How to charge an electric car

You can charge an electric car at home, at work or using a public charging point. But what’s involved, how much does it cost and what else do you need to know?...

Audi E-tron Sportback charging

If you’re new to electric cars, the thought of charging one can be intimidating. However, while topping up their batteries does require greater planning than simply filling a conventionally powered vehicle with petrol or diesel, it’s still relatively easy when you know how.

There are three main ways to charge an electric vehicle (EV): at home, at work and via public charging points, with the latter found by the roadside and at service stations. It’s important to remember, though, that public chargers offer a huge range of speeds – for a huge range of prices.

Alternatively, if you drive a Tesla, there’s the firm’s dedicated Supercharger network, which encompasses more than 800 sites in the UK alone.

In this article, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of each of the charger options. Plus, we’ll answer all of the other commonly asked questions around charging.

Indra home EV charger

How can I charge at home?

Government statistics show that 80% of EV owners mostly charge at home, and it’s easy to see why; not only is this method convenient, allowing you to top-up while your car is stationary anyway, but if you do it overnight when electricity is at its cheapest, it can save you a lot of money compared with filling a petrol or diesel tank.

It’s possible to plug in via a regular three-pin socket, but if you do that the charge will take an awfully long time and you won’t be able to programme it to start at a pre-determined time.

It therefore makes a lot more sense to have a dedicated wallbox charger installed, either on the side of your house or in your garage (if you have one). Wired directly to your domestic supply, a wallbox can deliver electricity at 3kW, 7kW or 22kW, depending on the type of box you get.

Prices for installing one vary – largely based on whether your household wiring needs altering – but you can expect to pay around £350-£450 for a 3kW, £850-£950 for a 7kW and £1200-1400 for a 22kW.

EV home chargers rated

Whichever one you go for, you’ll need a Type 2 charging cable, but the good news is this is included with many modern electric cars; instead, it’s a three-pin cable that’s likely to cost extra.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that in 2022 the Government introduced an electric car charging scheme, which allows landlords, tenants and flat owners to apply for grants of up to £350 towards the cost of installing an electric car home charger. This is to help encourage EV uptake in densely populated urban areas. 

However, as good as all that sounds, a recent survey from home charging point manufacturer Anderson revealed that a third of British households don’t have a driveway, so they're unable to have a home charger installed.

Mokka-e Charging Lidl

​​How can I charge at a public charging station?

You can now find chargers on many high streets, and in certain public car parks, so that you can get a top-up while you shop, with these tending to have outputs of 7kW or 22kW.

In addition, some residential streets feature lamp-post chargers. And certain supermarkets offer charging facilities; for example, Volkswagen partnered with Tesco and the charging company Pod Point to install around 2400 chargers outside its stores which, until recently, were free to use.

As for faster units, these are more commonly (but certainly not exclusively) found at service stations, with these typically offering charging rates of between 50kW and 350kW. 

Not all public charging stations are equally user-friendly, though, which is why we rate them all each year based on accessibility, location, charging speed, ease of payment, reliability and value for money.

Cars parked outside office

Can I charge at work?

Many companies now have charging points outside their offices. And even if yours doesn’t, it could apply to the Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS). This is a voucher-based grant that covers 75% of the cost of both the purchase and installation of car charging points.

Criteria for eligibility includes being a business, charity or public sector organisation that is located in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

To apply, you must explain the need for electric car charging equipment and have dedicated off-street parking. Plus, you must be the owner of the property or have consent from the landlord for a charging point to be installed.

You can find the full criteria along with further information on applying for a WCS on the website.

People waiting for Renault Megane E-Tech to charge

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Charging times depend on three things: the type of charger you use, the size of your car’s battery and the maximum charging rate your car accepts. For example, if your car has a maximum charging rate of 100kW, you won’t get any more than that, even if you plug into a unit capable of delivering up to 350kW.

With 7kW and 22kW home wallboxes, charging overnight should give you a full battery by morning, whereas the sort of fast chargers commonly found at service stations will do the job much faster.

Exact speeds and times vary depending on the company, but a 50kW charger can top-up most EVs in just over an hour (70 minutes), while a 150kW unit has the potential to half that waiting time to around 30 minutes. 

Unfortunately, though, despite their name, there are a lot of fast chargers that are nowhere near this fast and require you to leave your car charging for a few hours – not exactly ideal. 

It’s also worth bearing in mind that charging the last 20% of the battery takes a lot longer than charging the first 80%. This is because rapidly – and indeed regularly – charging up to 100% can shorten the life of the battery.

Electric car charger readout

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

One of the big incentives for purchasing an electric car is the promise of cheaper running costs than you’d have with a petrol or diesel-engined model. However, while you will save money if you charge at home, there’s a good chance you won’t if you rely on public rapid chargers.

A What Car? investigation revealed that the UK’s fastest EV chargers can cost as much as seven times more than charging at home overnight; some home wallboxes can automatically begin charging once electricity is at its cheapest. 

Most public charging stations now offer contactless bank payments, but some require you to log in using a smartphone app or an RFID card which confirms your identity so your account can be charged.

Some providers such as BP also offer a subscription service to their charging stations for a monthly fee that gives you preferential charging rates.

BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and BMW i4 fronts

How often should I charge my electric car?

This depends on your driving habits and the car's range. Some people charge daily, while others might only need to charge once a week.

Can I charge an electric car in the rain?

This is an understandable question, given that everyone knows not to mix electricity and water. However, it’s perfectly safe to charge in the rain, because electric cars are required to meet the same safety requirements as petrol and diesel models – and that means they’re not allowed to electrocute you.

Charging stations are also insulated, and cables should be, although if you’re shopping for an aftermarket cable, we’d recommend buying direct from a respected retailer – rather than from an online marketplace, such as Amazon – because retailers are responsible for the safety of the goods they sell. In addition, look for cables that are branded and that carry CE or TUV certification marks.

Electric cars waiting to charge

Steps to Charge Your Electric Car

  • Locate a Charging Point: You can use apps or in-car navigation systems to find the nearest charging stations. Websites like Zap-Map can also help you check the availability of chargers.

  • Connect Your EV: Once at the charging point, ensure your car is switched off. Open the car's charging port, plug in the charger, and follow any on-screen instructions at the charging station.

  • Payment: This can often be done via contactless payment, but in some cases you may need to download a dedicated app or pre-register.

  • Wait and Monitor: Depending on the charger's speed and your car's battery level, charging can take anywhere from minutes to hours. Many EVs allow you to monitor the charging progress through a mobile app.

  • Unplug and Go: Once charging is complete, ensure you safely unplug the charger, close your car's charging port, and continue your journey.

Jaguar I-Pace charging cable

Electric car charging safety tips

  • Always use the correct type of charger for your vehicle.

  • Always buy aftermarket charging cables direct from a respected retailer

  • Avoid using extension cords unless they're specifically designed for EV charging.

  • Regularly inspect your home charging point for any signs of wear or damage

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