How does charging an electric car work?

Electric vehicles run on rechargeable batteries instead of gasoline, making them an eco-friendly driving option. Instead of pulling up to the pump to fill up your electric vehicle, you pull up to a charging station that's compatible with your car, plug the charging connector in, and wait. The time it takes the battery to recharge varies based on the type of charging station you use.

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Where to charge an electric car

Many electric vehicle owners charge up at home or at charging stations near malls, grocery stores, airports, and other public venues. As electric vehicles have become more popular, some businesses have installed charging stations so their employees can "fill up" while they're at work too.

There are apps that can help you locate the nearest station. They'll even provide details about the type of electric vehicle charging station and whether it's available or in use. Because electric cars have different types of charging connectors, it's important to make sure the station you use is compatible with your vehicle.

How to charge an electric car

Charging an electric car is simple. You plug it into an outlet or charging station, but you need to make sure you have the right type of equipment. There are three types of charging stations available, according to the U.S. Department of Energy —Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3:

  • Level 1: Level 1 charging stations use a 120-volt outlet, the same outlets you find in your home. Most electric vehicles come with charging equipment that lets you plug them into a 120 volt standard outlet.
  • Level 2: Level 2 stations use 208-volt or 240-volt electrical service. They're available in many public places, or you can have one professionally installed at your home.
  • Level 3: Level 3 stations are also known as DC fast chargers or rapid chargers. They typically use 480-volt service and are only available in public venues — they're not suitable for home use. Many electric cars are set up for fast charging, but it's important to check before using one of these types of stations.

Learn more about the difference between hybrid cars and electric cars.

Pro tip:

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, all commercially available plug-in electric vehicles can use Level 1 and 2 charging equipment. Many newer electric vehicles can also charge using Level 3 charging equipment, but this varies by car make and model. The type of connector your vehicle uses for Level 3 charging may also vary by manufacturer.

Electric car charging times

The time it takes to charge your car's battery varies based on the electric car charging station you use.

  • Level 1: Level 1 stations are convenient but not very practical while on the road. At 2-5 miles of range per charging hour, you'll need to charge your battery overnight to have a decent range for the next day.
  • Level 2: A level 2 station gives you approximately 10 to 20 miles of range per hour of charging time.
  • Level 3: Level 3 stations provide the fastest charging speed available, charging batteries to 60 to 80 miles of range for every 20 minutes of charging time.

Electric car charging at home

If you decide to install a Level 2 charging station at your home, you can choose between a hard-wired or portable station. A hard-wired station may be built into your garage's wall or other structures, whereas a portable electric car charging station plugs into a 240-volt outlet. The advantage of a portable charging station is that you can take it with you if you move or go on vacation.

Important note: If you don't currently have a 240-volt outlet or service near your garage or driveway, you'll need to have one installed in order to use Level 2 charging equipment at home.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car at a public charging station?

It depends on the charging station. When you charge up at home, you pay for the "fill-up" through your electric bill. In contrast, some public charging stations offer free charging, whereas others may charge a per-kilowatt or per-minute fee. The price to charge your vehicle is often less than what you'd pay for gas, and you could save money by signing up for a subscription to a charging network.

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