Electric cars: can you use public chargers without a smartphone?

If you own an electric car but not a smartphone, and don’t want to buy one to access public charging points, here are our tips...

EV public charger

Most electric car owners fill up their vehicle's battery using their own home charger but if you want to do longer journeys you are likely to be reliant on the public charging network. You'd be forgiven for thinking you need a smartphone to use many charging points – but that's not the case.

While a growing number of electric car public chargers do offer quick access to their networks via smartphone apps, you don't need to buy a smartphone or take out a costly mobile contract to use them to charge up.

If you own a pure electric car you’ll be able to take advantage of the contactless payment option at some of the fastest EV charging networks, including BP Pulse, the Gridserve Electric Highway and Shell Recharge. Although you can register to use these networks, it’s also possible to use them as a guest. That means all you need to do is plug your car into a charger and tap your bank card on the reader to get the charge you need.  

Seat Leon hybrid long termer

The guest rates for some networks are higher than those for registered users – especially if you want to use the ultra-rapid 150kWh-plus chargers – so it’s worth checking up front whether you’ll pay a premium to use each network without registering.

You should be able to use chargers on other networks, such as Instavolt and Osprey, without getting a smartphone app. Those two offer subscription-free charging and let users charge up using a bank card without paying a premium for the service. 

EV owners voted Instavolt the second best public charging network in our recent owner survey because its chargers are very simple to use and impressively reliable. Osprey came in third place for the ease of use of its network of chargers, and they can be found in many supermarket and shopping centre car parks. 

EV public charger

While plug-in hybrid owners can’t make use of the fastest charging stations, there are still plenty of options for charging up without a smartphone app. GeniePoint has a good network of charging stations around the country and it lets registered users buy a charging card for £9, which will enable them to tap and charge at any of its locations. 

There are also a number of regional providers that offer charging cards, including ChargePlace Scotland, Engie, ESB and Source London. None of them make you pay extra if you pay with an online account and use the card to initiate and end charging.

There are also charging cards that will give you access to several different networks and they're worth researching if you’re likely to be using a selection of providers.

EV public charger

It’s also worth investigating ZeroNet, which is a pay-as-you-go network with chargers at hotels, restaurants and other locations. Some sites restrict usage to those using the facilities, but many will give anyone access to the charge points for free or for a small fee.

Finally, you could contact local companies and electric car owners in your area who have signed up to ZapMap’s home and work charging networks. These are peer-to-peer charging networks designed to allow charge-point owners to share their devices with other EV drivers.

Details of locations near you can be found on the ZapMap website. You need to register with ZapMap to use Zap home chargers, but anyone can use Zap work units. Both options require you to contact the owner up front and you can pay using the PayPal website.    

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Read more: EV public charging networks tested and rated >>