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Ultimate Guide To Electric Car Charging

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Charging basics

Wave goodbye to the petrol station. Going electric takes a bit of adjustment but once you work things out, you won’t go back to filling up on a forecourt.

So, what do you need to know about charging before you go electric? Let us be your guide.

How do you charge an electric car?

The big change from petrol and diesel cars is how you fill up. When you drive a traditional car you tend to fuel up when your tank gets low. Maybe you’ll stop at a petrol station when you’re below quarter of a tank. You just fill up and carry on travelling.

With electric, it’s different. For short journeys and day-to-day driving you can simply charge at home if you have a driveway. With the UK’s average journey length of under 30 miles, you’ll have more than enough range for most of your journeys.

If you can’t charge at home, there are plenty of options to charge nearby. Some streets have on-street charging or lamppost charging, or maybe you can plug in while you do your local grocery shop at the supermarket. There are also community charging schemes where you can ‘rent’ someone else’s home charger, say, once a week. Or a charging hub nearby: a cluster of chargers that’s a bit like a garage forecourt but just for charging electric cars.

If you’re on a longer journey you can use a charger at your destination. So if you’re driving to a meeting or to visit family, you might find somewhere you can charge while you’re parked.

a lady taking out the charger from the socket

How far can an electric car go on a full charge?

Battery range tends to be over 200 miles in modern cars – but every model is different. Electric cars have range calculators that can be very accurate, so you can see exactly how far you can drive before you need to top up. It’s worth knowing that your range will dip a bit in colder or very wet weather. It’s also affected by how you drive: more acceleration and hard braking means less mileage. 

What are the different types of electric car chargers?

There are two different types, depending on how quickly they charge:

Standard chargers are the most common. They include home chargers and the ‘destination chargers’ you find in car parks and at supermarkets. You just plug your car in when you park up and then go about your business. People sometimes call these ‘fast chargers’ and they use AC (alternating current) at up to 22kW. As a guide, a smart home charger is 7kW and will give you about 14 miles of charge in half an hour – but that will depend on your car.

Rapid chargers (and newer ultra-rapid chargers) are for when you need a very fast top-up. The energy tends to be more expensive but you won’t be waiting long: you can get up to 80% charge in half an hour (which is where most drivers stop topping up as the last 20% takes longer). These use DC (direct current) and can charge at over 100kW – which could give you over 100 miles in half an hour. It’s worth checking what rate of charge your electric car can take - the Kia e-Niro is capped at 77kW, for example, so it will only event be able to charge that fast, no matter the speed of the public charger.

Most people stop their charge at 80% as the charging rate slows down at this point, and it’s good charging etiquette to let someone else plug in, especially if there’s a queue!

Where do you find electric car chargers?

There are two main types. Most drivers have a smart home charger installed where they live. These are normally standard chargers mounted to a wall where you park. They’re ideal for charging overnight or any time you’re parked at home.

Destination chargers are for when you want to charge up when you park somewhere. You’ll often find them at supermarkets, car parks, leisure centres and plenty of other places so your car can charge while you’re busy. 

If you need to charge up in a hurry you can search out a rapid charger. They’re normally at motorway service stations and on major roads. They top up your power much more quickly than a standard charger so you can charge up relatively quickly.

What sort of different charging sockets are there?

If you’re driving a new electric car today, you’ll almost certainly have a Type 2 socket for your standard charging. Most vehicles also have a CCS socket for a rapid charger. This might seem baffling at first, but we’ll explain.

That’s the short answer – but let’s look at the details...

Standard charger socket types

The industry-standard plug for standard chargers is the Type 2, which gives you AC power at up to 22kW. It has seven pins and you can lock it to your car while you’re charging.

Much less common is the Type 1. It was slower (at 7kW AC) and had five pins. You’ll find it on the original Nissan LEAF, the Citroen C-Zero and a few others – but most cars today use Type 2 instead.

graphic of Type 1 connector (with 5 pins) and Type 2 connector (with 7 pins)

Rapid charger socket types

Almost all vehicles now use a CCS connector for rapid charging. This stands for ‘combined charging system’ because the socket is combined with a Type 2 standard charger plug. So whether you’re using a standard or rapid charger, you can plug the cable into your car in the same place.

Some older vehicles used a four-pin connector called CHAdeMO, though this is rapidly being replaced by CCS which can charge more quickly.

Another point is that while these details are right in the UK and most of Europe, things are different in other countries.

graphic of CCS connector (with 9 pins) and CHAdeMO connector (with 4 pins)
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How long does it take to charge an electric car?

We measure charger speeds in kilowatts (kW) – the more kilowatts, the faster you can charge your car. 

Each car also has its own onboard charger with its own kilowatt rating. This is the fastest it’ll be able to charge. So if you plug in a car with a 100kW onboard charger to a 150kW rapid charger, it’ll only charge at 100kW.

Let’s look at how long it takes to charge up a Hyundai KONA Electric 64 kWh:

 
Charger power

Charger type

Range per 30 minutes of charging
3.7kWStandard charger7.5 miles
7kWStandard charger14 miles
50kWRapid charger99 miles (based on 30 mins charging in the 20-80% battery band)
150kWRapid charger153 miles (based on 30 mins charging in the 20-80% battery band)

On rapid chargers, most drivers will stop their charge at about 80%. That’s because the charging rate slows down from this point and it’s polite to let anyone who’s waiting for the charger take over.

How do you work out how long it takes to charge an electric car?

To work this out you need to know two numbers. Your battery capacity is like a fuel tank and your charger power tells you how quickly you can fill it up. Then you divide these two numbers:

Charger power – rated in kW (kilowatts)

Divided by:

Your car’s battery capacity – rated in kWh (kilowatt hours)

Equals:

Rough time to charge – in hours

So for an 64kWh Hyundai Kona on an 11kW fast charger, you could theoretically charge it to full in about six hours:

64 / 11 = 5.8

It’s only a rough estimate: in practice it’ll take a bit longer because of how batteries and chargers work. But it’s a good way of estimating time. 

What happens if you run out of charge?

When you’re driving there’s a nice clear number on the dashboard telling you how far you can drive on your remaining charge. It’s a really helpful feature that means you’re really unlikely to get caught out by running out of charge.

It can happen, though, and you’ll probably need a bit of help if it does. Most of the time you’ll need to be taken to the nearest charge point. This is often part of your breakdown or insurance policy and breakdown companies are used to it: they’ll just send you a tow truck or recovery truck, get you plugged in then send you on your way.

We’re also starting to see portable battery packs. They’re still rare and expensive but in the next few years you’ll see more and more – for example, LV= Britannia Rescue now have their own. They’re basically suitcase-sized lithium-ion batteries that you can plug in for a small charge: 40 miles or so to get yourself to the closest charge point.

charging an electric car
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Home charging

How do home chargers work?

If you’ve got a home charger you can plug in when you’re parked. It’s a great choice if you’ve got off-street parking because it’s usually the cheapest and most convenient way to charge.

There are various different brands and models you can choose from – and almost all of them are smart chargers. 

What is a smart charger?

Smart chargers do more than simply charge your car when you plug it in. They’re the ideal choice if you’re on an energy tariff that has cheaper energy off-peak because they make it simple to top up overnight with less expensive electricity.

Most of us will just get a charger installed, set it up and never have to worry about it again. This means you get the benefit of cheaper energy without having to worry about when to plug in.

The most straightforward smart chargers work on timers. You enter your tariff details when you set it up and it does the rest. That means it checks when your off-peak times are (normally in the middle of the night) and charges then.

More sophisticated chargers have more features. For example, you can set rules that choose when to charge based on the type of energy you use. So if you want energy that costs below a certain price or which generates less carbon, you can do that. The charger will get data from your energy supplier – you just tell it how you want it to behave.

How should you choose a charger?

First of all, have a think about how smart you want it to be. A charger like the Indra Smart PRO is easy to use and still lets you take advantage of cheaper off-peak tariffs. And it also has more advanced features like smart scheduling and continuous updates.

Then think about whether you want a tethered cable or not. This means the cable is permanently fixed to the charger, making it much simpler to pull up and plug in. Removable cables let you swap the cable out later if you need to.

Then think about your house and your energy supply. If you have solar, for example, you should choose a charger that works well with your solar panels, like the Indra Smart PRO.

And last of all, there are lots of different designs so pick one you like the look of. Some are unobtrusive while others are a bit more technical looking. 

 

Are there grants for home chargers?

While you can’t get a grant any more to install a home charger if you live in a house you own, there are grants available if you rent or if you live in a flat. 

How much do chargers cost?

It depends on which charger you choose and who installs it. As a guide, you can buy an Indra Smart PRO charger for around £1,000 (including site survey, standard installation and VAT).

Whenever a new charger is installed, the installer will check things first with the electricity company that operates the network in your area (sometimes called a Distribution Network Operator or DNO). They sometimes ask you to upgrade or install equipment that you’re using – things like an isolator switch or your distribution board – which can add to the installation fee. 

Car charging

How can you manage your charging?

Most chargers take care of it for you. They’ll look after your car’s battery health and stop charging when you’re topped up enough. If you want to find out more details though, most chargers have a companion app where you can get the facts and figures.

Who can install a home charger?

It needs to be installed by a professional – it’s definitely not a DIY job! You’ve got a few different options:

Local electrician – this means going with a local tradesperson you know and trust. It’s worth finding out how much experience they have installing chargers, and whether they’ve fitted the unit you’ve chosen before.

Independent installer – there are plenty of independent experts who’ll install a charger for you. Again, it’s worth checking they’ve got experience of the unit you’ve picked.

National installer – these tend to be businesses who specialise in fitting charge points like our partners at Indra. 

How do you install a home charger?

Before things kick off you’ll need a ‘site survey’. While some installers give you an option to do this yourself, things will run much more smoothly if they do it for you. They’ll check things like your current wiring and equipment, where the charger is going and what connections it needs. 

Then they’ll schedule an installation date to come and fit it. They’ll run the cable, drill through your wall and get your new charger connected to the internet (whether that’s with 4G, Wi-fi or a cable).

Last of all, they’ll enter your energy tariff’s details. Then you can use your charger’s companion app to keep track of your energy. You’re all set to plug in and charge up!

Where should you install your home charger?

Normally it’s best to install it where you currently park your car. You’ll need to make sure the cable’s long enough to reach your charging port.

Are there any common problems with home chargers?

The team at Indra say there are two common issues they hear about from customers.

The first is ‘nuisance tripping’, which is when the charger turns off because of changes in voltage. There are lots of reasons this can happen, both inside your home and on the network that supplies it. More advanced chargers like the Indra Smart PRO have technology to cope with the problem – you just need to let the company you bought the charger from know what’s happening and they can get it sorted for you.

The other common problem is chargers having problems connecting to the internet. They normally connect by 4G or Wi-fi – and a weak signal can mean their connection drops out. The charger still works, you just don’t get all the data in your charging app. If this is a common problem, they recommend running a cable out to the charger from your router to give it the best connection you can.

Do home chargers work with solar panels?

Yes – solar panels can charge up an electric car when the sun’s shining. But it’s a bit more complicated than that…

Not all chargers work with solar panels – you’ll need to check the details before you buy. Some won’t, some will if you buy more hardware, and some are ready to go.

It also depends on how much energy your solar panels produce. You need to be able to generate enough to power your house and charge your car at the same time. For example, with an Indra Smart PRO your panels need a minimum of 1.4kW/6A to charge your car – which could be 8-12 panels.

So you need to generate a decent amount of power from the sun to make much difference. If you’ve only got a few panels, they’re in shade through the day or they’re not on a sunny aspect, you may not see much benefit.  But if you’ve got plenty of panels on your roof, you can charge your car with sunshine!

Can you get a home charger without off-street parking?

There are some options if you don’t have your own drive or private parking space. The simplest option is to find a destination charger near home and use that to top up.
Other options include on-street chargers and lamppost charging. There is council funding available for on-street electric chargers – though whether it’s feasible will mostly depend on your council.

What do you need to know about charging cables?

If a standard charger doesn’t have its own tethered cable, you’ll need to plug in your own cable.

On the charger side it’ll need to be a Type 2 connector. And on the other end it needs to be the right fit for your car (again, that’s mostly Type 2). 

Then, make sure it’s the right length. You can get loads of different lengths but 7-8m is a good balance: small enough to roll up in your car but long enough to reach awkward chargers. Indra offer a 15m cable at no extra cost, which can be handy if you have two electric cars and need a longer cable to reach the second car, for example. 

Last of all, check it’s rated for your car’s current. Quality charging leads will have a current rating on the pack – if you want to charge at 7kW for example, you’ll need a 32A cable. You might want to choose a higher rated cable for futureproofing.

Which energy tariff should you choose?

If you’ve got your own smart charger then consider energy tariffs with off-peak rates for electric cars.

These can give you cheaper energy overnight. This is because there’s less demand (as most of us are tucked up in bed) so energy companies drop the price to encourage people to use it.

Things vary from supplier to supplier but these tariffs can work well if you plug your car in at home overnight. Charging at home is usually cheaper than charging when you're out and about. For example, with off-peak rates you can pay as little as 2p per mile (based on a Hyundai KONA Electric 64kWh that averages just over 4 miles per kWh).

Indra charging image

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Charging when you’re out and about

How do you charge when you’re away from home?

If you’re running low on juice you just need to find a public charger which is right for your car. So that means it has the right plug and can give you enough charge in the time you have available. So if you’re parking up for a few hours you can use a standard charger. If you’re taking a 20 minute break on a long journey it’s best to use a rapid charger.

How do you use public chargers? 

You just park up, open your charging port, plug in and pay. Then you can leave your car for as long as your charge takes and when you come back it’ll be topped up. Once you get the hang of it, it’s simple.

Where do you find different types of public charger?

Destination chargers are normally at places you’ll park for a while. They’re usually standard chargers, charging at up to 22kW. You’ll find them in car parks and supermarkets, leisure centres and on the street.

Rapid chargers tend to be at places you need a quick top-up. They’re most common at service stations and on major roads, though more are appearing on retail parks and at restaurants.

How do you find chargers?

You can download a charging app: a smartphone app that lets you search for chargers on a map. You can usually search by plug type, charging network and speed. There are often comments from other users to let you know if a charger’s working properly. 

How do you charge a Tesla?

Teslas are a bit different because as well as using normal Type 2 standard chargers and CCS rapid chargers, they can also use the Tesla Supercharger network. This is a proprietary network that you can only use if you drive a Tesla (though in June 2022 Tesla started making some Superchargers open to other electric cars).

nissan

How do you pay to use a public charger?

Public chargers are run by lots of different companies: you’ll see names like Osprey Charging, Gridserve, Pod Point and Ionity alongside familiar names like Shell and BP.

Different companies have different ways of paying for their chargers, although most accept contactless payment. Some providers need you to create an account, have a specific contactless RFID card for their chargers, or pre-pay into an account – these payment methods can be slightly cheaper than contactless payment, but may be less convenient.   

What’s the etiquette for using public chargers?
You should only park at the charger if you’re charging the car. So as soon as you’re charged, it’s best to unplug and move your vehicle. 

Rapid chargers are valuable commodities for drivers who are low on charge – so you should only use them if you’re rapid charging. If you’re charging at a slower rate then you’re blocking it – which is a problem for someone who is low on range and desperate for a top-up. It’s good manners to stop charging at 80%, which is when the charge rate really starts to slow down. 

Also, don’t unplug anyone else’s car while they’re charging to top up their own. And last of all, never ever block a charger by using it as a parking space for a petrol or diesel car.

Do you need to bring your own cable?

Many chargers now have a ‘tethered cable’ which is permanently attached. It’s a popular choice because most people only want to charge a type 2 socket with a fast charger.

Still, it’s a good idea to carry your own charging cable in your car because there are plenty of public chargers where you’ll need one. 

Can you charge on a three-pin plug?

You can as an emergency option – but it’s also a really bad way to charge if you’ve got a choice.

The main reason is that a three-pin circuit can charge your car at 2.3kW, which is close to the maximum 3kW of power that the wiring is safe for. This increases the risk of overheating and even electrical fire. You should never charge through an extension cord that’s coiled up or wound up.

The other reason is that it takes a really long time. It can take 18-20 hours or more to fully charge some cars.

So if you’ve got the choice you should always choose a dedicated electric car smart charger – and leave the three-pin plug for emergencies.

What if the charger’s broken?

Sometimes there’s a problem with a charger that means you can’t charge your car. It can be really frustrating.

The best way to avoid it is to check a charge point in a charger-finding app before you travel there. Users will often add a note saying if they’ve had problems, which means you can find a different charger instead. 

 

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