How & where to charge your electric car at home or on the road
If you’re the proud owner of an electric car then you’ll want to know how and where you can keep it going. Understanding how to charge your car keeps range anxiety at bay.
The good news for electric vehicles (EVs) is that you’d have to drive an awful long way to run your batteries right down. The better news is that there are 22,000+ public charge points around the UK, and easy at-home charging options. So, you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting powered up again.
How do you charge an electric car at home?
Charging your electric vehicle (EV) at home is easier than you might think, and is by far the most convenient way to keep your electric car fully charged. Your EV should come with a standard charging cable for plug-in-and-go use, meaning it plugs right into any socket you have free. Useful as that may seem, they are far from the most efficient way to charge your car, and can take up to 24 hours.
A wallbox charger is the more common solution and is installed onto an outside wall of your home, tapping into your electricity supply. Unlike a normal socket, a wallbox is specifically designed to charge EVs in a safe and reliable way. You can also purchase models that allow for quicker charging or smart wallboxes that only charge when your (variable) electricity tariff is at its cheapest.
Installing an electric car wall box at home
Installing a wallbox is relatively easy but there are some things you’ll need:
- Offstreet parking — the cable can’t cross any public areas
- Space on an outside wall to mount it
Before you get started, you might want to also read up on the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS). This is a grant offered by the government to promote the use of zero-emission vehicles and will:
- Cover 75% of the cost of installing a wallbox
- Cap at £350 inc. VAT
- Be applied up to two times per household (provided you have one EV per wallbox)
You should also contact your electricity supplier as they may offer a special tariff for customers who need to charge their electric cars. You might also get free access to their public charging points around the UK.
Where can I charge my electric car in public?
Public charging points are increasingly common around the UK, especially in large cities like London. If you’re out and about and in need of a car top-up, you can use apps to help you locate the nearest charging point.
Charging points usually fall into two categories:
- Chargers where you stay with your car for a quick top-up
This includes chargers in petrol stations or service stations. These usually charge at a rapid rate, so you can get going again in under an hour.
These chargers are usually tethered — that means you don’t have to do anything but pull up and plug in.
- Chargers where you park your car for a longer period of time
This includes chargers in car parks like at supermarkets, gyms or shopping centres. Because you’re expected to spend longer here, these chargers work at a slower rate.
These chargers are often untethered, so you will have to bring your own charging cable to use them.
Charging stations can also be found on the side of the road. Naturally, these will be placed in areas where parking is more plentiful, so if you can’t see any on the high street, check quieter side roads.
Where to find public charge points
Many electric cars will come with a handy sat-nav system to tell you precisely where the nearest charge point is. If not, you can always get one on your phone in the form of an app or a website.
These will pull up a map of the local area and let you see where charge points are, if they are in use, what speed you can expect from them and, in some cases, information about their fees. You might also be able to reserve a charge point or register to use them from your phone, so it’s worth getting one of these apps as soon as you become an EV driver.
Public charge point speeds
Charge points should tell you the sort of speeds they offer, so you can figure out how long it will take to charge your electric car before you pay anything. Bear in mind that not all cars can use rapid charging, so be sure you’re plugging into a suitable charger. It won’t harm your car to tap into a rapid power source even if your car can’t benefit from it, but you might end up paying more than you need to.
Charging on the motorway
If you’re travelling on the motorway and are in need of a top-up, then the options are significantly slimmer. Luckily, one supplier, Ecotricity, can help. Ecotricity charge points can be found on several major motorways. They aren’t free to use, but if you’re already an Ecotricity home customer, you can enjoy discounted or even free use.
Is it free to charge an electric car?
Not often, but sometimes supermarkets and chargers in large car parks will provide free charging. The compromise on that convenience is that you get a slower charge speed and you have to use your own cables.
Different suppliers will also have different ways of setting fees, which can make it difficult to predict what your final cost will be. Different cost plans include:
- Cost per time spent
- Cost per kWh
- Flat fee
On top of this, you may need to do a bit of admin beforehand, like registering an account to access a certain supplier’s charge points. You might also need to reserve a charge point ahead of time, or check no one else has beaten you to it.
Commonly asked questions about charging electric cars
How much does it cost to install an EV wallbox at home?
EV chargers, much like any device accessory, cover the full range of budgets. You can get a wallbox up and running for under £200 or you could get a top-of-the-range smart model that costs closer to £1,000. Other things to consider are installation costs and any rewiring you might need to accommodate your domestic charge point.
What is the wall box grant?
The OZEV (Office of Zero Emissions Vehicles) wallbox grant , officially called the Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme (EVHS) is a government grant that will pay up to 75% of the cost of installing a wallbox at home. The total grant is capped at £350 per installation, but you can apply for the grant to cover two charge points if you have two EVs.
Do I have to have an electric car charge point at home?
No, it’s not 100% necessary to have a charge point in your home if you want an electric car. There are over 22,000 public charging points in the UK.
Still, it is undeniably convenient (and much cheaper!) to be able to plug your car in and get your batteries back up to full. So, most EV owners do install a dedicated charging point.
Can I plug an electric car into a normal socket?
Yes, it’s perfectly possible to charge your electric car by using a charging cable that plugs right into a normal three-pin socket. It’s a super convenient way to get your batteries back up to full power, but definitely not the fastest. In fact, most manufacturers suggest you only do this as an emergency backup and use a dedicated wall box for daily use.
Does the UK have enough electric car charge points?
As of 2021, the UK is 15% of the way to hitting its 2025 target of 150,000, meaning new charge points are springing up all the time.