LEAF (2013) has a 6.6 kw charger, so it can recover all its charge from empty to full in about 4 hours.
In real life, you are unlikely to actually do that “0-100% in 4 hours” thing, tapping your foot as you wait impatiently.
That's because gas-guzzler refueling habits are different than electric car refueling habits, and before you actually have an electric car in your driveway it is almost impossible to imagine how something so basic as “filling the tank” - something we've been doing since we were teenagers – can change so much.
The truth is, even when your recharge time is “overnight”, you will spend far less time charging your electric car than you used to at the gas station filling up. You get home, you pop the charging flap, you plug in, and the electron fairies take care of the rest. In the morning, it's done. You unplug and go. Ten seconds? Twenty? No more than that.
This is why electric car people's eyes glaze over when you ask them how long it takes to recharge. The answer is: who cares? I'm making dinner for the family and watching Game of Thrones. The car is doing its thing out there without me.
This is ideal if you have a longish commute and you can plug in at work. There are also level 2 chargers in lots of places where you might spend a little time, such as restaurants and shopping malls.
How fast will it charge? Depends...
Most often you discover this by plugging in. Some level 2 chargers, you'll soon learn, are faster than others.
Why are some level 2 chargers faster than others, you quite reasonably ask?
Well, because level 2 just refers to the voltage; all level 2 chargers have same voltage but maybe different amps, anywhere from 20 to 100. A 20 amp charger goes slower than the 100 amp one and so you might find that you get back 15 miles in an hour of charging at 20 amps and 25 miles in an hour of charging at 50 amps. Both chargers look identical, as far as I can see. The difference is behind the scenes.
The port on the left is for Level 3 charging, called DC quick charging. If you've got the capability, it's pretty cool. It bypasses your car's charger and just sort of downloads charge directly to the battery. There are three ways to do level 3 in the US: CHAdeMO, CCS/SAE, and Tesla Superchargers.
CHAdeMO is the type of quick charge
port you'll find in your LEAF or other Japanese car (Mitsubishi).
CCS/SAE is the level 3 electric car
charging standard for any General Motors product like the Chevy Bolt,
and all the electric cars from BMW, Daimler, Ford, Jaguar,
Volkswagen, and Hyundai. It's the European standard.
(Kia is planning to confuse everyone by
starting out with CHAdeMO on all the Soul EV model years up to 2019,
then switch over to CCS/SAE in 2020, just to keep us all on our toes.)
Tesla Supercharging is the level 3
electric car charging just for Teslas. There's not a CHAdeMO to Tesla
adapter that I know of, nor a CCS/SAE to Tesla adapter. Tesla
superchargers are just for Teslas.
There are adapters that go the other
way, though. Teslas can plug in at any level 2 or level 3 charger
with the appropriate adapter.
Tesla aside, what earthly difference
could it possibly make whether my car has CHAdeMO or CCS/SAE, Lynne?
Well, here's the thing: these Level 3
charging standards are not interchangeable. If your car uses CSS, you
can't just roll up to a CHAdeMO charging station and plug in. Same
with vice versa. (There is apparently an adapter you can purchase
for this, but it doesn't come with your car.)
So I'm kind of envisioning myself going
to a dealership, seeing the quick charge port, plunking my
pennies down on the spot, grabbing keys and yelling WAHOO, ROAD
…taking off for parts unknown, hair
flying in the wind...
...and then discovering when I get to
parts unknown that the quick charger I was planning to plug into is
not the right sort. And there's not the right sort for a
I don't want this to happen to you. Trying to keep the JOY in “joyride” here, my friends.
Note: A Chevy Volt recharges at about half the rate of a battery (100%) electric car.
Kia Soul EV
Note: The '08 Tesla Roadster can't use the Supercharger network.
Your car's navigation. There is usually an easily accessible charging station database you can access on the road. I never use it. Well, that's not true, I do use the navigation; I just never use the charging station information. They promise that they update it every so often, but...I don't know. Your mileage may vary.
Charging station apps. I think
all the companies that make public charging stations have made apps:
Chargepoint, Blink, Webasto, etc.
Now, I don't want to hurt their
feelings after they went to so much trouble (so don't tell) but I
don't really like any of them.
Plugshare app. Plugshare is free and available for both android and iPhone. This is the one I like and what I have always used. It's got lots of nifty features:
Let other EV drivers know you're there?
Why would you want to do that?
Well, let's say you're looking at a
charger hopefully on the app and it says, “in use”. You can then
click on the charger icon and see that it's your friend Jojo's LEAF.
Jojo never minds if you unplug her car in an emergency, as long as
you remember to send along some of Grandma's blackberry jam every
year! No problem. Or, maybe Jojo is sitting in the nearby pub and you
can buy her a pint and catch up.
You will get to know the
other EV drivers in your region from National Drive Electric Week and
other events, and public charging stations can act like a water
cooler for us like-minded folks. Who knows, you might meet the love
of your life at an electric car charging station!