One of the most frequently asked questions after "how far can it go?" is "how do you charge it?", with the variation "how long does it take to charge?". And there isn't a simple answer. In this section we cover the types of chargers, the networks, how to find out what cables you need and a few other hints and tips when charging.
An electric car is just like any other car, the distance you can go on a given amount of fuel varies by how you drive and even the weather. The economy or efficiency of an EV car is also laid down by a formal testing policy just like the figures you see for petrol and diesel cars. Unlike a petrol car, for an EV they quote the range the car has on a full charge rather than how many miles it can do on a gallon or how many litres of fuel for 100 km. There have been 3 different standards used, EPA, NEDC, and its replacement, the WLTP, each giving different results. Tesla by law have to report WLTP in Europe, but otherwise prefer the EPA figures. Read our article on Tesla Range for a longer explanation of range itself.
Before diving into the detail of charging options it's worth explaining the basics on what all the different terms mean:
A watt is 1 amp x 1 volt, however this isn't that practical so we use kw which represents 1000w, and is the rate of energy flow. This is a term where you don't really have an equivalent on petrol cars. When charging, it's the rate at which energy is being put into the battery. The nearest thing with a petrol car would be how fast you can fill your petrol tank up, something that isn't quoted as it's largely irrelevant.
Where it gets a little confusing is on an electric car, the energy flow also applies to how much energy is being taken out of the battery and is therefore roughly the power of the car. On a petrol car we would measure this using bhp.
This is the amount of electricity and is equivalent to the amount of fuel (ie gallons or litres) you might put into a petrol car. You might say an EV car has an 85kwh battery in the same way you might say a car has a 10 gallon petrol tank. There is a slight variation of this as some cars use the Amp Hour or Ah unit of measure, this assumes the voltage of the battery is largely stable which it is. When multiplied kw by time you get kwh - ie if the rate of flow is 7kw, in one hour you can put in 7kwh.
When you charge your car you can use either AC or DC. Alternating current or AC is the type we get at home through the sockets on the wall and at the slower public charge points (sometimes confusingly called fast chargers). The rate of charge (in kw) is the product of our voltage and current. We operate at 230 Volts in the UK (not the 240V people often think it is), and at 16 Amps we'd get 230 x 16 = 3680 Watts or 3.7kw. Equally at 32 Amps we would have 230 x 32 = 7.4kw. When charging, the voltage can fluctuate a little and as a result these numbers can go up or down a little.
In UK and Europe, we also have 3 phase power supplies, some houses have these as do factories etc. In essence, this is like having 3 separate 230V power supplies, all slightly out of step with each other. The result of this is that when taking 16Amps on a three phase supply, you have 3 x 230 x 16 = 11kw. Some older Teslas can take 32 Amps giving 3 x 230 x 32 = 22kw but later cars with the high power charger are limited to 24A giving 3 x 230 x 24 = 16.5kw. Remember, this is the rate at which you can fill the battery.
In the US there isn't 3 phase but you can charge on AC at different voltage levels and up to 48A.
The batteries themselves are Direct Current or DC. As a result, the cars can also charge using a DC supply which is what you get at superchargers and rapid chargers. As the batteries are DC, the car does not need to convert the power from AC to DC and can therefore accept much high charge rates, however the charge point must supply the right DC voltage to the car as they differ slightly depending on the car model and the state of charge. The car and the charger then negotiate the fastest current they can mutually handle and that os sent to the car, and this is constantly adjust to cater for the battery condition. The battery voltage can be around 400v, and with a current of 300Amps it would lead to a charge rate of 120kw.
Your car will have a battery which will have a capacity, something like 85kwh, in petrol terms that would be a tank of say 10 gallons.
When charging, the rate will vary depending on what you are using to charge, but typically this may be 7kw at home. If your battery was empty, at 7kw it would take 85 kwh / 7kw = 12 hours to fully charge - ie you would need to be adding 7kw for 12 hours to add 84kwh. If you were on a faster charger like a DC charger, because the rate is much higher, the time is correspondingly less. On a Supercharger delivering 100kw, the time would be 85 kwh/100kw = about 50 mins to go from empty to full.
But.. the rate can vary over time as the car and charger work together to protect the battery and the electronics and as a result the actual rates will be lower than the maximum theoretical values. On a supercharger, this slows down as the battery fills up to protect the battery, it can also be slower with a cold batteries in winter etc. Charging also has some wasted energy so a little is lost in the process, but the broad principal is correct.
Teslas have used different AC chargers in the cars over the years. The maximums are 16A 3 Phase (ie 11kw, on all cars without an uprated charger), 24A 3 phase (ie 17kw, the High power charger option from 2016 on facelift NS and all MX) and 32A 3 phase (ie 22kw, the twin charger option prior to 2016 only available on pre-facelift MS cars). When charging on AC, once the car limit has been met, it can not charge any quicker, irrespective of the capabilities of the charge point.
The maximum a Tesla will charge on DC is approx 120kw on a supercharger and 50kw on a Chademo if the battery is a 85 or above, and or about 10% lower on smaller batteries. But that's the theoretical maximum and is likely to be lower if your battery if partly charged, cold, very hot, shared with another car on a supercharger pair, the charger is too hot (a problem with older ecotricity chargers) etc, and the speed will reduce. When DC charging, unlike AC charging, the rate rarely stays constant throughout the whole charge time.
While quoting kw and kwh is technically correct, it's not very intuitive to many. To try and help, although arguably it adds to the confusion, we sometimes quote how many miles are being added or are currently stored. This is calculated using the Typical consumption rate which is a fixed number of miles for each kwh and varies slightly by model. If a car can do 3.3 miles for each kwh, and in 1 hour on a 7kw charger we can add 7kwh, we can say the car is adding approx 3.3 x 7 or 23 miles of range per hour charging or 23 mph (not to be confused with speed!).
If you're still unsure about the miles display, see Tesla Range explained
In many countries, the way to rapid charge other than on a Supercharger was to use a Chademo adapter. This was a heft lump of kit and had a max rate of approx 50kw. In a number of countries an alternative standard existed called CCS, and this has been adopted as the standard in Europe. To be compliant, Tesla have equipped the M3 with CCS and have even converted some superchargers to have two cables, the original and a CCS version. Tesla are now bringing out an update to the MS and MX to use the CCS and Chademo will, to all intents and purposes, fade out in Europe.
Not to be confused with Type 2 charging, there is a set of charging definitions called 1, 2 and 3. Level 1 is essentially charging using the universal charger that comes with the car and plugs into a domestic socket. Level 2 is AC charging from a dedicated charge point, and level 3 is generally referred to as DC charging such as supercharging. We prefer not to use these terms as there is significant variability on level 2 and level 3 performance.
When you charge you are adding energy to the batteries and the rate at which that happens depends on the way you charge. We've included a MPH figure (multiply by 1.5 for kmh) for each type as drivers tend to find it easier to thing this way however this is only indicative and can very between cars and there is no guarantee that adding 25 miles of range will actually mean you can drive 25 miles, in the same way a petrol car that does a theoretical 45 mpg will actually do 45 miles on a gallon. The lower end of the figures are for the MX and the higher end of the range is for the M3 as an M3 can travel much further on a single kwh than a MX. Most users will want to charge in one of the following ways:
At home using a commando socket - This is no more than a blue socket that allows either 16A or 32A unlike a 3 pin socket that gives a maximum of 10A and about 6 miles of range per hour. To use either, you need to plug in a cable with the appropriate electronics to work (called a UMC), and Tesla supply this with the car. You'll get up to 22 miles per hour of charge with a commando which in nearly all cases leaves you with a charged car in the morning.
Until 2019 in Europe, Tesla supplied a UMC1 which came with a 32A commando plug but could also take a Red 16A 3 phase plug. From mid 2019 and on all M3, Tesla supplied the UMC2 which supports either a smaller 16A socket, useful as this is the size often found in marinas, caravan parks and some ferries or you can get a 32A adapter for this later 32A socket as they are different sizes. The UMC2 does not support 3 phase charging at all. If you opt to use the 3 pin plug, even though this is by far the slowest way of charging, you must still be careful not to overload a circuit, especially if you are using an extension cable. If travelling around Europe and intending to use your UMC, check out our suggestion for a DIY Euro charger which also helps avoid the polarity issues you can get in some European countries.
In summary, if you're planning on using a commando socket, don't assume they're all the same size, as the blue 32A and 16A sockets and the 3 phase 16A Red socket are all different.
This is effectively a box on the wall that has the electronics built in, rather than the UMC mentioned above. They can come with either a tethered cable or a socket. All you need to do is use the tethered cable, or if the version is one with a socket, a Type 2 lead to the car. These also typically charge the car at 22 miles per hour. You can get 3 phase versions including 32A ones which will be pretty quick, but they cost a more and require 3 phase supply to your home. They about 50% quicker unless you have dual chargers or the high power charger option in your car. The preference over Commando and a charge point, and whether to go tethered v untethered are all personal choice and often influenced by the grants available. Tesla make the nicest version but its also the most expensive.
Tesla Superchargers just need plugging in and depending on a whole host of factors can put in anything up to 360 miles per hour. The more the car is charged, the slower it gets so they work fastest when arriving nearly empty and charging to about 70%. Chargers are in pairs and both can't deliver the maximum charge rate at the same time. So, if you have a choice, always be the only car on a charger pair (they have 1A and 1B written on them). As one car fills up, it charges more slowly releasing more capacity to the second car. Tesla have also introduced penalty charges for leaving your car connected after charging has completed if the location is half full or greater.
While the connector will fit in other makes of car, a supercharger will not work with any car other than a Tesla. In Europe the superchargers have two different connector types, a Type 2 type plug for MS and MX and a CCS socket for M3.
Tesla have announced V3 superchargers which are being trialled in the US. These will offer even faster charging where the car allows, currently only the model 3 will get the full benefit although expect it to be 2020 before they start appearing in the UK.
A note on charging etiquette. Other than V3 chargers, they are in installed in pairs and share a supply capacity, usually between 120 and 150kw. They are numbers 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B etc so show the pairings. It used to be the case the first car got pretty much all it could take with the second car getting the balance but this seems to have changed and the capacity is split equally between the two cars. As a result, sharing a charger pair not only limits the speed at which you can charge but may also hamper the other car on the pair already charging. Its always best to try and be the only car on a charger pair only sharing when there are not other options.
Rapid chargers like the ecotricity points you see at service stations, are used using the Chademo adaptor (which costs around GBP 450). This allows DC charging which is quicker at around 120 mph than the AC charging they also offer using the tpe 2 connector. Although these rapid chargers can deliver 44kw on the AC Type 2 connection, the cars are limited to 11kw (M3 and standard spec MS and MX), 17kw (facelift MS and MX which have the high power charger option which became standard on later cars) or 22kw (pre facelift MS with the dual charger option). Other than the Chademo adapter, all the cables are there.
The Model 3 does not support the Chademo adaptor but comes with a CCS port (see below).
The European standard for Rapid Chargers is now CCS. There are still a lot of Chademo chargers out there but increasingly they also have a CCS cable and new installs may only have the CCS cable. The CCS connection is essentially the same as a Type 2 AC charging socket with the addition of an extension where the DC connection is. In practice a pure CCS plur will retain the shape of a Type 2 plug on the top half but only have the pins/connections required for DC charging, the remaining pins are present for AC charging.
The Model 3 comes with a CCS port as standard. The MS and MX now come with an adapter to extend the Type 2 socket to a CCS socket through the addition of the bottom DC pins, and this can be retrofitted to earlier cars.
CCS is able to charge up to 150kw and there are likely to be faster chargers coming. These can charge as fast as a Supercharger although many of the current CCS chargers are limited to 50kw.
These are slower and similar to the charger you may have at home. They typically all charge at 22 miles per hour, although some are only half that, and can be found in some car parks, railway stations, restaurants, hotels etc. The idea is you will be leaving your car there for a while so a slower rate of charge is fine. Tesla have their own destination chargers which look identical to the one you may have at home. The Tesla chargers usually have red and white signs behind them, the red will only work with Teslas, the white with any EV. Others require you to use your own Type 2 cable. These are latched to the car so can't be stolen while you are away and are typically started with an app or membership card.
While these are sometimes referred to as fast chargers, this is a legacy term with reference to charging at home on the UMC. Fast is not that fast compared to most peoples current home charger.
These are like other destination chargers although they can often be 3 phase which gives a charging boost and sometimes load share where one charger will deliver as much as it can, but if two chargers are in use, the power supply may be split so that both cars can charge. They are also tethered so you don't need a cable. These tend to be found at hotels, restaurants, and other places where you might want to visit and if you are reliant on the charger you should ring ahead to check access, many places require you to use their facilities although they may offer the charging for free in return. Look out for the signs behind the chargers, those with a red back are for Tesla cars only, the white back are suitable for any car that can take a Type 2 cable.
Many EV owners charge their car over night at home and rarely need to charge on a public network. Others travel extensively and rely heavily on them. But all owners need to be aware of what networks exist, how much they cost, and what you need to be able to use them.
Prices change all the time so please check with either provider if you are unsure or price sensitive
A word of warning when using any charger. Most chargers are effectively in a car park, and terms and conditions apply. Please don't assume parking is free, sometimes it is so long as you register at the reception, but people have been caught out. Similarly, many motorway services have a 2 hour free parking limit, and while you should be able to charge in that time, its possible that you could overrun especially if you have to wait for a free charger.
Free for some cars especially early MS and MX.
No app required, payment is taken from the card registered on your MyTesla account.
Overstay charges apply if you remain connected after charging and the site is 50% or greater occupied.
These are the Tesla superchargers you find at some motorway services and selected other locations. They ONLY work on Tesla cars even if other cars support the same plug type ie a type 2 (outside the US) or CCS plug found in many countries.
Free although aimed at those owners who are using the facilities at the location.
No app required.
Like the zero carbon world scheme, these are aimed at places where you will be leaving your car while using the venues facilities. The chargers should be free, and typically you may find 2 or 3 of the chargers some of which will be dedicated to only Tesla cars indicated by the red background to the sign, while others will work with any car which can take the plug.
35p per kwh
No app required or membership
Contactles credit card
Not the cheapest and requires a Chademo or CCS adapter but the turn up, tap the credit card and charge makes it as easier than all except a supercharger to use. Located across the country including a number of leisure clubs.
£7.85 per month after an initial 3 free months.
Either free or 9p/kWh + VAT
App or RFID card
Sometimes refereed to as Chargemaster, they operate two schemes, this one and Polar Instant (see below).
You receive a membership card as part of your subscription and these are used to start a charging session.
Located extensively in London and Birmingham but have a smattering acoss the country, many at Asda stores.
£1.20 admin fee per use.
£1 or £1.50 per hour for AC charging units.
£6 for 30 mins for rapid chargers.
As above, sometimes known as Chargemaster. This is the fully pay as you go option and ideal for those that would not use them on a regular basis.
Located extensively in London and Birmingham but have a smattering acoss the country, many at Asda stores.
£20 annual fee for the RFID card or use the free app. Some points have poor reception so the RFID card may be needed in remote areas or underground car parks.
£1 connection fee, although varies
CYC administer the use of other enterprises charging equipment so you sometimes find them in city operated car parts (Greater Manchester being a main one) or even across whole areas like Scotland.
Located extensively around Manchester, Bristol, Newcastle and the south east plus right across Scotland.
£3 for 30 mins on a rapid charge +17p per kwh using their App
Slower, standalone AC chargers are free (but require the RFID card)
Their domestic customers get the connection fee waived.
Ecotricity are located at many motorway service stations and other strategic points across England and to a lesser extent Wales. They mainly focus on Rapid chargers where you will wait near the car for charging to complete.
£12.50 for an RFID card. The App is free.
Most points are free although some charge.
They aim to have a wide network at places where a car may be left for an hour or more.
Located at a mixed bag of locations including various retail destinations across the country.
Free app or £9 RFID card
30p kWh, plus a connection fee of either free, 50p, £1 or £1.80.
Similar to the CYC and Polar networks in use, these types of companies tend to be strong in certain geographies, and almost none existent in others.
One for your holidays, located in Devon and Cornwall, the lakes and a few around Southampton area.
No membership fee or app
Priced per kwh with different makes of car offering different rates, generally expensive
Relatively new and how charging should always have been, just turn up and use a credit card.
One of the fastest charging networks around rivalling Tesla superchargers
No membership fee
Free app, 25p kWh
It was only a matter of time before the oil company retail divisions came up with an option.
Not many at present but with obvious scope for widespread expansion
How much does it cost? A year ago, most charging was free with a few exceptions. There is however an increasing trend to charge for public use although some hotels and councils still offer free charging. The charges are also getting close to the price of fuel for a diesel or petrol car. As an example, Ecotricity have introduced a £3 fee for their Rapids plus 17p per kwh. A 30 min charge may cost £3 plus 20x 17p = GBP6.40 and this will be approx 60 miles - thats approx 10p per mile. This is comparable to an efficient diesel car. At home, it depends on your tariff, but typically Economy 7 stars at 6p and a green eco tariff may be 15-20p per kwh. At an average of 10p a kwh this works out at approx 3p per mile. Super Chargers are mostly free (* see note above), as are some destination chargers.
Common to all electric cars are public charging locations. These come in a variety of forms and the proliferation varies from areas to area. We cover the various schemes like Ecotricity, Polar and Charge Your car (CYC) on a different page but it initially makes more sense to describe how you find out which ones are on your travels. For instance there is no point signing up to Ecotricity only to travel around Scotland where they are mainly CYC.
Plugshare list all the sites and you can filter by car type or charging point type so you can see what is available and which network they belong to. I believe the data to be fairly accurate but it is often left to members to correct the data and report failed chargers.
Zapmap is very similar to Plugshare and the combination gives a near 100% coverage in the UK. It also includes an EV route planner option.
Another option is called EV Trip planner. This combines a navigation tool with charging locations and so enables you to plan lengthy routes more effectively.
The final option is a site called A Better Routeplanner. This is similar to EV Trip planner in many ways, but as their website says, a planner is less important than having a plan - these tools help you especially when on a longer journey to somewhere unfamiliar.