Electric vehicle charging stations: the complete guide

Filling up the batteries of your EV using a public charger is simple, but can require more forward planning than refueling a petrol or diesel model. We explain the process...

Audi E-tron at Ionity electric car charging station

Even if you’re fortunate enough to have an EV charger at home, you may need to use the public charging network occasionally, and it’s good to know how to use it in advance. 

Public EV chargers also provide an opportunity to charge your car up far more quickly than most home chargers. A growing number of locations around the UK offer charging speeds of up to 350kW and, while only a handful of models can charge this quickly, even charging at half this rate will significantly increase your charging time. 

For example, to fully charge a Volvo XC40 Recharge twin motor using a 7kW home charger takes around 14 hours, but to get a 10% to 80% boost on a 150kW charger takes just 29 minutes. So, it’s worth using a public charger if you need to replenish your car’s batteries in a rush. 

Volvo XC40 Recharge long termer

They’re also useful for topping up batteries part-way through longer journeys. While most people’s commutes are short enough that they only need to charge their car overnight once or twice a week, we all do longer drives for work or pleasure at times, and this is another time when you’re likely to need to use the public charging network. 

This guide explains the different types of EV chargers and how to use them. 

How do you use an EV public charger?

Although a growing number of public charging providers, such as Fastned, Gridserve and Shell Recharge, offer pay-as-you-go charging, you need to download an app to use many other networks. 

So the first thing to do is some online research about which charging locations are along your proposed route. Your car’s sat-nav system or user app may be able to give you a list of potential charging sites, or you can use online maps such as zapmap.com

If you’re going to use a charger that doesn’t have a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) option, or has a cheaper tariff if you’re signed up, it’s important to do this up front. If you leave it until you’re standing next to the charger in a car park it may be slow and difficult to do if there’s poor internet reception at the site. 

Electric car charging networks rated

When you get to the charger, ensure you park your car with its charging port closest to the charger and on the correct side for the cable you’re going to use. If your car’s charge port is on the front you may need to reverse into the space. 

Plug the charger into the EV and press the button on the charger to start the charge. If you’re using a contactless charger you’re likely to have to tap your payment card on the reader to confirm the payment details. 

Whether you’re using a PAYG screen or app you should be able to end charging with a single tap. Do this before trying to disconnect the charger from your car.  

Don’t leave your car in the charging space when you’ve finished charging. It’s good etiquette to other EV owners to vacate the space as soon as you’re done, and some networks charge an overstay fee so you may get an extra charge if you stay longer than the agreed maximum time. Even if they don’t, many public car parks limit the length of your stay, so you could face a fine. Time limits can vary between networks and locations, so it’s worth checking the signage at the site you’re using when you arrive.  

Cupra Born at PodPoint charger

Can I charge my car at any public charger?

You can generally charge any car on a public charger, as long as the charging plugs are compatible with those on your car. Most public chargers are direct current (DC), which means the power has been converted to DC before it is delivered to the EV, resulting in a faster charge time. 

There are three types of DC EV car-side connectors: CHAdeMO, combined charging system (CCS) chargers and Type 2. Most modern charge points will have two cables, one with a CHAdeMO connector and one with a CCS plug. 

Some Type 2 chargers have cables attached, but not all, so you may need to use your own lead with these. Information on this should be on the network’s website or on Zapmap. 

There are also alternating current (AC) chargers at destination sites, such as hotels and restaurants, where slower charging is more appropriate. These can be used by vehicles with Type 1 and Type 2 car sockets and often require users to provide their own cable. 

Electric car lamp-post charging

There is also an increasing number of lamp-post chargers being installed in cities around the UK and these are often operated by local authorities. They offer a good solution for on-street charging, but can require users to buy or rent a special cable with a control box built in so the amount of charge being delivered can be measured and the user charged correctly. If you want to use lamp-post chargers in your neighbourhood, check the registration process with the provider and if you need to get a charging cable. 

How do I pay to use an EV public charger? 

There are three ways to pay for EV public charging: using a contactless debit or credit card, via an app or using an RFID card.

Contactless payment is the quickest and easiest way to pay, but you won’t automatically get a receipt and some networks charge a premium for this method. 

Signing up to a network’s app, or one provided by your car maker, is another alternative that lets you pay via the app either straight away or on a monthly basis. It also lets you keep tabs on the amount you’re spending with monthly statements. 

You can also use a contactless radio frequency identification (RFID) card to pay, but this is becoming less common for private car owners because of the cost of supplying cards and the hassle of having a separate card for each network. 

Charging station

Do you need a card for EV charging?

When EV public chargers were first introduced more than 10 years ago, users needed a RFID card to access them. The card contains unique data that is transmitted to the charging station when you tap it on a reader, allowing it to identify the user and initiate the charging process. 

Most modern EV charging networks no longer require users to have an RFID card, instead you’re able to pay either via an app, by bank card, Google Pay or another contactless method. 

Should you always use the fastest EV public charger? 

The cost of using public chargers varies enormously, usually depending on the speed of the charging on offer. The most expensive options, such as BP Pulse and Shell Recharge’s ultra-rapid chargers will cost more than twice as much as slower alternatives, so if you’re not in a desperate hurry to replenish your car’s batteries you may be better off choosing a slower option. 

Chargers at destinations, such as hotels and restaurants, are often much cheaper than those at motorway services or fuel stations – and sometimes free (link to where can you charge an EV for free) –, so if you’re planning on staying somewhere overnight or for a whole evening you could save money by charging the car while you’re there. Again, it’s important to plan your journey and charging in advance so you can pick the most suitable option.

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Read more: How much does it cost to charge an electric car? >>