Your questions answered

Electric car charging cables explained

We explore the reasons for buying extra charging cables – and explain the options

Cables

If you buy an electric car, it'll definitely be supplied with a charging cable of some sort, but plenty of drivers find reasons to buy additional cables – whether through choice or necessity.

New electric cars invariably come with a basic three-pin charging cable as part of the standard specification, and it’s increasingly common for the relevant Type 1 or Type 2 fast-charging cables (or CCS or CHAdeMO rapid-charging cables) to be included, too. After all, manufacturers and dealers invariably look as though they’re on the make when demanding hundreds of pounds extra for a charging cable that’s essential to achieve a reasonable charge time. Happily, most have seen the light.

In their defence, the handful of manufacturers who don’t supply portable fast-charging cables as standard might say that many buyers choose to install fast-charging wallboxes at home, in which case the unit is likely to include a tethered cable anyway.

A tethered cable is attached permanently to the wallbox, so it’s always ready for action. It’s less hassle, and a tethered cable is also less prone to accidental damage or wear and tear, as you’re not pulling a plug in and out twice a day – at least at the wallbox end of the cable. There’s more on the pros and cons of tethered cables here.

On the other hand, there’s the obvious limitation of being unable to take a tethered cable with you on journeys when you need to charge away from home. That’s when a separate charging cable becomes an essential accessory, because many public fast chargers require drivers to supply their own. So if you’re planning ever to plug in at work, at an on-street charging point, a supermarket or a service station – or even to use a domestic wallbox belonging to a friend or relative – it’s often necessary to have a portable charging cable ready to deploy.

Of course, even when you buy a car with a fast charging cable supplied, there are a variety of reasons that you might want to purchase another one. It may suit you to leave one cable permanently hooked up to the wallbox at home – much like a tethered cable – so you don’t have to drag it out of the boot every time you charge the car.

Others may find the cable supplied with the car simply isn’t long enough for their parking situation, and some may wish to upgrade a cable so it can be used to charge more than one vehicle. Sometimes a cable can be damaged by driving over it or snagging it, and sometimes people want a spare just because they fear being stranded if something unexpected happens – which could include accidental damage, theft or a fault.

Charging cable specifications

If you’re buying a charging cable for an electric car, it’s obviously important to choose the correct one. There are three primary factors to consider when shopping for a cable: connector types, power/phase ratings and cable length. When buying aftermarket cables, you may also have the choice of flat or coiled cables, and you should always check products for relevant EN 50620:201 certification markings to ensure they're manufactured to required safety standards.

Connectors

Charging cable connectors

There are a variety of charging cable connectors in common use for electric cars, and if you don’t know which ones are featured on your car, it’s easy to tell them apart at a glance – but the handbook will tell you, too. The variants are Type 1 or Type 2 for cars compatible with fast chargers, and CCS or CHAdeMO for cars compatible with rapid chargers.

The seven-pin Type 2 connector is becoming the most popular European standard for fast charging, but there are plenty of older cars that use the Type 1 five-pin connector. CCS is the most popular rapid-charger connector in Europe, recognisable by its twin connectors. The CHAdeMO connector uses a single round socket. Tesla cars use a modified version of the Type 2 plug that connects to the Tesla-only network of ‘Supercharger’ rapid chargers. The difference between fast charging and rapid charging is explained here.

Power/phase ratings

It’s vital to choose a charge cable that’s rated to carry enough current to charge your electric car’s battery in the optimum time. Cables typically come in 16amp and 32amp formats, and the latter will be heavier and thicker – it needs a fatter wire to carry more current. A 7kW wallbox will have a 32amp supply, while 3.6kW wallboxes are typically limited to 16amps.

Sometimes it’s worth buying a 32amp cable even if your current car’s on-board charger is only rated to 16amps, because you may wish to use the cable for another, higher-rated vehicle later on. However, 32amp cables are heavier, and therefore a bit more awkward to handle, which can put people off.

Domestic power supplies are generally single-phase unless professionally converted, but if you want to use other fast chargers at the best speeds, you’ll need a three-phase compatible cable. A three-phase cable will also work on single-phase charging setups.

Coiled charging cables

Coil cables are wound like a spring and stretch and retract automatically when used. They're often easier to use from a wallbox in the garage, although the springiness means their reach is typically significantly less than the stated length, and they can look unsightly compared to a flat cable put away neatly by the user. If you want a portable cable to carry in the car, flat cables are generally the ones to pick.

Charging cable storage

Although charging cables are designed for outdoor use, leaving them lying around in all weathers and under constant exposure from the sun can degrade them quicker. They'll also be exposed to more chance of accidental damage, or even theft. Cable manufacturers therefore often supply storage bags or tidy clips for cables, which, as well as keeping things tidier in the boot of your car, can also protect your cable from expensive wear and tear.

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