How to charge an electric car

Never owned an electric car? Let us take you through the complete electric car charging process to clear any uncertainties

James Wilson
Feb 9, 2022

If you own a plug-in hybrid or an electric car, then knowing how to correctly charge it will save you time and money, and prevent any potential mishaps. Charging it incorrectly, however, can quickly lead to problems, delays and unnecessary charges – not to mention the disgruntlement of other people waiting to use the charger after you.

Generally speaking, there are three main locations where you'll charge your electric car: at home, at paid public charging points, and at free public charging points. While the process of charging at each one is very similar (park, plug, and charge) there are important differences that you need to be aware of.

Some owners may be adamant that they are only ever going to use their home charger (as this is normally the cheapest and easiest option) but there is every chance you might have a need to rely upon a public charger at some point or another - especially if you are embarking on a longer journey.

If you're wondering how to charge your electric car, read on for all the details on charging at home, or at a public charging point.

The dos and don'ts of charging an electric car

Plug in whatever the weather (rain is perfectly safe)
Have your smartphone on hand (many chargers require apps)
Carry your own charging cable for untethered points

Don't leave your car obstructing a public/paid charger once it is fully charged
Don't forget to take a suitable charging cable (when not charging at home)
Never use a household extension cable to help charge your car

How to charge an electric car at home

If you're the proud owner of a shiny new electric car, it may be worth your while to install your own charging point at home. For a start, it reduces your need to rely on public chargers and the possibility that you might have to wait for someone else to finish charging their own car.

Assuming you have a driveway or another form of private parking, it's actually extremely simple to have one fitted, if a touch costly. A grant to reduce the cost of this installation is currently available.

Now you have your own charging point, you can plug in your car without having to queue, and then wait for the charge to complete from the comfort of your own home - as well as making some potentially huge savings in charging costs while you’re at it.

Once your car is parked up and ready to charge, your next move should be to release the charging flap. This will vary from car to car: while some pop open exactly like a petrol flap, others may require you to use a button in the car or on your car's smartphone app.

Next, connect the cable from the charger to the charging port on your car. If you're at a tethered point, the cable will be supplied. If you're using an untethered point, use your own cable making sure to plug the right end into the charging point and car. Many electric cars have a way of signifying that they are charging, whether that be a light on the dashboard or next to the charging port, or via an app made by the car manufacturer. Regardless of what the method is, make sure your car is definitely charging, as coming out to an uncharged car is definitely not ideal.

After confirming that the car is indeed charging, all you need to do is lock the car (this won’t stop it from charging), doing so not only prevents access to your car’s interior but will lock the charging plug in place. When you need to leave, simply unlock the car, unplug the cable and put it away properly, close the charging flap and you're ready to continue on your travels.

Best electric car home charging point?

There are plenty of options when it comes to home charging points. They range from up-market wooden-clad units to plain plastic units (plus everything in between). As well as aesthetics, home chargers can also vary in performance.

It is best to consult a charge point installer for your exact needs but it is important to consider how long your electric car will typically be parked for, how big its battery pack is and how big a power output you can have. The cheapest options are usually 3kW units, though it's well worth paying a little more for a 7kW unit which will cut charging times in half - particularly useful if you make use of a short off-peak window of cheap electricity rates. Some units can provide more than this (11kW is common), but many houses aren't set up to handle this so be sure to check first.

What should be avoided is using a household extension lead to charge an electric car’s battery. Charging an electric car this way is quite dangerous as it requires a lot of electricity over long periods of time, meaning standard extension leads may overheat and become a fire risk. If you're using a cable that plugs into a standard domestic outlet (these are often referred to as 'granny chargers'), it's best to plug it directly into a suitable, tested socket.

Finding a public charger

Public chargers can either be paid for or free, but there is one key similarity in the charging process to keep in mind: you have to find a suitable charging point. The good news here is there is a selection of charging location maps available, some show you the entirety of the charging points publically available, while others show you only those affiliated with a certain brand (ideal for those who subscribe to a car charging network such as BP Pulse or Pod Point).

Regardless of how you find it, make sure your car is compatible with the connector provided before travelling to a charger – any charging map worth its salt will be able to provide connector information and the last thing you want is to make the journey only to find you can't plug the car in. We like Zap-Map for checking where the nearest charger is, and A Better Route Planner for planning a long journey via charging stations. Once you have arrived at a suitable charging point, the process becomes a little different.

Charging at a paid public charger

Once you’ve arrived at your chosen charge point, you will, at least in the majority of cases, need your smartphone and an app - each brand of charging point will have its own. If it is your first time using the app, you will need to create an account and add credit, which can be done using your card details. Once you have added funds you can then connect to your chosen charge point via the app on your phone. 

Provided you have been successful in connecting to the charge point, you now need to release your charging port cap and plug in the charging cable.

Larger output public chargers that supple DC rapid charging speeds of 50kW or more will usually have their own tethered CCS or CHAdeMO cables. This is because the high heat that they produce typically requires the cables to have their own built-in heat regulation like extra insulation. Finding a tethered AC charger (not a rapid charger) is less likely.

Once your car is plugged in, some setups will require confirmation via the app that your car is connected to the charge point – not doing so will mean your car won’t charge and the time it is sat there will be wasted.

Once charging has started, you can then lock your car and get on with your business. If, for whatever reason, your car doesn't start charging, try cancelling the charge and starting again. Failing that, some platforms and charge points will have contact details for a helpdesk, who may be able to advise you on any issues with that charging point.

Charging at a free public charger

Some electric car charging points are free to use, but don’t expect rapid charging. Free points are usually located in places trying to attract motorists to visit, such as supermarkets and shopping centres or even places of work.

Using these charging points is very similar to charging at home. You park up with your charging port facing the charging point, unlock your charging flap, plug in, make sure charging has started, lock your car and then carry on with your day. Most likely, these will be untethered points that require you to bring your own cable.

Chivalrous electric car charging behaviour

Charging your electric car at a public place is more of a team game than filling up a petrol or diesel car at a fuel station. This is largely because fully charging your car can take a few hours and in that time the chances are that one or more fellow electric car drivers will be wanting to plug in.

Therefore, once your car is charged it is best to unplug it and move it away from the charging area as soon as possible – regardless of whether you have finished what you were doing. Certain charging points, such as those operated by Tesla, actually penalise drivers who leave their vehicles connected to a charge point after their vehicle is fully charged – there is usually a grace period though.

Most paid public charge points include an indication of charge status via the app required to pay and use the charge point, so it should be easy to track how your car is doing – some will even alert motorists to the fact their car is fully charged. Your car's own app will usually display the charge status, too.


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