A woman at an electric car charging station

How to charge an electric car

Want to get up to speed on charging an EV? Check out our guide for everything you need to know.

Thinking about going electric with your next car? You’re not alone. According to a YouGov survey carried out in 2019, 57% of Brits would consider buying an electric car if they found one at the right price. That said, owning an electric car means learning how to charge it and it’s not quite as simple as popping into the petrol station. But in some ways, the fact you can plug your car in to charge overnight makes things a lot easier. 

But if you aren’t up to speed on how to charge an electric car, it can still seem daunting. So we've put together a handy guide to help answer all your electric car charging questions.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

Think of electric charge as fuel, only it takes more time to pour the fuel into your fuel tank or battery. How much time depends on the speed of the fuel pump (the charging station) and the size of the nozzle in your car (your on-board charger).

The amount of time it takes to charge an electric car depends on the size of the battery, the speed of the charging point and the design of the electric car in question. 

A fast charging point with a fast on-board charger and a small battery will charge the car up more quickly. But if you have a slow on-board charger, you might not be able to charge as fast as the charging point can manage. And if you have a big battery, it’ll take longer to ‘fill up’.

As a rough guide a smaller, older electric car, like the 24kWh Nissan Leaf, will take around five hours to charge up to 100% from a home charging point, and half an hour from a rapid public charger.  However, keep in mind that most batteries charge much more quickly up to 80% than from 80% to 100% – so a quick top-up to get you home might only take 15 to 30 minutes or so, depending on how much is left in your battery.

Electric car charging

How much does it cost to charge up at home?

This all depends on your home electricity tariff. And you can work it out pretty easily. Simply find out the size of the battery in the electric car you’re thinking of buying, which will be measured in kWh (kilowatt hours), then multiply that by the cost of your electricity per kWh. For example, if you’ve got a Nissan Leaf with a 24kWh battery, and each kWh costs you 15p, a full charge will cost you £3.60. 

And how much does it cost at a charging station?

It’s usually quite a bit more than it is at home, but it varies depending on which company owns the charging station and the size of your battery. For example, to charge a 24kWh Nissan Leaf from 20% to 80% will cost you £3.37 at a Pod Point rapid charger or £3.60 from an Ecotricity charge point.

Where can I charge my electric car?

You can charge up at home if you’ve got somewhere to install a home charging point. Out and about, public chargers are springing up everywhere. Many petrol stations now have at least one; there are chargers next to parking bays on the street and supermarkets are now installing them in their car parks across the country. You can also charge up at most motorway service stations.

Are there free electric car charging points?

Not really – though certain Teslas do come with free access to their own ‘supercharger’ rapid charging network. And some hotels might let paying guests charge up overnight.

How much is an electric car charging point for my home?

Prices start from around £800, but this will vary depending on which company you choose. This cost can usually be reduced by £350 thanks to a government grant, provided you meet certain eligibility criteria like having dedicated off-street parking, having bought your electric car after 1 October 2016 and having not already claimed the grant for your electric car.

Are all electric cars the same to charge up?

No, they all charge at different speeds, depending on their on-board chargers, as we’ve already mentioned. The second difference is that not all of their plug sockets are the same. 

There are three main types of socket in use today: Type 2, Chademo, and CCS. CCS charging sockets are based on the same technology as Type 2 sockets, but allow for much faster charging, so many new electric cars combine these two sockets into one. As a result, Chademo is becoming a less popular choice.

An electric car next being charged

What do the different charging cables do?

The main difference between the different types of charging cables is that they can handle different rates of charge. If you only have a type 2 connector, for example, you can’t charge as quickly as you could with a CCS connector - the fastest charging cable there is. 

Chademo cables are somewhere between the two and Tesla has its own cable, which is a variant of Type 2.

What if I run out of battery?

Quite simply, your car will grind to a halt, in just the same way it would if it was powered by petrol or diesel and you ran out of fuel. 

Most recovery companies now have equipment to help add a bit of charge to your electric car, or if not, they’ll tow you to the nearest charging point so that you can charge your car up.

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