Electric car charging stations explained

Lost in the world of electric car charging stations? We clear everything up from compatibility to costs

James Wilson
Oct 18, 2019

Having an electric car charging station at home is great. You are guaranteed access - provided other members of your household don’t park terribly or hog the plug - you can take advantage of cheap electricity during the night and there are no worries about having the wrong cable or the charger not working with your car.

The problem is, since cars are used for travelling, you might not always be plugging in at home. You might, for example, be in Bristol one night and York the next - who knows? The last thing you want though is to be running out of juice in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, only to find the charging station you're heading for isn’t compatible with your car.

At the same time, turning up to a charging station that's out of action can be equally disastrous and even if you find a suitable charging point, not all stations are the same in design, output, cost or operation. This, aside from anything else, makes things a tad confusing. Fear not though, as BuyaCar is here to answer all your questions (plus a few more).

 

Read on to find out everything you need to know about electric car charging stations.

Electric car charging point types

When it comes to power output, electric car charging points fall into three main categories: slow, fast and rapid. What these refer to is how much electrical energy the charging point can pump into your batteries during a given amount of time. Below is a rough guide of what this translates to in terms of output and how fast you can expect your car to charge.

It is worth remembering though that these times can vary massively depending upon the capacity of your battery. Likewise, not all cars are able to rapid charge - whether that is a limitation of the batteries themselves or the onboard circuitry which controls how fast the car charges. In any case, it is best to check what your electric car is capable of before plugging it in to avoid frustration and disappointment.

Charging Station Class

Typical Power Output

Rough Charge Time

Slow

3 to 6kW

6 to 12 hours for a full charge

Fast

7kW to 11kW (in rare cases this can increase up to 22kW)

2 to 5 hours for a full charge

Rapid

43kW to 100+kW

20 to 40 minutes for 80% charge 

The kW stands for kilowatt and has become the commonly used term to measure the power output of electric car batteries.

For those wondering why the rapid charge time is quoted to 80% of capacity that is due to battery health concerns. If you subject your electric car to regular rapid charging, its battery capacity - and therefore its range - will drop faster than expected. So above 80%, charging rates slow when using a rapid charger.

Electric car charging station costs 

Free electric car charging stations 

First things first, there is such a thing as a free charging station - exciting news, we know. Typically these are located at places such as supermarkets (Lidl score surprisingly well here), pay and display car parks and universities, which can all be very useful. That said, free chargers are not without their problems.

“Free” attracts a lot of attention, so if the charge point is located in a particularly busy area, expect it to be occupied constantly throughout the week - there may even be daily battles between motorists as to who can nab it first. Also, compared with charge points that charge you as well as the car, there aren’t as many of them.

A number of the free-to-use chargers actually have restrictions on them, as well. For example, they might not be accessible 24 hours a day or they might be located on a dealership forecourt and only available to those with a car made by whichever brand the dealership represents. Getting back to the good news though, some free-to-use chargers are of the rapid variety.

Pay-to-use electric car charging stations

The reality is, if you are charging your electric car away from home, you are more than likely going to have to pay someone for the privilege. The majority of charge points rely on an app linked to a credit or debit card, use of contactless cards or even membership fobs for payment.

Normally you will be billed per kWh of electricity you use - the table below shows what some of the major players in car charging typically charge customers. There are other potential costs too. For example, Tesla will make you pay an idle fee in high demand areas if you leave your car plugged in after it is fully charged.

Tesla does give owners the chance to move their vehicles once fully charged (the Tesla App can inform drivers when their vehicle is charged). Previously, certain companies have enforced a connection fee, i.e. an amount for the service regardless of how much you use - but these have largely died out.

On the other hand, there are ways to save money on electric charging. Ecotricity allows customers to halve the cost of charging their cars if they choose ecotricity as their energy provider. There are also a handful of membership/subscription schemes which will best suit those doing higher mileages and regularly plugging in while out on the road. These typically charge users a small monthly fee in return for reduced or even free use of charging points.

Brand

Cost per kWH

ecotricty Electric Highway

30p (15p for those who use ecotricty as their home energy provider)

Tesla (only charge Tesla models)

24p

Chargemaster Polar Plus (membership)

£7.85 per month plus 10.8p per kWh (some charge points are free to use)

Chargemaster Polar Instant

£1 - £1.50 per hour (£12 per hour for rapid chargers)

Shell Recharge

39p 

Electric car home charging stations

Last but not least, we have home charging stations. These are the most convenient way to charge your electric car if you have off-street parking. Not only can you do it overnight when electricity is generally cheaper, but you can also rest assured that the charger will always be available when you arrive home - unless you regularly have charging battles with other people in your household.

Costs vary depending on the brand and type of charger you go for and you won’t find any rapid chargers on residential properties just yet (unless your name is Elon Musk - Tesla's founder - of course). A Pod Point charger (one of the more prominent names in the market) starts at just under £800 for the slowest 3.6kW charger and goes all the way up to £1,500 for a 22kW charger.

As this is by no means cheap, the UK government offers a grant of up to 75% for those looking to install an electric car charge point at their home. After the initial outlay of a residential charge point, you will be able to take advantage of cheaper electricity. Instead of paying 20-30p per kWh, you should be able to pay somewhere between 10-14p per kWh.

Bear in mind that many manufacturers often throw in free home chargers when buying an electric car, so you may not have to pay extra to have your own charger. Remember, too, that you can always charge using an ordinary domestic plug, though you'll have to be able to get the car close enough to the plug as using an extension lead to charge a car can be dangerous and some models will prevent you from charging if the car cable is not directly plugged into the mains.

Electric car charging station types 

Since 2014, all new electric cars and electric car charging points within the EU, have had to feature at least one Type 2 connector – our guide to electric car connectors will teach you the ins and outs to what a Type 2 connector is. What this means is any electric car and charging station built after 2014 will have no issue connecting - lack of cables aside.

On that note, when looking for charging points, those which are tethered include a cable, while untethered options don’t – so for the latter you will need to take your own. Either type of station can offer a range of cables and/or connectors, as even though Type 2 is the industry standard, there are alternatives such as the CCS (combined charging standard) cable, which are better suited to rapid charging.

How to find an electric car charging station 

As running out of charge is one of the biggest worries for electric car drivers, there is a smorgasbord of platforms to locate electric car charging points. Starting with something many will be familiar with, we have Google Maps. Available on both Android and Apple operating systems it lets users find the nearest charging stations while showing how many charging points there are and their power ratings, but sadly no indication of whether they are currently in use.

Moving on to more specialist options, there are platforms such as Zap-Map, which is available on desktop and mobile. It is packed with handy features, such as a route planner which suggests potential charging stations to use along your journey. If you enter the make, model and real-world range of your electric car, it will take that into account as well. There is also a ‘Zap Talk’ section which shows the comments of other motorists who have used the charging station you are looking at.

Most charge point providers such as Pod Point and Chargemaster offer maps of where their charging points can be found, but you will naturally be limiting your selection by searching for one brand only. Some cars’ sat-nav systems will be able to provide up to date information about charging points, too, with Tesla models showing the location of the company's own chargers, wehther you're likely to be able to get there on your current charge and how much battery charge you're likely to have left when you get there - very clever.

How to use an electric car charging station

Depending on how well your experience goes, using a car charging station can be as simple as a walk in the park or as enjoyable as a pinecone sandwich. While there may be a little bit of variance from charging point to charging point, below is a general step by step guide to charging.

  1. Park your electric car so that the charging port on your vehicle is closest to the charging station (this stops you from looking silly if the cable doesn’t reach)

  2. Establish how you pay for your charging – if you need an app, download it and follow its on-screen instructions to sign up. If you are paying via contactless or a membership card, you will most likely have to present it at this point

  3. Find out whether you need your own cable, i.e. if it is tethered or untethered station, and whether or not you have compatible connectors (remember, all charging points made post-2014 should have a Type 2 connector as a minimum)

  4. Plug your car in

  5. Make sure charging has begun

  6. Go find something to do while it charges - a gentle stroll or cup of coffee normally does the trick

  7. Once back to the car, unplug it and make sure you have ended your charging session – sometimes this must be done in-app

  8. Drive off into the sunset

Electric car charging point problems

There are many horror stories about charging an electric car. People arriving to find charging points closed, cables/connectors that don’t work, rapid chargers not charging at the full rate but charging the full price, no available charging points, etc. etc. Platforms such as Zap-Map are working to combat this, by providing up-to-date information about a charging point’s status as well as feedback from those who have previously used that charge point.

So the information is there to help avoid any mishaps and find user-friendly charging points, but it requires more effort than just turning up to a charging point blind and hoping you are able to plug your car in every time.

 

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