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 everything you need to know about 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, has to report WLTP in Europe but otherwise prefer the EPA figures. Read our article on Tesla Range for a longer explanation of range itself, how measured and what happens in the real world.
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 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 the voltage and current. The US have various Voltage options, whereas Europe operates at 220-240 Volts. Using a 230V supply and 16 Amps you'd get 230 x 16 = 3680 Watts or 3.7kw. At 32 Amps you would have 230 x 32 = 7.4kw. When charging, the voltage can fluctuate and as a result these numbers can go up or down a little.
In UK and Europe, there is also the option of 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(phase) with each other. The result of this is that when drawing 16 Amps on a 3P supply, you have 3 x 230 x 16 = 11kw. Some older Tesla's 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, either 110V or 240V and current of up to 48 Amps.
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 which is does within the car using a charge board/converter. This charge board also provides a limiting factor to the charge rate as it has a maximum capacity, for example 11kw.
Direct current (DC) charging avoids using this charge board and therefore the limitation is imposes. As a result DC charging can be much faster and is limited to the lower of what the charge point can supply and what the battery can take. The car and the charger negotiate the fastest current they can mutually handle and that is sent to the car. This is constantly adjusted to cater for the battery condition and state of charge, managed by the BMS. The battery voltage can be around 400v, and with a current of 300Amps it would lead to a charge rate of 120kw. Tesla superchargers operate this way and can charge some models up to 250kw.
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 battery in winter etc. Charging also has some wasted energy so a little is lost in the process, but the broad principle is correct.
Teslas have used different AC chargers in the cars over the years. The maximums are
When charging on AC, once the car limit has been met, it cannot charge any quicker, irrespective of the capabilities of the charge point.
The charge rate is also the slowest combination of the cars capabilities, the charge point capabilities and the cable capabilities, with respect to both the number of phases and the maximum current, eg a 3 phase 16a cable on a single phase 32a charge point will result in 16a on single phase.
All charging is the slowest of the supply, the connecting cables, the actual charge that converts AC to DC and the battery. When supercharging the limiting factor is typically the battery. Once the battery starts to fill up the maximum rate will fall, if the battery is either too hot or more typically too cold the limit will be lower, all these things slow the charge rate down and above 80% the maximum charge rate starts to become notably slower.
The supercharger itself can also play a role. The V3 chargers are limited to 250kw whereas the older V2 superchargers are limited to 150kw and they also work in pairs so if 2 cars are charging the supply has to be shared which further reduces the maximum speed.
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 public rapid charge are either CCS or Chademo. The US allows for both Chademo and its rumoured CCS via adaptors as Tesla use a custom port in the US. In Europe and a number of other countries, Tesla initially offered a Chademo adaptor however those countries are now generally increasingly standardising on CCS. As a consequence, Tesla have now introduced a CCS adaptor for the car which can be retrofitted to older MS and MX, and all M3 in these countries come with a CCS port as standard.
CCS enables charge speeds which are comparable to supercharging (where the charge point allows).
Not to be confused with Type 2 charging, these are a set of charging definitions which determine the type of charging setup, ie either home charging, at a fixed AC charge point, at a rapid charger etc.
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 of method as drivers tend to find it easier to think this way however, this is only indicative and can vary between cars. 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:
The Universal Mobile connector (UMC) is the portable charger, sometimes called a granny charger, that allows you to charge from a number of different electricity sockets via the choice of adapter.
The most basic type is for a regular domestic socket and is the slowest option, in the US the supplied adapter is a NEMA-14-50, in the UK a three pin plug and in Europe a Schuko. Other connectors are available for different socket types and the charger is intelligent to know which connector is being used and match the max current draw and voltage to maximise the available charge speed. In the US this is up to 14-50 and 6-50 connectors. In Europe the maximum is 32A commando or for the earlier UMC1 3 phase 16A.
To use, simply match the connector to the socket and plug in. Try to avoid extension leads or if you do use one capable for the task and uncoil fully to prevent heat build up. It is also important not to use plug adaptors that result in a higher performance adapter on the UMC than the supply, for instance converting a 16A Schucko to a UK 13A supply through a mains adapter as this will overload the supply.
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 as 16A and 32A 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, be careful not to overload the circuit, and if you are using an extension cable make sure it is fully unwound. 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.
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 cable to the car. You can get 3 phase versions including 32A ones which will be pretty quick, but they cost more and require 3 phase supply to your home. They are 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 although we would not recommend daily use of the UMC2. Tesla make the nicest version but it's 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 state of charge in the car, 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 has 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 has announced V3 superchargers. These offer even faster charging where the car allows but are CCS only. MS and MX from 2019 come with an adapter and cars made before then can be converted to take CCS although the highest speeds are only available on the Model 3.
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 to 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 now split equally between the two cars, with one car only getting more if the other car cannot take its allocation because, say, it's nearly full or has a very cold battery. 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. It's always best to try and be the only car on a charger pair, only sharing when there are no other options.
Rapid chargers in some countries like Ionity, Shell Recharge, instavolt etc use one of two connections. One is the CHAdeMO and requires an adapter for use on an MS or MX (it's not suitable for the Model 3 in Europe and most of Asia). This allows DC charging at up to 50kw which is quicker at around 120 mph than the AC charging they often also offer using the type 2 connector. Although these rapid chargers can deliver 44kw on the AC Type 2 connection, the cars are limited by the onboard charger which can be as low as 11kw. Other than the Chademo adapter, all the cables are there.
A CHAdeMo adapter is required in most countries to charge. The Model 3 does not support the Chademo adaptor except in the US but comes with a CCS port (see below) to support rapid charging.
The European standard for Rapid Chargers is now CCS and this is now becoming increasingly common in other countries. The CCS connection is essentially the Type 2 AC charging socket but with the addition of the DC connection to increase the size of the connection.
The Model 3 in Europe comes with a CCS port as standard. The MS and MX from 2019 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 can charge up to 150kw although the actual speed of charging will be the lower of the charge point and what your car can take. There are likely to be faster chargers coming soon. These can charge as fast as a Supercharger (V2) although many of the current CCS chargers are limited to 50kw. The faster charger points can also be quite expensive to use.
CCS is not available in the American markets.
Most Model S and Model X require an adapter to CCS charge. This is region dependant.
These are slower and similar to the charger you may have at home. They all typically charge at 20-25 miles per hour depending on the model, although some are only half that rate if 16A. They 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. 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.
We generally find that when using a card to start a charger, it is sometimes best to use the card to initiate the charger before plugging in.
Most destination chargers require you to use your own Type 2 cable. This is different in the US.
These are like other destination chargers although they can often be 3 phase which gives a charging boost. They also 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 background are for Tesla cars only, the white background are suitable for any car that can take a Type 2 cable. It's not uncommon for people to be confused over whether non Tesla's can charge at a Tesla charger, the only time it works is on a Tesla Destination Charger with a white background or a Tesla home charger.
Many EV owners charge their car overnight 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.
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 not always.
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 usually on main travel routes. They ONLY work on Tesla cars even if other cars support the same plug type.
There are more than one type of supercharger, the most common is the V2 standard with a limit of around 150kw and shared between two bays, so alternate chargers are best used if possibly. The fastest charger is the V3 charger supporting up to 250kw although not all cars can make use of this.
Free although aimed at those owners who are using the facilities at the location.
No app required.
These are aimed at places where you will be leaving your car while using the venue 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 and indicated with a sign with a white background.
from free to quite expensive
Some require no app or membership
Others may require membership, dedicated cards, phone apps or contactless credit card
3rd party chargers vary a lot from place to place. Many slow destination chargers are free or may require an app or membership card. Rapid chargers are increasingly paid for but are moving to contactless credit card.
The amount you pay can vary not just between networks, but the same charge point may cost a different amount depending on how you pay. Some networks offer memberships schemes in return for cheaper charging.
As we mention above it can vary from location to location. In general, if you have to pay for charging it is usually more expensive than charging at home and so we would advocate charging at home wherever possible.
There are variations from network to network on how you are charged. Some schemes have a membership model where you get a discount. Some charge by the kwh consumed. Some by the time connected. And some also charge a connection fee. There is no easy answer to how much it costs outside the Tesla network, and you have to research the network, however there are an increasing number of websites that collate and help inform on the various networks and their locations to make life easier.
It can be a quite contentious subject amongst owners on the correct etiquette when using public chargers. Tempers can become especially frayed when people are in need of a charge and they arrive to find a plugged in car that appears to be charged. There is no way to tell if a Tesla is charging if it is locked, the lights on the charge port stop flashing shortly after a car is locked and some owners mistaken think the car is full.
We suggest the following as a general guide to charging etiquette