Can I charge an electric car for free?

If you’re prepared to track them down, there are still chargers that will let you top up your electric car for free. Here's everything you need to know...

New BMW i4 vs Tesla Model 3 fronts

Fuel costs have been relevant to drivers since the very advent of the car – and it’s as important to electric car drivers as it is to those behind the wheel of petrol or diesel vehicles.

But the gap between the cheapest and most expensive electricity is even more pronounced than the variance in the price of petrol or diesel, because some networks charge up to 85p per kilowatt hour (kWh) to charge. By contrast, some home electricity tariffs feature overnight charging costs of just 7.5p/kWh – less than a tenth of the price.

But did you know that it’s possible to charge an electric car for free – and it could be easier than you think. 

In our guide, we’ll reveal the locations and charging networks where you can plug in for free, how to find them, and we’ll explain the significant drawbacks.

Free electric car chargers and where to find them

There are hundreds of free electric car chargers the length and breadth of the UK – from the tip of Cornwall to Orkney, Pembrokeshire to Lowestoft – and even on the Isles of Man and Wight. The chances are if there’s a supermarket, new car dealer or hotel near you, then a charge might not cost you a penny.

There are a large number of free chargers in and around London and the south east, but the greatest concentration is in Scotland, particularly around Glasgow. That’s because the ChargePlace Scotland network is backed by Transport for Scotland and means tariffs can be set individually. 

Elsewhere the spread of free chargers will depend on the operators and locations they’re positioned in. But as a rule of thumb, the more densely populated the area, the more likely you are to find a free charger. On the flip side, they can be few and far between in areas such as the Highlands and Pennines.

Wherever you are in the country, however, you can search for free EV charging using the Zap-Map website or smartphone app.

Free electric car charging locations 

By and large, those seeking free charging will be restricted to a handful of location types. Some supermarkets, public car parks and car dealerships offer free charging to attract new customers – after all, a free charge could take several hours, as we’ll discuss later. And newcomer to the UK, Jolt, is offering limited free access to its small London-based network.

Free charging at supermarkets

LT Audi E-tron Sportback at Tesco Pod Point charger

A number of big-name supermarkets offer free charging, but it’s a moving feast so check carefully before you plug in. At the time of writing, Aldi, Asda and Sainsbury’s offer free EV charging – but not in all cases.

Sainsbury’s offers free 7kW charging to all customers at selected sites, although its rapid chargers costs 75p per kWh

While Asda offers free charging in some locations, it can cost upwards of 65p/kWh for faster charges.

And Aldi offers free charging at some sites, but in line with its budget pricing strategy, paid-for charging costs from 59p/kWh.

Free charging at car dealerships

As we approach the 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars, more and more new-car dealerships are stocking electric cars. And to do so requires charging infrastructure in order to ensure cars are fully charged when sold or following service or maintenance work. In some circumstances these chargers are available to customers, too.

If you’re a customer, then there’s a good chance they’ll let you turn up and plug in, but if you’re not a customer or drive a car from a rival manufacturer, common courtesy dictates you should ask first. With parking spaces often at a premium around even the largest dealerships, charging on a forecourt is probably a last resort.

Free charging at hotels and other leisure resorts

A number of hotels and leisure facilities offer free charging around the UK – which makes perfect sense, as you can park up, check in and charge away during your stay. You might even find an Airbnb that has a handy wallbox, too.

Just be aware that many of these locations, understandably, have restricted access meaning you’ll need to be a genuine customer, visitor or member to use these services.

Free on-street charging 

New UK start-up Jolt is offering 7kW or 30 minutes’ free charging to EV drivers at roadside locations in the London borough of Barnet. 

Free electric car charging networks

There are dozens of electric charging networks available, but only a handful offer free charging in any great number. Below, we’ll call out the networks you should seek out for a free charge.

C5 Aircross at public charger

Pod Point 

At the time of writing, Pod Point has 9200 charging bays around the UK – and some of them are free to use. You’ll need to create an account and download the app to authorise the charging, but doing so won’t cost a penny.

Tesla Destination Charging

As its name suggests, Tesla’s Destination Charging is available to Tesla drivers at a range of destinations such as hotels, restaurants, resorts and golf clubs. The primary catch is that you have to be a customer of the location – so while you can charge up while you tuck into dinner, for example, you can’t just drive straight off the street and plug in.

Tesla Supercharger network

Tesla’s Supercharger network is frequently praised by customers for its reliability and speed. But being free to use for owners of certain Tesla models may well curry some additional favour. Finding out which Teslas have free charging can be a bit of a minefield, so it’s best to contact Tesla directly or log in to your Tesla account. Note that while some Superchargers are open to non-Tesla drivers, these are not free to use.

As a very rough guide, Model S cars built between 2012 and 2020 and Model X cars built between 2016 and 2020 may be eligible for free charging and the scheme may also be transferable between owners. Model 3 Performance cars built in 2018 or 2019 may have non-transferable free charging. Very few Model Ys have free charging.

Tesla Model S at supercharger

ChargePlace Scotland

As we’ve already seen, ChargePlace Scotland is one of your best bets for free EV charging if you’re north of the border. But bear in mind that while many chargers are free, there’s a very wide range of tariffs ranging to 85p/kWh – which are some of the most expensive anywhere in the UK. And in our most recent survey of the best EV charging networks, it didn’t fare particularly well for reliability.

It’s also important to know that in order to use any ChargePlace Scotland charger, you’ll need to register an account and download a smartphone app. ChargePlace Scotland recommends you order a £12 access card because some locations are remote with patchy mobile phone reception.


Australian company, Jolt, has recently launched a small-scale free charging network in the UK. It’s partnered with the London borough of Barnet, to offer EV drivers 7kW or 30 miles of free charging at 10 on-street locations in the borough. 

Once the free charging period has finished, users pay a per kWh rate. To use the network you can either download the Jolt app or scan a QR code on the charger. 

The company aims to rollout thousands of charging points around the UK in the next few years. 

Which types of EV chargers are free to use?

Unless you have a Tesla and are making use of its Supercharger network or Destination Charging, it’s likely that free charging will be fairly slow. It’s most likely that a free charge will be in the region of 7kW – anything faster than this is extremely rare.

How long does it take to charge my electric car for free?

It's simple to approximately calculate how long it'll take to charge your car for free; just divide the size of your battery in kWh by the speed of your charge in kW. So a 58kWh Volkswagen ID 3 should take around 8.3 hours to charge from a 7kW charger.

It’s worth noting that this is a simplistic calculation and doesn’t take into account partial charges or variation in charge rate due to demands on the electricity network or how the car slows the charge to preserve the long-term health of its battery.

EV public charger

Is it worth paying to charge my electric car?

As we’ve seen, it’s perfectly possible to charge your car for free, but unless you’re happy to leave your car plugged into a charger all day, and potentially block it for those who really need it, paying for a faster charge is probably the better idea.

But if the opportunity arises for some free power in a car park you’re heading to anyway, then why not charge? Some shopping centre car parks use free charging as a point of differentiation to attract customers to use their particular shops, and while the cost of electricity is so high, it’s an appealing incentive.

Do free electric car chargers have access restrictions?

Restricted access is one of the biggest barriers to free charging because, as we’ve seen, many free chargers are only available for customers of a particular establishment, are in private car parks or behind barriers. That said, if you’re really stuck and low on charge, it could still be worth asking nicely – a helpful member of staff may just let you in.

Perhaps the bigger issue is if you’re charging in a public or supermarket car park. Typically free chargers will be slow, pushing out around 7kW – the same as you’d get from an average home wall box – so a significant charge could easily take longer than the parking restrictions allow. Being fined £100 for staying somewhere for more than two hours turns free charging into furiously expensive charging.

Can I charge an electric car at my workplace?

If your employer has made provision for electric-car charging at your workplace, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use it. Just bear in mind that in certain circumstances, you may have to pay tax for the privilege. The Government allows you to check whether you must pay tax for charging your EV on the website.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read more: How to charge an electric car >>