How to Plug In an EV: Everything You Need to Know

So you’re thinking about taking the electric car plunge, but it’s a lot of new information to go through — especially about charging your new EV. How to charge, where to charge, and how do you get charged for charging? The answers to these questions will be further discussed.

The Different Types of Chargers

You will find three kinds of charging levels for your EV. Based on the Charged Future chart above, you can do Level 1 and Level 2 at home. Level 3, or DC fast charging, comes from high-voltage public charging stations. Tesla owners can use the brand’s Supercharger network.

Level 1 charger: Level 1 charging uses the charging cord that comes with the car. It plugs into a regular household outlet and provides the slowest type of EV charging. Depending on the battery size and the vehicle, it could take from overnight to several days to fully charge a car. That trickle of electricity may be convenient and inexpensive, but it is far from ideal. For a Kia EV6 GT, you’re looking at 68 hours to fully charge using Level 1.

Level 2 charger: This type of charger puts out twice the voltage. It’s the same voltage as an electric clothes dryer or another large appliance. Level 2 chargers can charge much more quickly than the 120-volt variety. On a Level 2 unit, the EV6 charges to full in about 7 hours, roughly overnight while you’re sleeping. Another good thing about Level 2 — sometimes you can even use them for free in shopping center parking lots or at commercial stations like Volta. You can have a Level 2 charger installed at your home.

Level 3 charger (DC fast charge): For quicker charges when you’re out and if your vehicle is compatible, you can connect to a DC fast charger pushing up to 350kW. With this charger, you’ll use direct current to go from 0% charge to 80% charge in Kia’s EV6 in 18 minutes in our example. You’ll find some fast chargers operate up to 50kW, 62.5kW, and 150kW, which would charge the EV6 to 80% in around 30 minutes. A full charge will take 73 minutes.

Finding a DC fast charger isn’t as tough as you might think. There are apps built into the electric car’s mapping system to direct you to charging stations. EV drivers can and should install several charging network smartphone apps to help them locate nearby chargers, plan a route, and streamline payment. For some EV owners, the bigger challenge is finding a DC charger that has a compatible connector.

RELATED STORIES: My First Time Charging an EV

The Different Plugs

Electric vehicle charging connectors
Graphic by Kelley Blue Book’s Melanie Nguyen

One essential thing to know about your EV is the kind of charge plug or plugs the car has. The most common connection is the J1772, used for Level 1 and Level 2 charging.

Some cars, primarily the Nissan Leaf, use CHAdeMO plugs for DC fast charging. CSS Combo connectors are much more common. Tesla uses its proprietary connector that works with its Supercharger and Destination Charging stations. Non-Tesla owners can purchase an adapter to use Tesla’s Destination Chargers. Only Tesla vehicles can currently use the Supercharger network.

Be aware of the connection type your car has before pulling up to a charger. If you anticipate using a fast charger when traveling, check charging network apps beforehand to filter station locations by the types of plugs compatible with your vehicle.

How to Pay for EV Charging at Public Stations

Now, money. The easiest method to pay for charging is to create a free account using the network’s smartphone app. Charging networks are similar to gas station brands in that some are nationwide while others have regional concentrations. Many EV owners set up accounts with several networks to use while away from home.

Use these simple steps:

  1. Download an app. ChargePoint, Electrify America, and EVgo are a few of the networks with a nationwide presence.
  2. Add a credit card. Unless you’re using the free charging offered by the vehicle manufacturer when you purchased your electric car, you’ll need to add a credit card to the app as your payment method. You can then use your phone to activate the charger and begin the charging session. Some networks, including ChargePoint, EVgo, and Flo will also send you a card or key tag to swipe and initiate charging when you get to a station. Don’t worry; they’ll be very clear on how they want to take your money.
  3. Plug in. When you get to the actual charge station, plugging in is easy. The connector unlocks, and you can open your port door and plug in your car. Most EVs have lights and a dashboard notification indicating that you’re charging. Make sure those are on before you head off to run an errand or grab a bite to eat.
  4. Check the app. You can check your session status on the charging station app on your phone. It shows you the charging is under way and lets you know when it’s time to unplug — a critical part of charging etiquette. Make sure to also park your vehicle so that you’re not blocking other charge stations.
  5. Move on when done. The app will issue a receipt for the charging costs when you’re finished. Be mindful of your time. If your car is done charging, it’s courteous to move your vehicle even if you’re still shopping or eating so someone else can pull up and plug in.

What Happens if I Experience Problems with EV Charging?

EV charging is still relatively new. The process isn’t foolproof, and you might encounter problems. You may discover the charger isn’t working, which can slow down your plans.

A recent University of California Berkeley study looked at 657 fast chargers in the Bay Area. Nearly 23% of those chargers weren’t functioning correctly. So, it’s clear the EV charging infrastructure has plenty of room for improvement.

Meanwhile, you can find contact information on the chargers if trouble occurs. And yeah, this is not an ideal scenario if you’re in a hurry or trying to get somewhere on a longer road trip. Situations like that emphasize the need to use charging location apps like PlugShare, which includes information about station availability from all charging networks.

If you find your range rapidly decreasing and need a quick charge, do what you can to minimize your energy consumption. Using one-pedal driving (if your EV has the feature) to maximize regenerative braking and turning off climate control may help conserve enough battery life to get you to the next station.

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