What are the differences between electric car chargers and plugs?
If you’re up-to-speed on the basics of how to charge an electric car and want to understand a bit more about the different types of chargers and plugs, you’re in the right place.
What’s destination charging?
The term ‘destination’ is a bit misleading because it includes your charge point at home – which isn’t really what most of us think of as a destination. But stay with us. A destination charge point is when you use your own cable, plug in, walk away and come back when you're ready. That might be after a day at work or when you've finished shopping, for example.
While you can leave your car plugged in, it’s polite to move your car when it’s finished charging so other people can fill up. If you’re charging at a park-and-ride and you're in the middle of town though, there’s no need to rush back. But watch out for any time limit on charging sessions.
What are Type 1 and Type 2 plugs?
Types 1 and 2 are kinds of charging plug. A few older cars have a Type 1 socket. But they also have a Type 1 to Type 2 cable for charging when you’re out and about, so you can plug in anywhere.
The speed you can charge at depends on the charge point’s power and your car's onboard charger. So your car will charge at the top speed of the slowest of these. Most UK public charge points have Type 2 sockets and you’ll usually use your own cable to connect your car, though some come with the cable already attached.
Don’t worry too much about the differences, it’s a bit like using either petrol or diesel. Once you know what your car uses, you’ll know what you’re looking for.
What’s rapid charging
Most newer cars can rapid charge and it’s something you do when you’re out and about - similar to how you fill up with petrol or diesel. It’s a little more expensive than charging at home but it can be quick.
You plug your car in, pop for a coffee and by the time you come back you should have enough charge for the next bit of your journey.
With rapid charging, you won’t be leaving your car to power up for hours at a time.
CCS and CHAdeMO
At rapid chargers you’ll generally find the cable you need to power up attached. There are two kinds - CCS and CHAdeMO.
These chargers convert AC electricity to DC before it reaches your car, which means the juice goes straight into your battery so it can charge much faster.
You’ll find CHAdeMO on a handful of older cars like the Nissan LEAF. But CCS has won that format war and is what you’ll see on most electric cars.
The maximum speed you can charge at still depends on the charger’s power and what your car can take.
Some rapid chargers also have a Type 2 cable for older Renault Zoes. But these won’t rapid charge most cars, unfortunately.
Charging to 80%
Once they’re 80% full, most cars slow their rapid charging down to protect the battery. That means 80-100% can take as long as 0-80%, which makes 80% the best time to unplug, especially if someone else is waiting to charge.
Rather than trying to reach 100% it can actually be quicker to stop for another rapid charge later on, because charging is so much faster up to 80%.
Using a charge point or rapid charger
To use a public charger, you’ll need a way to pay. That’ll mean either an app, contactless card or a plastic tag using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), depending on what network the charger is on. The key is to plan ahead – check your route and see where you’ll find chargers.
You’ll find it much less hassle to download the right apps and create accounts while you’re at home. That hassle will start to disappear, though.
The motorway rapid charger network, for example, is being completely replaced and they’ll all take contactless before long. Most new rapid chargers and many older ones already do this.
Some networks like Pod Point are app-only. Others that cover remote areas, like ChargePlace Scotland, take RFID cards that should still work even if the mobile signal is poor.