Electric car charging guide

Date Posted 23rd February 2022
Read Time 7 min read

One of the most common questions we get asked regarding electric vehicles is: “how does charging work?”. That’s what most people worry about: what if you’re out and about and can’t find somewhere to top up your power? To understand EV charging, it’s important to know about how the battery works. Here, we’ve written a comprehensive electric car charging guide with all the need-to-know information.

UK motorists are steadily making the switch to electric. According to data released by SMMT, the number of electric cars registered in the UK from 2012 until the end of October 2021 was more than 675,000 plug-in vehicles, 345,000 BEVs, and 325,000 PHEVs. In addition, the UK electric car market has grown by 66 per cent in the last two years.

The chances are that your next new car will be all-electric. Plus, with the UK government’s Road to Zero strategy working towards making the country ultra-low emission by 2030, now is the right time to learn all you can about how EVs function. Let’s get started with everything you need to know about electric car charging…

What are electric car batteries, and how do they work?

Most electric vehicles use hundreds of individual battery cells packaged in pockets. When they’re working together, they make the electric car battery. They’re massive, stretching across a few metres, and they’re located beneath the car.

You might think these are dozens of individual batteries, but they aren’t. They’re individual cells. When they’re adequately assembled to form a complete unit, that’s the battery. Specialist technology keeps the battery at the right temperature no matter the weather outside.

Electric vehicle batteries aren’t that different from the batteries we use in laptops and smartphones every day. We use lithium-ion batteries for quick charge, and electric car batteries are the same; they’re bigger, but they work in the same way.

The battery was what held us back from building electric cars much earlier than we have managed to. They need to store lots of energy and charge but also maintain their ability to charge over time and withstand weather – and potholes. The good news is we’re finally there.

Because the batteries are so large, they can propel a heavy vehicle forward for several hours before they need to be recharged. But where should you go when it’s time to do that?

Where can I go to charge my electric car?

Electric cars come standard with a 120-volt Level 1 portable charger. These chargers can be plugged into a simple household outlet and don’t require any special installation, meaning you can plug it into an ordinary three-point mains plug. The downside to this is that it’s a trickle charge, meaning it will take you a ludicrous 29 hours and 45 minutes to charge a hatchback-size EV like the Volkswagen ID.3. Needless to say, this is usually the last resort.

As a result, most people opting for an EV these days opt to install a 7.4 kW wallbox for slightly quicker charging. Again, if we look to the Volkswagen ID.3, using a wallbox it can be fully charged in 9 hours 15 minutes. You can find these points elsewhere too with lots of workplaces providing them for employees and some public car parks also providing them.

Rapid chargers can be found at locations such as service stations to keep commuters on the move. Still, you should be aware that it is going to take you longer to charge your car than it would to put petrol into it, so you’ll need to work out how many miles you get on a full charge and plan your journey according to how many stops you’ll need to make along the way. Using a Combined Charging System (CCS) compatible with the ID.3 you can charge from 10-80% in 30-60 minutes depending on the power.

While most electric cars provide information on the nearest charge points, you can also use nationwide electric car charging point app, Zap Map to get an idea of where every EV charging point in the UK when planning your journey.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?

As touched on above, it entirely depends on how you are charging it. It can take anywhere from thirty minutes to over a day depending on the size of the battery and the speed of the charging point.

Needless to say, the bigger the car + the slower the charging point = the longer it will take you to charge your car from empty to full.

A typical electric car takes between seven and eight hours to charge from empty to full with a 7.4 kW wallbox charging point, so you would need to plug it in and let it charge overnight or over the course of the workday.

For those on the move up and down the motorways, rapid charging provided by the likes of InstaVolt and Ionity is the optimum as it allows for a quicker rate of charge while taking a restroom break at the service station enabling longer journeys with no range anxiety.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

If you’re worried about it being more expensive than petrol, don’t be. Statistics indicate it’s around a fifth of the cost of filling up a standard car. On top of that, new suggested plans for more affordable and accessible electric car charging points has been proposed by SMMT. You also do not have to pay road tax on a pure electric vehicle, providing further savings.

You would usually calculate your petrol costs as pence per litre, but we calculate the charging cost of an electric car as pence per kilowatt-hour. 

A kWh is a standard measurement of energy, and you’ll find this format on your general electricity bill. If you plug your electric car in at home, the cost of charging your vehicle adds to your bill—a kWh costs between 10p and 14p. By comparison, petrol is around 128p per litre.

So we don’t know how much kWh of energy your individual electric car can store, but if it were 100, for example, a full car charge would cost between £10 and £14, considerably less than a full tank of fuel. However, it’s unlikely it will get you as far. You might need several charges to take you the same distance.

What are the different types of electric car chargers?

While industry has made moves to standardise electric car charging – with BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen forming a coalition to roll this out across Europe – there are various types of charge plugs and it can get a bit confusing knowing what type you need and where you can access it.

At the slow end of the scale for electric car charging, there has historically been three options. At the bottom of the scale the three-pin plug provides around 3 kW of alternating current, as such this level of trickle charge is only recommended for an absolute emergency. Earlier EVs improved on this slightly with Type 1, Type 2 and Commando charging providing 3-6 kW.

Fast chargers are becoming more common in the UK as more drivers make the move to electric cars. The most common type of fast charger installed at the home is a 7.4 kW wallbox which will come in either a Type 1 or Type 2 alternate current connector depending on the type used in your EV. These can be typically found in public car parks and some supermarkets too.

Rapid chargers are at the top of the scale, and will be found at motorway service stations or if you’re driving a Tesla at their dealerships. Rapid chargers use direct current to recharge the EV as fast as possible, delivering 50-100 kW to an EV. Tesla’s Supercharger network ups this to 150 kW but is only available on their models.

If you’re searching for further information about electric car leasing and the range of models available, you might like to take a read through our latest electric car blogs below.