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How to charge an electric car

Learn all about charging an electric car, including how charge points work, which cables and connectors you’ll need, and how to work out charging times and costs.

Auto Trader

Words by: Auto Trader

Mark Nichol

Additional words by: Mark Nichol

Last updated on 24 November 2023 | 0 min read

Charging an electric car can seem complicated, but the process itself is actually pretty simple. You’ll need to plug your car into a charging point at home, at work or at a public charge point. The type of charge point you plug into will determine how quickly your car will charge, and you’ll need to be aware of the different types of charging connectors and their compatibility with your car.
If you’re looking at the pros and cons of electric cars before making the switch, the idea of charging is often quite daunting if you’ve never done it before. But it's much easier than you’d expect. Just think of it like charging your smartphone, but on a much larger scale. Looking for something specific? Jump to the section you need below and start learning about charging your electric car: Where can I charge an electric car? Electric car charging explained How long does it take to charge an electric car? Can I plug my electric car into any charge point? Electric car cables explained Will I need an app to use public charge points? How often do electric cars need charging? How much does it cost to charge an electric car? Electric car charging FAQs?
Porsche Taycan ionity
Porsche Taycan ionity

Where can I charge an electric car?

To charge your electric car you’ll need to access power from the grid via a charge point. This is done by attaching your car to a charge point with a cable. You can do this at home or at a public electric car charge point. They're in lots of places, including car parks and service stations for use by anyone, or private charge points at places of work.

Home charging

Charging your electric car at home is the most convenient way to keep your electric car topped up for your daily journeys. You can let your electric car charge through the night to ensure you have a fully charged battery by the morning, meaning you’ll have sufficient range for the day ahead. Getting a home charge point installed will provide you with around 25 to 30 miles of range per hour and offers inbuilt safety features to protect both your car and your home’s electrical circuit. You can also charge electric cars with a standard three-pin plug - as in, plug the car in at home next to your toaster or whatever - but this takes much longer to charge and doesn’t include any of the safety features that a dedicated charge point would. For this reason, it isn’t recommended as a charging solution.

Charging at work or at public charge stations

There are many different types of charge points at workplaces or at public charging stations, all of which can charge electric cars at different speeds. These chargers are either tethered (cable attached to the charging point) or untethered (no cable). For untethered chargers you will need a Mode 3 cable compatible with your electric car to use them. We’ve explained the types of charging cable below. If your workplace has EV charging facilities, charging at work is really convenient as it ensures your car will be charged for the commute home. Workplace chargers are similar to home chargers in terms of speed and connections - but you will need your own Mode 3 charging cable to plug in. Public charge points can usually be found in high-traffic areas such as car parks, supermarkets and retail parks, and are ideal for frequent top-ups. These are known as destination chargers and typically offer charging speeds between 7kW to 22kW. For the fastest EV charging, you'll find an ever-growing network of rapid and ultra-rapid chargers in public locations. These chargers provide charging speeds from 43kW to 350kW and are designed to top up your battery in less than one hour.
Tesla Supercharger
Tesla Supercharger

Electric car charging explained

You don’t need to be an EV expert to charge an electric car but it’s useful to be aware of the different types of charge points that you can use - the different charge point connection options, and how quickly (or slowly) they will recharge your car’s battery.

Types of electric car chargers

In the UK there are four types of charge point you can use when charging your electric car, called Slow, Fast, Rapid and Ultra-Rapid. Slow and Fast charge points use alternating current (AC) power. AC power is the slowest method for recharging an electric car but it’s the recommended way for topping up your battery on a daily basis. Home and workplace chargers use AC power. You’ll also find thousands of AC charge points in public locations such as hotels and retail car parks. Rapid and Ultra-Rapid charge points use direct current (DC) and are designed to recharge an EV’s battery as quickly as possible. They’re usually found in places with short dwell times, like motorway service stations.

Electric car charging connectors explained

As the EV charging ecosystem has evolved, different companies have introduced different chargers and connections for them. This means, much like Android and older iPhone charge cables and connectors are different, there are a couple of different types of electric car sockets and cables. The specific type of connector required depends on the vehicle model and the power capacity of the charging station. Electric cars typically come with either: A Type 1 or Type 2 socket for AC charging A CHAdeMO or CCS socket for DC charging All rapid and ultra-rapid charging stations have tethered cables, usually featuring both CHAdeMO and CCS connectors. Most slow and fast public charge points are equipped with a Type 2 socket, though some may have a cable attached. Many electric vehicle owners opt to buy a portable Mode 3 charging cable that fits their car's Type 1 or Type 2 socket, allowing them to use public charging networks.
Mercedes charging cable
Mercedes charging cable

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

This depends on the size of your EV’s battery, the power output of the charge point, and the amount of charge you need. Typically, it can take anything between 30 minutes and 12 hours depending on what method you use for charging your car.
If you’re using a 7kW charger (like a dedicated EV home charger), you’ll be able to gain around 25-30 miles of range an hour. Whilst that doesn’t sound like a lot of range for an hour’s worth of charging, you’ll usually be topping up your battery overnight while you sleep, meaning most modern electric cars can be fully charged in 8-12 hours. A 50kW rapid charger is about seven times faster than charging at home and you will typically get an 80% charge in 30 to 60 minutes, making it a perfect solution for en-route charging when taking those longer trips away from home. For more information and real-world examples, our in-depth guide answers the question of how long it takes to charge an electric car?

Can I plug my electric car into any charge point?

Not quite - remember the iPhone/Android comparison. It’s the same here. You should be able to find plenty of compatible chargers out and about. And because Europe has adopted a defined standard for EV charging, all the latest electric cars are fitted with the same charging sockets: a Type 2 socket for AC charging, and the Combined Charging System (CCS) socket for DC charging.
In fact, very few cars use the CHAdeMO system. The first-generation Nissan Leaf is the main one, which has a CHAdeMO socket for rapid charging and a Type 1 charge socket for slow and fast charging. Older Tesla models, such as the Model S and Model Y, use a Type 2 socket for both AC and DC charging. For more detail on charging your electric car in public, take a look at our guide.
Mercedes EQC
Mercedes EQC

Electric car cables explained

When you get your electric car you’ll usually receive at least one cable that you can use to plug into a power source. This cable will be compatible with either slow or fast charging.
Each cable has three parts: a connector that plugs into your car, the wire cable itself, and a plug that connects to the charging point or power source. The good news is, while the connector that goes into the car may vary from brand to brand, the end that attaches to the charge point is the same regardless. You can liken it to the USB port that you find on mobile phone chargers. You’ll also need to find the right length of cable if you’re buying a spare. Short cables can be easier to store, but longer cables offer more reach. Five metres is usually a good compromise. With slow and fast charge points you will find most are untethered, meaning they don’t have a cable attached to them so you’ll need to ensure you have the correct cable for the EV you drive. These charging units are universal, so regardless of whether your car has a Type 1 or Type 2 charging socket, the end that attaches to the charge point is always the same. The key bit is making sure the connector that plugs into the vehicle’s charging socket is compatible with your car. Rapid and ultra-rapid charge points (DC) are tethered units so they always have the cables permanently attached to them, so you’re not left lugging around a hefty-sized cable in your boot. Most DC charge points will have both a CCS and CHAdeMO cable attached meaning regardless of the EV you drive, these chargers will be able to accommodate virtually all electric cars on the roads today. You can find the right charger for any electric vehicle by using our tool here.
Charging cable
Charging cable

Will I need an app to use public charge points?

In 2020 the UK Government stipulated that newly installed DC charge points, capable of delivering 50 kilowatts or higher, must have built-in payment facilities (a contactless card reader) for ease of use. So, most rapid and ultra-rapid charge points on the UK’s roads mean you can pull up, plug in and pay without the need for signing up to a specific operator's service and requiring an app or RFID card to initiate the charging session.
For slow and fast chargers, most networks still require you to use an app or RFID card to access their chargers. An easy way to find charge points near you is with our free electric car charging point map.

How often do electric cars need charging?

This will depend on the range of your electric car’s battery and how far you drive each day. An electric car’s range is how far it can travel on a single charge without topping the battery up.
You can see the longest-range electric cars available here in our dedicated article.
To give you an idea of how regularly you might need to charge an electric car, we can use the popular Kia Niro EV as an example. The Kia Niro EV has a 64kWh battery which provides a range of 285 miles when fully charged, according to Kia. That's using the 'WLTP' test, which determines the efficiency of a vehicle. It's performed in a controlled laboratory to ensure that all vehicles are tested like-for-like. As such, in any EV you're likely to see a slightly lower range in “real world” driving conditions, with its variables of speed, weather, and extra weight of people and luggage. You can learn all about the WLTP test and how it works here, but for the purpose of this example, we'll assume you'll get 220 miles from a full battery in the Kia. So... In the UK the average distance travelled by motorists per year is 7,600 miles, which equates to around 21 miles driven per day. If you apply the real-world range of the Kia Niro EV to this annual mileage, you’d need to charge your car 35 times a year, or once every 10 days. Again, though, it's a good idea to keep your electric car charged up regularly overnight.
Porsche Taycan app charging
Porsche Taycan app charging

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

The cost to charge an electric car depends on whether you’ll be charging it at home or at a public charge point.
The simple way to work out the cost of charging is: EV battery capacity (kWh) X cost of electricity (pence per kWh). It's therefore very important to know how much you're paying per unit of electricity, whether you're charging at home or at a public charging station. Your energy supplier will tell you how much your unit cost is, and many suppliers offer specific tariffs for electric car owners, with a cheaper price-per-kWh at off-peak times. This means you can charge overnight using cheaper electricity. Public charging stations will always show you a price-per-kWh figure, but it's invariably much higher than the rate you'll pay at home, usually somewhere between 50p and £1. For the sake of simplicity, let's say you're charging at home at a cost of 25p per kWh. Going back to the Kia Niro EV, with its 64kWh battery, that means you'll pay 0.25 x 64 = £16. Of course, it'll be much more expensive to charge the car at a public charging station, and much cheaper to do it on an EV-specific overnight tariff. At 75p per kWh you'll pay £48 for the same battery charge, or at 10p it'll be £6.40. For much more on the cost of charging an electric car, read our guide here.

Electric car charging FAQs

Can I overcharge my electric car?
In short, no you can’t. Fully electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles are fitted with clever computers that control the power flow to the car and know when the battery is fully charged. This means you can keep your electric vehicle plugged in overnight without having to worry about stopping the charging session as the car will do this for you. What is top-up charging? If you’re out and about, you can top up your car’s charge to avoid it running flat. Much like a phone, it’s not great for your battery if done in excess so make sure you only top up when it’s necessary to do so and predominantly charge your battery via AC charging - using your home or workplace charger, that is. Can someone unplug my electric car while it’s charging? Technically, yes. If your car is plugged in at a public charging station, it’s possible for someone to stop the charge on the unit and unplug the cable. However, if the car is locked and plugged in, the cable is locked in place, so it can’t just be casually pulled out - and you’re unlikely to find that someone has stopped your charging session midway through. Some EVs will automatically unlock the charging cable once the battery is fully charged, though. Think of that as a courtesy measure to stop owners hogging a charging station longer than necessary. Will rain damage my car when charging? All plug-in vehicles have waterproofed sockets and cables, as do the charging points used for recharging. It is highly unlikely water will get in. Will the National Grid cope with electric car charging? The National Grid were questioned about this early in 2018 and said, “the power system could cope with an overnight boom in electric vehicles”. But as the number of electric vehicles on the road is steadily increasing, the system will have plenty of time to grow in line with demand. If you want to know more about how electric cars work you can read our guide, or see the best electric cars in 2023.