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Free electric-car charging: Does it exist? How do you get it?

Our guide to charging your electric car without shelling out – and the situations when you should pay

Fiat 500 charging

If you have an electric car, you’ll know that while charging up doesn’t cost as much as it would to refill a petrol or diesel car, it’s certainly not free.

If you charge at home, you’ll have seen electricity bills from your supplier rise to reflect the energy use that recharging takes, and if you’ve ever had to stop at a service station to recharge, you’ll remember public rapid chargers’ expensive rates.

Luckily, there are still some places where you can recharge your car for free in the UK. In this article, we’ll look at the kinds of places where you might find free chargers, how you can find them more precisely and when you should and shouldn’t use them.

Where to find free electric car chargers

The best place to go if you want to charge your car for free is Scotland, as Transport for Scotland runs many charge points under the ChargePlace Scotland banner, and most of them are free to use (although you do pay a £20 annual fee for the privilege).

London and southeast England are other places that have a lot of free charging points, but this is more due to the population density there, and the huge number of charging points, rather than any specific scheme.

More remote areas of the UK, including Wales and the Channel Islands, have the fewest free charge points, which is to be expected for the same reasons. Some local authorities are using free charging in certain spots as an incentive to get drivers into electric cars, so if you live in an area like Scotland, Yorkshire or Manchester you might benefit from this.

Spots likely to have free car chargers

There’s no guarantee that any given spot will have a free charger, as most public charging points in the UK cost money to use. However, some places that have more free chargers than others.

For example, public car parks, particularly ones that serve shopping centres and supermarkets, are by far the best place to find free chargers. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Aldi all have free charging points in their car parks (at selected locations), for example.

You may also find free car chargers in hotel car parks, and at attractions such as restaurants, parks, leisure centres and garden centres. Many of these chargers are only for customers of the establishment that they're connected to, and many others still require a card that you have to sign up for ahead of time.

How to find free electric car chargers nearby

The best way to find a free electric car charger near you is to use an app or website that lists charging points. Services such as Zap-Map, Google Maps or Open Charge Map show you where to find electric-car charging stations, and many of the ones they list will be free to use.

Once you’ve found a charging point, click or tap on it to see if it’s free to use or not. An app is a handy way to have access to this while you’re out and about.

When to pay for electric-car charging

It’s tempting to always want free energy for your car but there are some situations where you should try to find a paid charger instead. If you’re on a long trip and need to fill up with electricity without stopping for a long time, then it’s best to pay for a rapid charger. If you can find a rapid car charger that’s free then this won’t apply, but these are pretty rare. 

Most free chargers are only able to fill your car at around 7kW, which would mean several hours to top up an average car. That’s not all that pleasant, especially if you’re itching to get on the move and the free charger isn’t near any kind of attraction or rest stop – for example at a hotel.

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