The complete guide to charging an electric car

Are you considering an electric or plug-in hybrid car? Here's how and where to charge it

Electric cars and PHEVs differ from conventional petrol and diesel cars in that they take much longer to be refuelled – or, more precisely, recharged with electricity from the grid. There are many different ways to charge an electric car, from using the three-pin sockets in your home, to installing a charging box outside your garage, to using one of the thousands of public charging stations in the UK.

And while petrol and diesel cars can all be filled up using a simple forecourt pump, electric vehicles and PHEVs use various different plugs and connectors to move electricity from the grid to the batteries. Knowing the type of cable and connector your car has is as important as knowing the appropriate charging speeds for your vehicle.

Charger types explained

One of the big initial questions with electric vehicles was what kind of charging connectors and cables they would use. While fuel pumps and octane levels have long been standardised across various countries, electric vehicle manufacturers often developed connectors and speeds that best suited their cars’ batteries.

This resulted in several different standards of plugs. However, the European Union has made an effort to simplify things. In 2014, the European Commission ruled that all new plug-in vehicles and all new charging stations should feature a Type 2 (Mennekes) connector.

 

Even though plug-in vehicles now feature Type 2 plug connectors, the different charging speeds offered by both home and public chargers mean a single car may be compatible with one or more connectors to accommodate one or more types of charging speeds. It’s worth pointing out that not every car comes as standard with a Type 2 cable, though – these may have to be purchased separately if you’re going to use certain types of public charging points.

Home socket

Most electric vehicles come with a cable that can be plugged straight into the three-pin socket at home. This is the easiest way to charge your car, but there are limitations. One is that the maximum current drawn is 3kW – meaning a full charge on a normal electric vehicle will take all night. Note that not all sockets can supply this amount, and your charging rate will likely be far less than 3kW. The second limitation is that often sockets aren’t near a driveway, so you will likely have to use an extension cord.

Type 1

This is a single-phase plug that allows a maximum charge speed of 7.4kW. It’s predominantly found in Europe, although some cars such as Kia Soul EV feature a Type 1 connector. Some home and public charging units come with Type 1 connectors, although there are no public charging stations that only provide Type 1 cables: as long as you have a public charging cable, you should be able to charge anywhere.

Type 2

In 2014, the European Commission also ruled that all public charging stations must feature a Type 2 connector or connecting capability – ie so owners with a Type 2 plug can connect. This is why new electric vehicles and plug-in vehicles sold in the UK feature Type 2 sockets and often come with a Type 2 cable included. Most home chargers available for purchase today also feature a Type 2 connector.

Commando

This style isn’t very popular, as it was featured on cars such as the Ford Focus EV and other lesser-selling electric vehicles. Some public charging stations feature this connector, but they are rare.

CCS

This is a rapid DC charging connector, developed by a consortium of German and American car makers including VW, Audi, Porsche, General Motors, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and BMW. CCS stands for Combined Charging System, and it’s the favourite among European manufacturers as well as some Asian makers such as Hyundai. These are available for use only in public charging stations with a rapid DC charging capacity of 50kW. Your car must come with a CCS socket to be able to use the rapid chargers

CHAdeMO

Whilst CCS is a rapid DC charging technology developed by German and American manufacturers, CHAdeMO is its Japanese counterpart. Developed by Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi and a host of electrical appliance firms, CHAdeMO is Japan’s answer for rapid DC charging connectors. It also works on 50kW power and, again, cars have to feature a specific CHAdeMO socket to be able to use the connectors provided at public charging stations.

The good news is that all rapid DC charging stations that supply CCS connectors also supply CHAdeMO connectors.

Can I use a three-pin plug to charge my car?

Yes you can. Most electric vehicles and plug-in vehicles are supplied with a home charging cable that can be plugged into a regular socket. Bear in mind that the maximum current a home socket can draw is 3kW. This means fully charging an electric vehicle such as the 40kWh Nissan Leaf will take the whole night.

Manufacturers are increasingly recommending that three-pin sockets be used as a last resort, so bear this in mind when choosing an electric car.

How to use a home wallbox charger

If you’ve installed a wallbox charger, the charging process is very easy. Either you have a tethered unit with the charging cable wrapped around the box, or you’ve got an untethered one with just a socket. In the first instance you will have to open the charging cap in your vehicle and simply plug the vehicle in. Lights in the wallbox will indicate whether charging has commenced.

If you have an untethered wallbox, you will require a charging cable. Either your vehicle manufacturer will have provided this, or you will have to purchase it separately. Otherwise the process is the same. Plug you cable into the wall charger, and then into your car’s charging port.

How to use a public charger

Public chargers are slightly different to use from home chargers. Some require a subscription account or a card, while others work on a pay-as-you go basis. To find the nearest ones, log on to www.zap-map.com and use the map finder.

Here you can specify the type of connectors and speeds you’re after. Click on the individual station icons, and it will tell you what the charging rates are – usually expressed in terms of £ per kWh – and whether or not you need a subscription account.

The actual charging process is as easy as with a home charger. Drive to an available bay, either pay in advance or use a subscription card to unlock the charger, and then simply connect the cable to your car’s socket.