EV charger types: plugs, connectors and speeds explained
03 May 2021 | Matt Mostyn
You might think that when it comes to charging your electric car, it’s simply a matter of plugging it in, right? Not so fast! There are actually a few things to consider first. Here’s where you can learn everything you need to know about the various systems, cables and plugs available for charging your electric car.
Ever gone on an overseas trip, only to discover too late that you’ve forgotten to pack the right adaptor to charge up your phone? Well, it’s the same potential issue when you take your electric vehicle (or EV) out on the road.
Whether you’re planning on charging your electric vehicle at home, at work or at a public station, there’s one basic point to remember. The cable and plug connecting the charging station to your vehicle have to be compatible.
The first thing to be aware of is the type of power you can harness to charge your EV:
AC vs DC charging
There are four types of cable and plug for electric vehicles. Two have alternating currents (AC), for charging of up to 43 kW, and two have direct currents (DC) which allow faster charging (up to 350 kW).
The type of connector you need varies by vehicle, and also depending on the power rating of the chargepoint. Plus, the power rating also affects the speed at which you can charge up.
AC power comes directly from the grid. But to charge an EV, it needs to be converted to DC. A converter, (which is usually built into an electric car) usually does this job. But if you have a DC charger, the converter is built into the DC charger itself.
What’s the difference between AC and DC?
DC charging is much faster than AC charging. That’s because it can bypass the car’s converter and supply DC current straight to the car. This type of charging is ideal when you need to recharge an EV faster on a long journey – for example, at a service station.
Having said that, DC charging takes a lot more power from the grid – and it’s only available if your car is compatible with DC charging.
On the other hand, AC charging draws less power from the grid, so it takes longer to reach a full charge – but it’s generally cheaper.
Which leads us to the next point: consider your ideal charging speed.
There are three basic speeds of charge to choose from – slow, fast, and rapid. The power rating of the charging cable will give you a good indication of how fast you can charge your vehicle. So for instance, a 3kW charger will give you a ‘slow’ charging speed of around 6-12 hours, a 7kW – 22kW charger will give a ‘fast’ charge of around 3 to 4 hours, and a 50kW – 120kW cable will give you a ‘rapid’ full charge in roughly an hour.
Essentially, each charger type (slow, fast or rapid) has its own set of connectors (more on them below) for low or high power, and for AC or DC charging. You’ll get low charging rates from a three-pin socket at home or public charging station – but remember, your EV’s internal converter turns that AC power into DC.
Rates rise to a 7kW rate for more advanced 'wallbox' charging units. Some smart chargers and public charging units also have a charging rate of 22kW. And rapid AC stations work at 43kW – while rapid DC stations supply power at 50kW or more.
Now we’ll dive into the various types of cables or connectors you can choose from:
Electric car cables
Electric vehicles connect to a chargepoint via a cable. There are two types to choose from:
The first is called an ‘untethered’ cable – and this is the one supplied by most EV manufacturers when you buy one. This type unplugs from a socket or charge point and can be carried with you, so you can plug it into other charge points.
There’s also another type, called a ‘tethered’ cable. These are permanently fixed to a charging unit, and can’t be removed.
Many EV owners prefer a tethered unit, because they’re much more convenient – since you won’t have to manually plug in your charging cable into your unit each time. It also means no lifting a heavy cable in and out of your boot every time you want to charge it.
Having said that, tethered cables could become obsolete should the EV market introduce a different type of adapter in the future. Untethered chargers are more flexible, and they’re also ‘future-proof’, because you can connect them to pretty much any compatible electric car or charging point.
Be aware that if you charge your car at a public charging station with a fixed cord, you'll have to make sure the cable fits into your car's socket. Check charging station maps like Plugshare's, to find out.
Electric car plugs
Whichever type of cable type you choose, you also need to think about the connector or plug at each end. Think of it like a phone or laptop adaptor. One end fits into the socket on the car itself, and the other end connects with the charger socket.
There are 4 types of plug – 2 for AC (type 1 and 2) and 2 for DC (CHAdeMo and CCS).
Type 1 plugs
These are the American/Japanese standard, and are the plug used by Asian manufacturers, such as Nissan and Mitsubishi. They allow you to charge your car at a speed of up to 7.4 kW, depending on the charging power of your car and grid capability. They’re pretty rare in Europe, and you won’t find Type 1 chargers at many public charging stations in the UK.
Type 2 plugs
These are the European standard, and are used by European manufacturers like Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Nearly all EVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) can charge at Type 2 outlets, so long as they have the correct cable. Type 2 is also the UK’s most common public charge point standard. And most plug-in car owners will have a cable with a Type 2 plug.
Type 2 plugs can charge your car faster. At home, the highest charging power rate is 22 kW, while public charging stations can charge up to 43 kW – again depending on the charging power of your car, and grid capability.
All pure-electric cars come with a Type 2 socket and cable as standard. And all plug-in hybrids have a Type 2 socket – though some manufacturers will charge extra for a cable.
To buy a Type 2 cable will usually cost £200 to £350 – and while most are around 5m long, you can also get 8m versions if you need more reach.
Type 3 plugs: CCS
CCS or Combined Charging System is a type of connector used for rapid-charging, and it’s growing in popularity — particularly in Europe. It’s used by most manufacturers , and it adds two additional DC power lines to a Type 2 plug, to boost the voltage. CCS connectors can supply anywhere between 25kWh and 350kWh of power – though how fast you can charge on CCS depends on the capability of your vehicle.
Type 4 plugs: CHAdeMO
An abbreviation of the words Charge de Move, CHAdeMO is a rapid-charging DC connector offering up to 50kW, for rapid charging. These chargers will typically charge an EV to 80% in 20-40 minutes. They’re compatible with various brands, including Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Toyota and even Tesla (whose Supercharger network works at an even faster 120kW).
CHAdeMO chargers also have the added advantage of being bi-directional. This means that they use ‘Vehicle to grid’ technology – also referred to as 'V2G' – which allows energy stored in electric vehicles to be fed back into the national electricity network (or 'grid'), to help supply energy at times of peak demand.
Being able to use your EV as a mini power station is just one advantage of switching to electric. Find out about some of the other benefits of electric cars in our related blog.
To find the closest CHAdeMO charger to you, use Zap Map’s charging type filter and select CHAdeMO.
Are all EVs compatible with all chargers?
Most EVs and EV chargers in the UK are compatible. Most rapid chargers have two cables for the two most popular rapid charge connectors (CHAdeMO and CCS,) so you simply select and use the one that fits your EV.
For non-rapid charging you may have to supply your own cable.
EVs in the UK will either have the above Type 1 inlet socket or (more usually) a Type 2 inlet socket.
How do I know which chargers my EV can use?
You should be able to find the type of charging port on your EV from your dealer, lease company, or handbook.
To find suitable public charge points, use an app like Zap Map, which highlights the charge points on a map. Zap Map can be filtered by connector type, EV type or charging speed – and it also reports any charge point issues.