Autotrader: How to buy, install and use an electric car charger
Charging an electric car may look as simple as plugging in a big cable and then patiently waiting, but there’s a lot more to these high-tech, eco-friendly vehicles.
When looking to charge your electric car, you will want to consider what type of charger you will need, plus you will want to plan accordingly to budget both your time and money.
Our guide below will walk you through the basics, plus we’ll touch on some factors that may be big decision-makers for you, such as convenience and costs. Let’s have a look.
How to charge an electric car
Electric cars, as well as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), have an access port with a unique receptacle. They come from the factory with a basic, 110-volt cable that attaches the vehicle to a typical household-style three-prong outlet. This is a good starting point, but a typical driver will want faster charging times provided by a 240-volt charger.
Charging times vary by vehicle and by battery capacity, but it’s generally safe to say 110-volt charging is best for occasional use. Most current-model EVs will take more than 24 hours to charge up from a household outlet, and they rarely add more than a few miles of range per hour.
A better solution is what’s commonly referred to as a Level 2 charger. These run anywhere from about $200 to $700, and they plug into a 240-volt outlet like those used by an electric clothes dryer. An electrician can typically add such an outlet to a private home for use in a garage or driveway. Most public charging stations — the kind you may find in shopping centers and business parks — are Level 2 chargers, too.
At home, these Level 2 chargers can typically charge up a nearly depleted battery overnight. At the very least, they will add enough juice in a few hours to handle a typical commute.
Lastly, Level 3 public chargers (known as DC fast chargers, or DCFCs) can add as much as 20 miles of range per minute, but they harness a tremendous amount of power and are not practical for a residential application. Additionally, these chargers can lead to premature battery wear if relied upon on a regular basis.
Automakers agree that Level 2 charging is the best for long-term battery health.
How to install a charger in your home
If 110-volt charging is enough for you, all you need is a power outlet within easy reach of where you plan to store your electric car. Electric cars will take every bit of that 110-volt outlet, though, so you don’t want to use an extension cord, and it’s best to ensure that no major appliances share the same circuit.
Even something that doesn’t seem like it would draw much power — a sprinkler system panel, for instance — may pull just enough to trip a fuse, which would stop both your irrigation system and your EV charger. An electrician can tell you just which outlets are on a single circuit.
Most EV drivers will buy a Level 2 charger. State and local utilities will often subsidize, or even pay entirely for, the cost of one of these, so it’s worth investigating. Occasionally, automakers will even run promotions where a Level 2 charger is included with purchase, or you can ask if the dealership offers a discount through their accessory department. If not, you can buy a high-quality Level 2 charger for around $250.
Monitoring your charging
Basic chargers essentially serve as a filter between the 240-volt outlet and the vehicle. They have lights to tell you when the car is being charged and will typically let you know when its battery is full. More advanced chargers will connect to a smartphone app or even have their own touchscreen that allows you to program charging times or see how much energy you’ve used.
Nearly all electric cars have smartphone apps supported by their manufacturers that offer similar data and control over charging times, though, so you’ll have to consider what interface you prefer.
Some newer garages have been built with electric cars in mind, so you may already have a 240-volt outlet. If not, an electrician can typically install one for a few hours’ labor and relatively low material costs. Every house and garage is different, so we recommend you get quotes from a few electricians. In some cases, the electrician may determine a need to upgrade your fuse panel to add circuits in order to support the larger power draw.
The 240-volt outlets used by EV chargers are the same as those used for clothes dryers, but you won’t want both on the same circuit.
How long does it take to charge an electric car?
There’s no easy answer to this one. Factors including the car’s onboard charging infrastructure and battery capacity make a huge difference in charging times. Automakers clearly list charging time estimates by type of charger. However, though they typically use ultra-fast Level 3 charging in their advertising and marketing materials.
When it comes to Level 2 charging, a general rule of thumb is that a typical 60-kWh battery will take about eight hours to recharge if it is almost depleted.
That said, driving an EV does take a little adjustment since running a battery to empty will require calling a tow truck. Generally, drivers will not want to go below a 20% charge. Not only does this provide a small buffer to help ensure you can quickly get to a charging point, but it is also best for battery health. Similarly, battery experts recommend typically charging up to 80% unless you absolutely know you will need every bit of the available range. That last 20% of charge requires a tremendous amount of energy, which creates a lot of heat that is bad for the battery.
In short, an EV battery works at its optimum between a 20% and 80% charge.
If you want to learn more about how to maintain your car’s battery, read our EV Battery Maintenance Guide.
Electric car charging chart
Here’s a look at some of the most popular and best-known EV models on the market, including their battery capacities, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-rated range, and approximate charging times on Level 1 and Level 2 chargers, as well as to the recommended 80% capacity on a Level 3 charger.
Level 3 (From 10% to 80%)
2022 Nissan Leaf
2022 Nissan Leaf Plus
2022 Tesla Model 3 Long Range
2022 Hyundai Kona Electric
2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV
4 miles per hour
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
EV charging costs are tough to calculate based on a wide range of variables. One thing is for sure, though: for the average user drawing power at home from a typical utility provider, an EV will cost a lot less to charge up and drive on a per-mile basis compared to a gas or diesel model.
The EPA formulated a unit of measurement for comparing an electric car’s energy consumption level to a gas-powered vehicle. Called MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent, the figure assumes that 33.7 kWh of electricity is on par with a gallon of fuel in terms of its energy content. When cross-shopping EVs, you can look at the MPGe figure to determine which uses its energy the most efficiently.
To determine how much it will actually cost to charge up an EV at home, check your home electricity utility bill. Your utility provider typically charges a base rate plus a per-kWh rate.
How to calculate charging costs
Let’s use simple, rounded numbers for a basic estimate. If your electricity provider charges you $0.20 per kWh and you know your EV needs 30 kWh to travel 100 miles, you can determine that you need $6 worth of electricity (30kWh x $0.20), which works out to about $0.06 per mile (100/$6). A car that averages 25 mpg will use $12 worth of gasoline (at $3 per gallon). In total, this works out to double the price of that theoretical EV.
The EPA has created a detailed cost calculator that takes into account broad averages on a state-by-state basis. However, this is not necessarily useful for strict budgeting since fuel and electricity rates can vary. But, it is a good comparison tool for shoppers either considering an EV or trying to decide between two models.
Public charging stations generally require a free (or nominal cost) membership, and they charge per-kWh rates that are typically way higher than what you might use at home. However, their convenience can be priceless.
This story originally ran on Autotrader.com.