Charging an electric car: everything you need to know

If estimates are to be believed, one million of us could be driving electric cars within the next four years. Like it or not, it’s probably time to consider whether an electric vehicle could work for you.

The actual process of driving an electric car is very simple. Many are very similar to petrol or diesels in the way that they drive albeit with an automatic transmission and instant torque. They generally feel more relaxing than equivalent petrols or diesels, but they can also offer surprising performance.

It’s recharging that’s a little more difficult. Rather than simply stopping at a petrol station and filling your car’s tank within a few minutes, charging an electric car can be a time-consuming process. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be difficult and, for many of us, it’s easy enough to fit it into our lives.

How do you charge an electric car?

Charging an electric car: everything you need to know

Think of charging an electric car the same as charging your phone. You can do it using a simple three-pin domestic plug socket, leaving it overnight for a fully-charged car when you wake up the next day.

Although it depends on your electricity supply, the specific car and, of course, how flat the batteries are, it typically takes around eight hours to charge an EV using a three-pin socket.

For faster charging, a professional can install a home charging point. This would normally cost around £1,000, but there’s currently a £500 government grant available for EV drivers. This can reduce charging times by up to 50 percent – meaning you can have a fully-charged EV in about four hours.

But that’s longer than filling up with petrol…

Charging an electric car: everything you need to know

True, most people don’t have four hours to waste waiting for their car to charge. But with the range of many electric cars (i.e. how far they will travel on a charge) now exceeding 200 miles, ask yourself how often you exceed that in one day? If your daily mileage is usually less than 200 miles, just charge your electric car at home overnight.

For those occasions when you do travel further afield, there are alternatives to charging at home. There’s a network of more than 14,000 chargers at around 5,000 different locations around the UK, with the number of fast and rapid chargers growing quickly.

Rapid chargers are usually found at motorway service stations. They can top an electric car up to 80 percent charge in just 30 minutes  ideal if you’re on a long journey and want to break it up with a coffee and a refill. They do cost, though, with Ecotricity (the firm that owns UK’s rapid charging network) implementing a £3 connection charge, plus 17p per unit of electricity used.

Alternatively, there are a number of slower public chargers available to use for free. These include more than 7,000 fast chargers, often found in shopping centres and supermarket car parks. These can charge an electric car in a couple of hours  perfect if you’re spending an afternoon shopping.

Tell me about charging networks

Charging an electric car: everything you need to know

Wouldn’t it be handy if there was a streamlined charging network around the UK? Several different companies run public chargers across the country, meaning you may need various different cards or methods to access them.

The best thing we did when we ran a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV for six months was to obtain a Polar Plus card from Chargemaster. For £7.85 a month, this gave us access to more than 6,000 charging points across the UK. This live map showed us where we could use the card  including live information  and then all we had to do was swipe the card and plug in.

The majority of chargers at motorway service stations are operated by Ecotricity which, as we’ve mentioned, does charge you for a, er… charge. Tesla owners, meanwhile, can use the brand’s own Supercharger network.

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