How to charge an electric car

Adding charge got you positively baffled? Let the article below take you through the complete electric car charging process

James Wilson
Dec 3, 2019

Knowing how to correctly charge an electric car in the UK will save you time, money and even the odd argument with strangers. The reason being, doing it incorrectly leads to problems, delays and unnecessary charges โ€“ none of which us Brits are particularly good at handling.

Generally speaking, there are three main locations where you'll charge your electric car: at home, at paid public charging points or at free public charging points. While the process for charging an electric car at each one is very similar (park, plug, charge) there are important differences you need to be aware of.

Some owners may be thinking they are only ever going to use their home charger (as this is normally the cheapest and easiest option) but there is every chance you might have a need to rely upon a public charger at some point or another.

If you're wondering how to charge your electric car, read on for all the details on charging at home, or at a public charging point.

The dos and don'ts of charging an electric car

โœ” Use the right equipment (namely cables and connectors)
โœ” Park with your charging port closest to the charger
โœ” Plug-in while it is raining (it is quite safe)
โœ” Always have your smartphone on hand (for paid charging)
โœ” Double-check charging has started before you walk away

โœ˜ Donโ€™t think you need to use rubber gloves to plug in
โœ˜ Don't leave your car hogging a public/paid charger once it is fully charged
โœ˜ Don't forget to take a suitable charging cable (when not charging at home)
โœ˜ Donโ€™t use a household extension cable to help charge your car
โœ˜ Don't lick the charging port

How to charge an electric car at home

If you're the proud owner of a shiny new electric car, it may be worth your while to install your own charging point at your home. For a start, it reduces your need to rely on public chargers and the possibility that you might have to wait for someone else to finish charging their own car.

Assuming you have a driveway or another form of private parking, it's actually extremely simple to have one fitted, if a touch costly - although you can save yourself ยฃ500 with the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) grant.

Now you have your own charging point to complete the electric car ownership experience, you're ready to live the easy and convenient life. Once your car is parked up and ready to charge, your next move should be to release the charging flap โ€“ this can normally be done via unlocking the entire car or using a button in the cabin.

Get your charging cable from wherever it is stored โ€“ if you have a suitable tethered wall charger it will have its own charging cable, but if it is untethered you will probably need to use the cable provided with the car (normally located in the boot of a car).

Next, connect the cable from charger to charging port on your car. Many electric cars have a way of signifying that they are charging, whether that be a light on the dashboard or via an app made by the car manufacturer. Regardless of what the method is, make sure your car is actually charging, as coming out to an uncharged car is not a great way to start your day.

After this, all you need to do is lock the car (this wonโ€™t stop it from charging), doing so not only prevents access to your carโ€™s interior but will lock the charging plug in place. When you need to leave, simply unlock the car, unplug the cable (put it away properly) close the charging flap and you're away on your travels. Keep an eye on that range though, otherwise you'll be looking for the public chargers you've been trying to avoid.

Best electric car home charging point?

There is a huge number of home chargers on offer. They range from up-market wooden-clad units to slightly garish white plastic units (plus everything in between). Outside of aesthetics, there is a wide range of charging points available to electric car drivers.

It is best to consult a charge point installer for your exact needs but it is important to consider how long your electric car will typically be parked for, how big its battery pack is and how big a power output you can have โ€“ no point having a massive battery pack that takes 14 hours to charge at 3kW if you are only ever going to be parked there for 10 hours a day.

What should be avoided is using a household extension lead to charge an electric carโ€™s battery, Charging an electric car this way is quite dangerous as it requires a lot of electricity over long periods of time, meaning standard extension leads may overheat and become a fire risk.

Charging an electric car at a public charger

Public chargers can either be paid for or free, but there is one key similarity in the charging process to keep in mind: you have to find a suitable charging point. The good news here is there are a selection of charging location maps available, some show you absolutely all the charging points publically available while others show you only those affiliated with a certain brand (ideal for those who subscribe to a car charging network such as Polar Plus).

As a note, websites such as ZapMap and Open Charge Map lead the way for cross-brand charging points. Make sure your car is compatible with the connector provided before travelling to a charger โ€“ any charging map worth its salt will be able to provide connector information and the last thing you want is to make the journey only to find you can't plug the car in. Once you have arrived at a suitable charging point, the process becomes a little different.

Charging an electric car at a paid public charger

So you've managed to work your way to a charging station, but you're wondering what to do next. Well, in the majority of cases you're going to need your smartphone and an app - each brand of charging point (Polar, ecotricity and pod point are some of the most common) have their own - if it is your first time using the app, you will need to create an account and add credit, which can be done using your card details.ย 

Once you have funds you can then connect to the charge point you want to use via the app on your phone. If you are panicking about always having signal or mobile data, donโ€™t. New charge points often come with WiFi built-in for drivers to use.

Provided you have been successful in connecting to the charge point, you now need to release your charging port cap (just like a fossil fuel powered carโ€™s filler flap) and plug in the charging cable.

Larger output public chargers, typically around and above the 50kW mark predominantly come with a charging cable provided โ€“ normally Type 2 or CCS. Once your car is plugged in, some setups will require a confirmation that your car is connected to the charge point via the app โ€“ not doing so will mean your car wonโ€™t charge and the time it is sat there will be wasted.

Once charging has started, lock your car and get on with your business. If, for whatever reason your car doesn't start charging, try cancelling the charge and starting again. Failing that, some platforms and charge points will have contact details for a helpdesk, who may be able to advise you on any issues with that charging point.

Charging an electric car at a free public charger

Some electric car charging points are free to use, donโ€™t expect rapid charging, but hey, free is free. Commonly these are located in places trying to attract motorists to go there such as supermarkets and shopping centres or even places of work.

Using these charging points is very similar to charging at home. You park up with your charging port facing the charging point, unlock your charging flap, plug in, make sure charging has started, lock your car and then carry on with your day.

It is worth noting that the charging point may be untethered, so you might be required to take your own charging cable.

Chivalrous electric car charging behaviour

Charging your electric car at a public place is more of a team game than filling up a petrol or diesel car at a fuel station. This is largely because fully-charging your car can take a few hours and in that time the chances are one or more of your fellows will be wanting to plug in.

Therefore, once your car is charged it is best to unplug it and move it away from the charging area as soon as possible โ€“ regardless of whether you have finished what you were doing. Certain charging points, such as those operated by Tesla, actually penalise drivers who leave their vehicles connected to a charge point after their vehicle is fully charged โ€“ there is a grace period though.

Most paid public charge points include an indication of charge status via the app required to pay and use the charge point, so it should be easy to track how your car is doing โ€“ some will even alert motorists to the fact their car is fully charged. For free charge points, the app provided by your carโ€™s manufacturer should also indicate the charge status of your car.

As a final note, if you regularly park in an area with few charging points, expect to witness or be part of the occasional bun fight โ€“ especially if they are free to use.


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