There’s a lot to learn when you’re considering switching to an electric vehicle (EV), including the available charging options. Whether you plan to charge at home or on the road, understanding how electric car chargers work is an essential step in the EV buying process.
Below, we give you all the details you need about the various electric car charger types and the various connectors so you’re well-informed when it’s time to plug in.
There are three main levels of chargers: Level 1, 2, and 3. Each level uses a higher voltage than the next, delivering a faster charge.
The most basic electric car charger is the 120-volt charger — also known as a Level 1 charger. These are simple cords that plug into a standard household wall outlet. Because you’re getting just 120-volts of juice, these are the slowest of the charger options.
Some longer-range EVs can take days to go from 0% to 100% charge on 120 volts, making them nearly useless in many new EVs. In fact, some automakers offer them only as options, as Kia did with its new EV6.
120-volt chargers are most useful on EVs with a shorter range, like the Nissan LEAF or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). They can also be useful just to top up your longer-range EV if you only drive it a few miles here and there.
You can also get a 240-volt charging cable that plugs into a 240-volt outlet in your home, such as the one your clothes dryer uses. In most EVs, this is home-charging option provides enough power to recharge the battery overnight.
Keep in mind that this charging rate depends on the amperage of the outlet it’s plugged into. A 25-amp outlet will be the slowest, a 30 amp will be a little faster, and a 40 amp will be the fastest.
Also, there are several 240-volt plugs with varying plug formats. Make sure your cable’s plug matches your 240-volt outlet or buy an adapter.
These 240-volt cables are part of the Level 2 charger group. It usually costs about $300 to $800 to have an electrician install a new outlet in your home, and a cable costs $150 to $300.
You can forgo the plugging and unplugging and instead commit to an at-home 240-volt charging station. These small wall-mounted boxes are hardwired into your home’s electrical system and charge about the same rate as a 240-volt charging cable.
There is no plugging into an outlet with these systems. Simply plug the charging cable into your EV, and you’re good to go. Plus, these boxes run up to 80 amps, making them capable of charging much faster than a 240-volt charging cable.
Most automakers sell their preferred at-home EV charging station, but you can also buy them on the aftermarket for about $400 to $800. The installation cost will be somewhere between $850 and $2,500.
You can also find these chargers at some businesses and apartment complexes. They install these and allow EV owners to charge their cars for free while visiting their establishment.
DC Fast Chargers have revolutionized the world of EV charging recently. These systems range from 400 to 900 volts, delivering up to an 80% charge in as little as 15 minutes.
These electric vehicle charging stations are traditionally placed in or near shopping malls, sporting venues, concert venues, and other areas where people spend hours at per visit. This allows you to recharge your battery while eating dinner, shopping for new clothes, or watching a ballgame.
The issue with DC Fast Chargers is they bypass the onboard charger and ship electricity straight to your battery, so frequent fast charging can lead to quicker battery degradation.
Plus, they stop delivering maximum voltage at 80% charge to preserve your battery. At 80%, these chargers slow to Level 2 charging rate.
Even with the speed reduction at 80%, DC Fast Chargers are not suitable for daily charging. However, when you’re going on a road trip, these chargers are what allow you to keep moving.
Some popular DC Fast Charging networks include:
On top of charging speed, you must also consider the type of connector your car has and if the charger you’re at is compatible. There are two alternating-current (AC) plug types and three direct-current (DC) plug types.
The type 1 AC plug is the standard U.S. connector for EVs. It has five pins — three large and two small — and has no locking mechanism. Depending on the power source, you can expect to get 12.5 to 25 miles per hour of charging with this connector.
The type 2 AC plug has seven pins — five large ones and two small ones — and is becoming the most common connector for new cars. It has a locking mechanism and can charge between 12.5 miles per hour and 75 miles per hour.
The CHAdeMO connector was the original DC charger connector and has since been mostly phased out, though a few EVs still use it, including the Nissan LEAF. The CHAdeMO connector can accept 50- to 100-kilowatt (kW) charge, which will get you 75 to 150 miles of range per hour of charging.
CCS was essentially the replacement for CHAdeMO and is on pace to become the standard for DC charging. It can accept a charge rate of 50 kW to 350 kW. At 50 kW, you’ll get 75 miles of range per charging hour. On a 150 kW fast-charging station, you can get 225 miles of range per hour of charging. Finally, on a 350-kW charger, you’ll get 525 miles per charging hour.
A Tesla type 2 DC connector looks identical to the type 2 AC connector, but it’s found only on Tesla Superchargers because it’s a proprietary Tesla connection. It can deliver up to a 250-kW charge. At a 150-kW, electric vehicle charger, you’ll get 225 miles of range per hour, while a 250-kW charger will give you 375 miles per hour.
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