Considering your first electric vehicle raises a whole host of questions. From “How does this technology work?” to “How long will my battery last?” there’s a lot to learn about this new way of driving. One question is particularly practical, as it touches on something you’ll do much more often than you used to visit the gas station: charge your car.
For EV drivers, charging isn’t something you do for five minutes every week or two—it’s part of your daily routine. Whether you’re plugging in at home, at work or while you shop, you’ll quickly learn that regular charging is integral to owning an electric vehicle. Because of this, it’s important to learn how to charge an electric car.
We’ve got good news—it’s not that complicated. There are a few things to learn so you know where to go, when to charge and how often to do it. Once you get those tricks down, you’ll be a pro. Here are the most important things to know about charging your electric vehicle.
Understand EV charging (and your vehicle)
As you’ll see below, charging your car is a relatively straightforward process. However, don’t reach for a plug just yet. Before you do, there are a few crucial things to understand about charging technology and how it interacts with your car.
All chargers and EVs aren’t created equal
The first thing to get used to about charging an electric vehicle is that, unlike gas stations, charging stations offer varying levels of performance. The type of station you use has a major impact on charging speed.
When you’re looking for a place to charge, you’ll encounter three charging levels:
Level 1 charger: These are the most basic (and slowest) charging stations, but they’re lightweight and portable, so it’s easy to keep one with you when you need to charge in a pinch. They plug into a standard 120-volt outlet.
Level 2 charger: These are heavier and often hardwired or at least built with a heavy-duty plug to enable faster charging speeds. Our JuiceBox chargers, for instance, are easy to install at home and provide 240 volts of power for charging up to nine times faster.
Level 3 fast charger: Also known as DC fast chargers (DCFC), these offer the quickest charging experience. Our JuicePump chargers, for example, allow you to charge your battery to 80% in as little as 20 minutes. Note, however, that not all EVs are equipped to use DCFCs, and these are primarily designed for commercial or public use.
The types of charging stations available along your usual commute routes and at your house will shape your daily charging routines. If you have a Level 2 charger at home or work, for instance, you should be able to recharge fully every day without issue. If not, then you may be more eager to find convenient DCFC chargers for quick refuels during your daily routine.
It’s also worth noting that battery capacity and efficiency vary by EV. The bigger your EV battery, the less often you’ll need to charge, so be sure to consider a vehicle’s typical range and your daily driving needs when comparing EV options.
Plugs aren’t (quite) like pumps
Beyond the charging stations themselves, it’s also important to understand how charging plugs vary—on both ends.
The wall connection
The connection between the charger and its electrical supply is only a concern for you when it comes to charging at home, but the connection you choose will have a significant effect on your charging experience.
As noted above, Level 1 chargers can plug into standard 120-volt outlets, but this makes for very slow charging—24 hours or more to fully charge a battery on most of today’s EVs. Instead, it’s far better to hardwire your charger or use a larger NEMA 14–50 or NEMA 6–50 plug to allow for 240-volt charging and faster Level 2 speeds.
The charging connector
At the other end of the plug is the connection point between your vehicle and the charger. Although there are quite a few connection types worldwide, you only need to be concerned with four options in North America.
J1772 connectors: This is the standard for Level 1 and Level 2 charging on every vehicle in North America except for Teslas. Even if you have a Tesla, the company includes an adaptor for J1772 chargers with its cars. However, non-Tesla drivers generally can’t use Tesla charging stations unless they are equipped with a Magic Dock adaptor.
CCS1 connectors: Combined charging system CCS) connectors are the standard for DCFCs in North America, and they’re essentially J1772 connectors with two additional high-speed pins underneath them.
CHAdeMO connectors: These are the standard for DCFCs in Japan, but they also come on Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Nissan LEAF vehicles in North America.
NACS connectors: As noted above, Tesla has its own proprietary charging technology called the North America Charging Standard (NACS). These work for Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 charging, so Tesla vehicles only need one connection type. Enel X Way plans to support NACS EV charging connectors across its product line to further enable EV adoption and compatibility.
For the most part, you’ll probably rely on J1772 connectors at home and CCS1 (the most widely used fast charging standard adopted by many automakers) on public stations unless you drive a Tesla. However, it’s also important to know where you can find the right type of DCFC connection based on your vehicle type.
Payment takes some planning
Another key difference between gas stations and charging stations is the payment infrastructure. Although there are myriad gas station companies, you can use any station as long as you have cash or a credit card handy. Public charging stations, meanwhile, are often connected to specific charging networks.
Some of these networks require a membership or subscription to use them, while others are open to anyone. Some include roaming services, meaning one subscription grants you access to chargers in other networks. Tesla, again, has its own proprietary network.
Downloading your charging network app and setting up your preferred payment method ahead of time will help you streamline the process. Charging network apps also allow you to search for any stations in the network or ones you can use via roaming access.
How to charge in public
With those basics in mind, you’ve got a solid foundation for understanding how to charge an electric car. Still, you may feel uncertain about how it actually works in practice. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect for your first public charging session.
Finding a charging station
This may feel like the most daunting question when you first consider purchasing an electric car, but finding a place to charge is getting easier every year. As noted above, you can use the app or your charging network of choice to search for stations near you or along your route so you can quickly find a spot to fill up on the go. The Alternative Fuels Data Center, run by the U.S. Department of Energy, also offers an interactive map of charging stations across the U.S. and Canada. For long trips, look for DCFC stations along the highway so you can charge up quickly and get back on the road.
Besides these on-the-go charging moments, it’s wise to consider how you’ll work charging into your daily routine. Look for charging stations at your local supermarkets, restaurants and retail outlets so you can charge up while you tackle other daily tasks.
Plugging in, paying and charging up
Once you’ve chosen a place to charge, the process is fairly simple. Pull up to the charging station as you would to the gas pump—with your vehicle’s charging connector facing the plug.
Unlike a gas pump, you’ll usually go ahead and connect the charger to your car before you set up payment. Lift the plug—beware that EV plugs are much heavier than the typical gas pump—and hold down the button on the top as you connect it to your vehicle. Push it in until you hear a “click.”
From there, you’ll need to pay for your session so you can begin charging. Your options depend on the station’s charging network and available payment equipment. Some stations are equipped with credit card terminals, while others only accept payment via mobile wallets or charging network apps.
Learn more about how to pay for charging so you’re ready when the time comes.
Monitoring your charging progress
Once you’ve set up payment, you can start your charging session and monitor your progress. If you’re using the network’s app, you can easily check your charge level and cost remotely while you shop, dine or work.
Note that you don’t need to refill your battery to 100% at every session. Especially if you’re equipped to charge at home, it’s often best to take only what you need for the rest of the day at public stations. That way, you can take advantage of overnight utility rates while you fully recharge at home. In addition, charging speed starts to drop for DCFC charging beyond 80% on most vehicles.
Completing the process
Once you’re satisfied with your charge level, you can end your session. Simply return to the charger, press stop and unplug it to stop charging and complete payment. Return the plug to the charging station, close the cap on your car’s receptacle and you’re all set.
How to charge your electric car at home
Charging at home is a much more straightforward process—just plug and go. The most important part of this process is choosing the right home charger for your needs. If you play your cards right, you’ll always be able to fill up a home and avoid public charging much of the time. Explore Enel X Way’s JuiceBox chargers to find the right setup for your home so you can always get the juice you need for the day and use the Enel X Way App to schedule and monitor charge sessions.
Be sure to look into rate plan options with your local utility, too. Some utilities offer special rates for EV charging, and many offer peak-time savings so you can charge overnight or on weekends at lower rates. These options often require enrollment, so make sure you’re signed up for the plan that best fits your charging habits.
Charging your EV is easier than you think
EV charging may seem intimidating at first, but it’s easy to get used to the process. With more DCFC public charging stations popping up every month, recharging your car is becoming more and more of a routine job. Once you install the right charger at home and know how to find stations when you’re out and about, charging your car will just be part of your day—so routine you won’t even have to think about it.