How to charge an electric car: everything you need to know

09 December 2021 | Celia Topping

The future of driving is electric. Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) overtook diesel cars in September 2020 and they’re rapidly on the rise. With new petrol and diesel cars being banned from 2030, a £1.3 billion government investment in EV infrastructure, and various grants, discounts and incentives, is now the time for you to go green with an electric car?

The major difference, of course, between traditional cars and electric ones is how they’re powered. It might still feel strange to plug in a car to an electric vehicle charging station rather than a petrol pump – but it will soon be the norm.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding exactly how you charge an EV. 

The EV charging infrastructure

Go electric, and gone will be the days of queueing for a pump at the garage. Charge points have rapidly overtaken petrol stations in number. The ever-handy Zap-map keeps an up-to-date tally on how many public charging points we have in the UK.

At last count (on November 30 2020), there were a whopping 35,546 connectors in 12,932 locations, with 508 added in the previous 30 days. Slowly, “range anxiety” – worrying about how far your car can take you before running out of charge – is becoming a thing of the past. 

There are 3 main ways you can charge your car – at home, at work, or in public places. The latter includes motorway service stations, although technically these aren’t public. Destination charging (such as at a cinema or leisure centre) is also part of the public charging infrastructure. 

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

The future of EV charging is promising. One Californian company recently announced that they’re working on a charger that will bring your car to 75% full in just 5 minutes1!

But we’re not quite there yet. If you own an EV in 2020, your electric car could take as little as 40 minutes, or as much as several hours to charge. The question “how long does it take to charge an electric car?” depends on a few different factors. 

  • How much capacity does the battery have? The amount of time it takes to fully charge your car will, of course, depend on how much electricity your battery can hold in kW, and how empty it is when you plug it in.
  • What’s the charge rate, or speed, of your charger? For example, a 7kW charger will not charge as quickly as a 22kW one can.
  • What’s the maximum charge rate of your car? This is just as important as the charger speed. If your car has a maximum charge rate of 7kWh, then even if you plug it into a 22kW charger, it won’t charge any faster than it would if it were plugged into a 7kW charger.
  • What’s the weather like today? Believe it or not, colder temperatures can cause your car to charge more slowly. This is especially true for rapid chargers.

So, if you’re thinking about going electric, but need a car that will charge quickly, look at your electric car battery size and the maximum charging rate. You can figure out how many hours it will take to charge by dividing the battery size in kWh by the charging rate in kW. 

For example: if you plug a 40kWh Nissan LEAF into a 7kW charger, you’ll have a fully charged car in about 5 and a half hours. 

A wall-mounted electric car charger

The three different types of EV chargers

Out on the roads are three types of charger. These vary in speed, convenience, and price.

EV rapid chargers

Rapid chargers do exactly what they say on the tin. They’re the speediest option, as they can charge an electric car to 80% full in as little as 20 to 30 minutes. Most rapid chargers in the UK have a charging rate of around 50kW. 

The Tesla supercharger goes all the way up to 250kW2. That could fill your 60kWh battery in just 25 minutes, giving you enough power to drive from London to Brussels2!

Rapid chargers use a huge amount of power, so you won’t be able to get one installed at home. You’ll usually find them at motorway service stations and other public charging hotspots. Bear in mind that a 50kW rapid charger will cost more to use than a less powerful one. So if you’re not in a hurry, it’ll be cheaper to go with a fast charger.

Rapid-charging stations are usually found in motorway service stations, or near main roads. Depending on the model of EV, it can take as little as 20 minutes to charge to 80%. As you’d expect, the convenience and speed of these chargers means they’re the most expensive option.

But even for a typical EV with a 60kWh battery and 200-mile range, it would only cost around £6.50 for a 30-minute charge – which would take you about 100 miles. Incidentally, rapid chargers already have a contactless bank card option. The UK government is urging more charging stations to offer this method of payment, making the process even smoother. 

Tip: access to well-placed rapid chargers is vital for longer journeys, although regular rapid charging is not recommended for long-term battery life. 

EV fast chargers 

Fast-charging stations tend to be found where drivers are likely to be parked for an hour or more – such as car parks, supermarkets or leisure centres. To charge to capacity would take several hours, but a shorter boost for a few pounds, while you’re watching a film or working out, would still be plenty to get you home. 

Fast chargers are dedicated EV chargers that offer a range of charging rates between 7kW and 22kW. You can get these installed at home, or find them out and about at public charge points.

EV slow chargers

It’s not ideal to use a slow charger in public, but they are available, and are generally found in lamp posts or bollards. But because it takes around 6-12 hours to get a full charge, slow charging is a better option at home, or while you’re at work.

If you'd like to learn even more about the 3 main different charging options for your EV, check out our blog on the subject.

Slow chargers are your standard 3-pin domestic plugs. Most cars will come with a cable that you can plug into your normal socket, just like you would any other appliance. These have a charging rate of 3kW.

Using Zap-map, drivers can easily locate charge points across the country and find one to suit their needs. If you have a subscription, you can also use a map to find your own network charging points. You might even find you’re close to a free one. Bonus! 

A woman charging her electric car at home

Electric car charging at home

The most convenient way to charge your car is from home – so long as you have a driveway or garage. This way, you can charge up overnight when electricity is cheapest, so your EV’s ready to roll in the morning. 

It’s possible to charge with a domestic 3-pin plug – but it’s not very efficient, and it could take up to 24 hours to fully charge. Plus, domestic plugs don’t have the safety requirements of dedicated chargers, so it’s not considered best practice. Instead, you could get your very own home charger. 

Here are some benefits of electric car charging at home:

  • A home charger has built-in safety features to protect you, your home and the car
  • Smart chargers have internet connectivity, and offer cool features like energy monitoring, delayed charging, and software updates
  • Most chargers come with a cable already attached, for instant charging
  • You may also receive a universal “Type 2” socket and cable, which can be used at home, at work, or in public 
  • Home charging gives you decent charging speeds of 10 to 30 miles of range per hour your car is plugged in
  • Read our informative guide about vehicle-to-grid technology to find out how your EV and home charger could make you money! 

Learn more about EV charging and the different types of EV chargers available.

How long does it take to charge an electric car at home?

As with all chargers, home charging is measured in kilowatts (kW). Dedicated chargers offer speeds of 3.7kW or 7kW. This gives you 15-30 miles of range per hour. A 3-pin plug only charges at 2.3kW, which explains why it’s so slow. Be aware that even if your car only has a 3.7kW charger, it can’t be harmed by using a 7kW charger.

For a typical 60kWh EV car with a 7kW charger, it takes around 8 hours to go from empty to full. The more powerful Tesla S has a 100kWh battery, so increase that by around 3 hours. But for a smaller 30kWh car, charging should only take around 6 hours. 

How to get an electric car charging point installed at home

This definitely isn’t a DIY job. Your charging point must be installed by a professional. Their fee is included in the total cost of the charge point, which generally ranges between £300 to £1,000. 

Sounds like a lot of upfront costs, right? But your installation costs could be paid off within a few weeks when you consider the savings you’ll make on petrol or diesel. 

The chargepoint must be wall-mounted near where you park your car – either on an exterior wall or in the garage – and connected safely to the mains supply. The install can take up to 3 hours, depending on:

  • The model of car (and size of battery)
  • The type of charging station
  • The location of the charging station (accessibility)
  • Who installs it

It’s best to be home during the installation process, as you’ll need to work out with the installer the safest and most convenient place for your charger. They’ll also be able to demonstrate how it works, and answer any questions. 

How often should you charge an electric car at home?

It’s not necessary to charge your EV every night. It really depends how much you use it. But daily charging isn’t a bad habit to get into – just like charging your mobile phone – so it’s ready to go in the morning, or for that unexpected trip. 

Charging at home overnight means you probably won’t have to charge elsewhere during the day, at a higher cost. Remember, OVO members get the best off-peak rates at home with our EV Everywhere tariff. Meaning you could be driving for as little as 2p per mile. 

Always check that you set a top charging limit. 80% is a good rule of thumb, although some manufacturers recommend 90%. Your EV will then automatically stop charging, and there’s no need to unplug. 

Electric car charging at work

Workin’ 9 to 5 isn’t so bad if you can charge your car for free while you’re in the office, right? As it’s probably a place you spend a lot of your time, the office is a pretty convenient place to plug in. Many companies are now even offering free charging stations to staff as an incentive, and as a perk to visitors.

When it comes to how to charge an electric car at work, it’s much the same as how to charge a car battery at home. Remember those universal “Type 2” cables we mentioned earlier, which can be used with your home charger? They can also be used at most workplaces, so don’t forget to pop it in your boot when you leave the house. 

Company car drivers can make significant savings by choosing electric – such as:

  • No more petrol expenses
  • No Vehicle Excise Duty (road tax)
  • No benefit-in-kind rates

To learn more about the benefits of going electric, read our comprehensive guide on the running costs of EVs

Close-up of an electric car plugged into a charger

How to charge an electric car away from home

Fully charging your EV at home and at work is great. But there’ll probably come a time when you need to top up at a public charging point. You might then be wondering how to charge an electric car away from home and what you need to do. Fear not, it’s nothing to worry about. Read on to find out more. 

How to use a public charging point

Nationwide, there are more charging stations than petrol stations. That means you’re never going to be far from somewhere you can get that extra boost for your journey. 

At most public charging points,  you’ll need to have a subscriber's swipe card, or mobile phone app, to unlock it. But networks are following recent government guidance, and so will likely also offer a pay-as-you-go contactless system.

Often, the charging point will include a cable lock to stop it from being disconnected (either maliciously or accidentally). You’ll usually need to use the swipe card or app to disconnect the electricity supply and unlock the cable.

Be aware that different providers may have different ways of operating their charging points, so it’s worth finding out how each company works. This will reduce the amount of time spent in the pouring rain trying to figure out how on earth to work that particular charging point!

How do I find my nearest public charger?

Easy-peasy. Your super-modern car probably comes equipped with a sat-nav system that will direct you to your nearest charging point. Or, you can download Zap-map or one of the other public charging network maps, like:

Using one of these maps, you can easily locate the closest charge point to you, or ones along your route. They’ll even tell you if the charge point is in use or not. If you have a subscription, you can also use a map to find your own network charging points, including the free ones.

Destination EV charge points

Many destinations, such as cinemas, retail parks, gyms, and supermarkets offer charge points, sometimes for free. If you’re doing the weekly shop, why not top up for an hour while you wander the aisles? Or chill out with the latest blockbuster while your car charges outside?

As with home charging stations, destination charge points typically offer 7kWh charging, which gives you around 20-30 miles per hour charged. Again, those universal “Type 2” cables could come in handy. Although at some charge points, it’s possible to just turn up and plug in.

It’s also becoming increasingly possible to use contactless payment for urban charging, so you can charge any time, without needing a subscription. 

Charging an electric car on long distance journeys or in emergencies

This is where rapid chargers come into play. They’re mainly found in motorway service stations, and handily, near main roads. Depending on the model of EV, it can take as little as 20 minutes to charge to that golden 80% mark. You’ll have to be prepared to pay a little more for the convenience, though.

Find out more in our guide to planning a long journey in an EV

Popular questions EV owners ask about charging

We hope we’ve shown you that charging your EV at home or at an electric vehicle charging station at work or in public doesn’t need to be complicated. However, we understand that any type of car can be a big investment. So, here are some answers to commonly asked questions to help you turn the key on your EV.

Unfortunately, the great British weather isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Often, we have to face the likes of rain, sleet, and snow. Blustery and wet conditions don’t tend to mix well with electricity, so it’s understandable why some people have concerns about charging EVs when the weather turns bad. But there’s absolutely no need to worry. 

EVs are safe to charge in any sort of weather, from torrential downpours to fog and even sandstorms. That’s because these vehicles are expertly engineered to be waterproof, and to keep out anything that could interfere with the electric system. 

The charging cables are also watertight and insulated. There’s no possible way for you to touch high voltage components that can cause you harm. That means you can enjoy peace of mind when charging in rain or shine.

Another question some people have about electric cars is about their range. The thought of being deep into a long car journey only for your engine to lose power can be a concern. While there’s no single answer to how far an electric car can go on a single charge, the standard range should be plenty to get you from point A to B. 

According to research by the Electric Vehicle Database, which reviewed a range of different electric car models, the average range clocks in at over 192 miles (310km). Some premium EV models, like the Mercedes EQS 450+, even boast a range as high as nearly 398 miles (640km). That’s enough to get you from Buckingham Palace in London to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh! 

Plus, with EV batteries becoming more powerful and affordable, and thousands of charging locations across the company, you don’t have to worry about running out of juice.

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