When taking the electric car plunge, there is a lot of new information to go through — especially about charging your new EV, such as how to charge, where to charge, and how billing works. But these issues are very simple, once you get to know them.
There are three kinds of charging levels for EVs. Unlike a gasoline-fueled car, one major perk of an electric vehicle is that you can plug it in at home or use an EV charging station when you’re on the go.
Level 1 Charger
Level 1 charging uses the charging cord that comes with most electric cars. It plugs into most regular 120-volt household outlets, and provides a “trickle charge” - the slowest type of EV charging, and supplies a few miles of range per hour. Depending on the battery size and the vehicle, the charge rate could take up to 30 hours to fully charge an EV and 10 hours to charge a PHEV.
Functionally, that’s fine for drivers that go short distances around town on an average day and at the night are somewhere where a car can be plugged in to a common 120-volt outlet. While this may be convenient and inexpensive and can always do in a pinch, the low charging rate may not be suitable for some consumer’s lifestyles.
If connecting an EV or PHEV to a Level 1 charging cable for long-term, at-home charging, consult a licensed electrician to ensure there is a dedicated circuit to support the power load.
Do Not Use an Extension Cord for Level 1 Charging
The Level 1 charging cord many electric vehicle manufacturers provide when you buy an EV or a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) can range in length from 6 feet to 20 feet or more depending on vehicle make and model.
If that charging cable isn’t long enough to plug into a nearby outlet, you may be tempted to use an extension cord. But it is not advisable to use an extension cord to charge an EV or PHEV. Charging an electric car requires more electricity than the amount common home appliances need. Therefore, electric car chargers contain thicker wires that can handle more power than smaller gauge wires in typical extension cords.
Pairing an extension cord with the charger restricts the voltage transfer. This setup will take even longer to boost your battery, in addition to creating safety concerns.
Since charging an electric vehicle draws a large amount of power, an extension cord may overheat if you connect it to the charging cable. The chance of fire increases because the extension cord attempts to transmit more energy than it was made to carry. Overheating cords can melt plugs and receptacles, and the fire danger is greater when left unattended overnight or while you’re not home.
Another safety risk is electric shock. An EV charging cable is more volatile when connected to an extension cord. Rerouting the power supply from your electrical outlet through an extension compromises the stability of this power transfer. Inserting and removing the plug then becomes a riskier task.
Level 2 Charger
This type of charger is the same voltage as an electric clothes dryer or another large appliance on a 240-volt outlet at home but puts out twice the voltage as a Level 1 charger. Level 2 chargers can charge much more quickly than the 120-volt variety – in broad terms at about 6 kilowatts (kW) or a little higher and can add about 20 miles of range in an hour of charging. Level 2 charging units can charge an EV to full in about 4 to 7 hours, roughly overnight. Many EV owners find overnight charging is optimal due to the safety, convenience, and lower electricity cost.
Many homes have an open Level 2 outlet in their garage. For those that do not but have a private garage or even a driveway, a 240-volt electricity outlet is easily installed by a qualified electrician. Moving up to Level 2 means you’ll cut your charging time sometimes by half. And it can potentially add value to your home.
On average, the general installation cost for a 240-volt outlet is around $250. However, numerous factors can make this estimate more expensive. That said, there are potential federal, state, local, and utility incentives to install chargers or get discounts on electricity rates.
NOTE: You should consult your electrician before charging your EV or PHEV with a 240-volt outlet at home.
How To Install a Car Charging Station at Home
EV owners who already have or have upgraded to a 240 outlet often install a more powerful 240-volt in-home charging “smart” wall unit. These units can send notifications and schedule charging when it suits the owner’s schedule. A charger can cost between $400 and $700, depending on the brand. The charger plugs into a 240-volt outlet and features a cable that plugs into your EV. Longer cables are available for drivers who need the charger inside a garage but must park outside. Again, it is advised not to use an extension cord. Drivers who park on the street or use apartment garages may need to come up with another solution.
NOTE: You should consult an electrician before installing the wall unit because the units differ when installed outside versus inside a garage. Also, electric power availability varies in each home.
Level 3 charger (DC fast charge)
Plugging into an electrical outlet at home is one thing. But Level 3 DC fast charging high-voltage public stations open up a whole new world.
Connecting to a DC fast charger provides anywhere from 50 kW up to 350kW (some EV batteries cannot handle charges at such high wattage. For instance, some can accept 350 kW while some only can accept 50 kW). This is the fastest you can charge an EV (these types of chargers are only available for EVs, not PHEVs) and it’s only available at public charging stations, including Tesla Supercharger stations. This charger will provide a 400- to 600-volt charge directly to the battery and can go from 0% charge to 80% charge in 20 to 30 minutes. A full charge will take just over an hour.
Because of its high charge rate, Level 3 charging is the toughest on an EV battery. Frequent use of DC fast charging may negatively impact battery performance and durability. Therefore, it is recommended to minimize its usage for long-distance travel or when your charge is too low. Otherwise, in most cases Level 1 or 2 should do just fine in normal situations and will not put excess strain on the battery.
Different Plug Types
One essential thing to know about EVs is the kind of charge plug or plugs the car has. The most common connection used for Level 1 and Level 2 charging is the J1772.
For Level 3 charging, the main two plugs covering 96% of cars in the U.S. market are the Combined Charging System Type 1, or CCS1, and the Tesla connector, a proprietary connector exclusively for use with Tesla models that works with Tesla’s Supercharger and Destination Charging stations. Non-Tesla owners can purchase an adapter to use Tesla’s Destination Chargers. Only Tesla vehicles can currently use the Supercharger network. You need only one plug to charge your vehicle at all levels for cars equipped with these two plug types.
Some cars use CHAdeMO Japanese standard plugs for Level 3 DC fast charging. However, CHAdeMO has lost the battle for standardization in the U.S. market and this technology is being phased out.
A few vehicles even have two connector slots, rather than a single slot. One is for Level 1 and Level 2 charging, and the other is for Level 3 DC fast charging.
Electric Car Charging Apps
Finding a DC fast charger is easier than you might think thanks to apps. At public chargers, you do not need to use the car manufacturer app to get your EV plugged in and charged, though some carmakers may require it. There are apps built into most EV car’s mapping system, and many apps work with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so they can be pulled up from most late-model EV touchscreens. EV drivers can and should install several charging network smartphone apps to help locate chargers, plan a route, and streamline payment. Charging networks are similar to gas station brands in that some like ChargePoint, Electrify America, and EVgo have a nationwide presence while others have strong regional concentrations.
Be aware of the connection type of your car, and filter station locations by the types of plugs compatible with your vehicle before pulling up to a charger. Apps will also provide the latest information such as if the plugs are in use and if there is some fault with the station.
Another widely used app is PlugShare, which This app will generally provide up-to-date changes and developments supplied by other users on the condition and availability of charging stations.
How to Pay for EV Charging at Public Stations
The easiest method to pay for charging is to use the network’s smartphone app.
Tp pay with a smartphone app, follow these simple steps:
- Download an app. ChargePoint, Electrify America, and EVgo are a few of the networks with a nationwide presence.
- Add a credit card. Unless you’re using the free charging offered by the vehicle manufacturer when you purchased your electric car, you’ll need to add a credit card to the app as your payment method. You can then use your phone to activate the charger and begin the charging session. Some networks, including ChargePoint, EVgo, and Flo will also send you a card or key tag to swipe and initiate charging when you get to a station. Don’t worry; they’ll be very clear on how they want to take your money.
- Plug in. When you get to the actual charge station, plugging in is easy. The connector unlocks, and you can open your port door and plug in your car. Most EVs have lights and a dashboard notification indicating that you’re charging. Make sure those are on before you head off to run an errand or grab a bite to eat.
- Check the app. You can check your session status on the charging station app on your phone. It shows you the charging is underway and lets you know when it’s time to unplug.
- Move on when done. The app will issue a receipt for the charging costs when you’re finished. Be mindful of your time. If your car is done charging, it’s courteous to move your vehicle even if you’re still shopping or eating so someone else can pull up and plug in. Make sure to also park your vehicle so that you’re not blocking other charge stations.
Time Spent at Charging Stations
Battery size is a fundamental part of the charging-time equation. It makes sense that smaller batteries can charge to capacity faster than larger batteries. However, many variables affect charging speeds. The level of battery technology, the quality of the equipment (both the charger and the vehicle), and environmental factors such as the ambient temperature affect how fast EVs charge.
Here’s another rule of thumb regarding the time you spend at an EV charging station: The last 10% of EV battery charging can take as long as the first 90%.
Dealing with Problems Experienced During EV Charging
Charging networks claim their electric charging stations are operational at least 95% of the time. However, EV charging is still relatively new , and like gas pumps, the process isn’t foolproof. Pulling into a filling station with a gas pump or two that are out of order is not that uncommon. The same goes for EV charging stations. However, unlike their gasoline counterparts, EV charging stations rarely have an attendant watching over the equipment to help keep it functioning. As such, it is important to know what to do when experiencing problems at a Level 3 charging station.
Chargers may be nonfunctional because of unresponsive or unavailable touchscreens, payment system failures, charge initiation failures, network failures, or broken connectors, among other reasons.
If trouble occurs, first look for the contact information on the charger and see if the company can fix the problem remotely. While this is not an ideal scenario if you’re in a hurry or trying to get somewhere on a longer road trip, it does allow you to report the problem and perhaps get things going again. Also, if the problem is not fixed, report the issue on apps like PlugShare to help others avoid the same situation. In fact, such situations emphasize the need to use charging location apps like PlugShare, which includes information about station availability from all charging networks.
If the problem with the charger cannot be fixed quickly and you need a quick charge because your range rapidly decreasing, do what you can to minimize your energy consumption. Using one-pedal driving (if your EV has the feature) to maximize regenerative braking and turning off climate control may help conserve enough battery life to get you to the next station.
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