Electric car sales are on the up, manufacturers are introducing new models every few months, and there is a growing range of home chargers to fill the batteries each night.
But, while plugging in and charging is often a very simple process, there is a lot to get your head around.
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You need to understand the power constraints of your home's electrical system and outlets, then you need to decide which type of charger to buy, where to install it, what extra features you want it to have, and how much you want to pay.
This guide will walk you through some common questions asked by drivers who are considering buying their first electric car.
How many miles do you drive each week, and does your employer offer car charging?
First, let us start with the very basics. We ask these questions first because you might be in the fortunate position of having a short commute to a workplace equipped with car chargers. If this is you, then you might not even need to install a charger at home — so long as your employer doesn't mind you filling up the battery for personal use as well as commuting, of course.
Is there a public charger near to where you live?
On a similar train of thought to the previous question, if there are public chargers near your home, then perhaps you can pay to use these instead of installing your own at home.
You should regularly check to see how busy your local public chargers are, as they might not always be available when you need them. They probably can't be relied on to fully satisfy your electric car charging requirements, but if you live near a public charger and your work lets you charge there, between these two options you might be set.
Public car chargers are an increasingly common sight in towns and cities iStock
As a piece of anecdotal evidence, I live in a residential part of south west London and have a neighbor who owns a Tesla but does not have a driveway, so is unable to install a personal charger. The neighbor seemingly get by with charging elsewhere — at the public charger on the next street, for example.
If you are going to rely on public chargers, you should bear in mind that electric car sales are increasing and your local chargers could soon be in greater demand, making them less convenient.
How does at-home electric car charging work?
The slowest option is to plug your electric car directly into a wall outlet. This makes use of the car's internal charger, but charge times are incredibly slow, giving the car just three to five miles of range per hour of charging.
This can be an option if you are visiting family for the weekend and won't be needing your car — just plug in, leave it for a couple of days, and reimburse their generosity however you see fit.
Every electric car sold in the U.S. comes with a 120-volt Level 1 portable charger, which plugs into a regular wall outlet like any other electrical device.
A step up from this is the Level 2, 240 volt charger. This is the most common type of home charger for electric cars, and is also used widely by public charging stations too. They vary in power and can charge cars at between roughly 12 and 60 miles of range per hour. Given most electric cars have a range of around 200 to 300 miles, that higher charge speed means just 3.5 hours of charging to mostly fill an almost empty battery.
Even at the slower Level 2 rate, a larger electric car can be mostly filled from empty overnight.
Say you get home from work at 6 or 7pm; you can plug the car in for 11 or 12 hours before needing it again in the morning. It's unlikely you'll need to use the car's entire potential range on every journey, so in reality an overnight charge every few days will be more than enough to cover your commute and regular journeys.
It is worth briefly noting how all electric cars use the same charging connection, apart from Tesla, which has a proprietary connection: It's Supercharger charging stations cannot be used by any other vehicle. However, Teslas come with (or can be bought with) an adapter to use with all other chargers.
It should also be added that European and North American electric cars often use different plugs and sockets. So as long as you use your car in the market you bought it from, it will work. There are not different chargers for each manufacturer, apart from Tesla.
Finally, these at-home chargers can also be used to fill the batteries of plug-in hybrid vehicles, not just fully-electric cars. So if you have a hybrid like a BMW i8 or Range Rover, you can charge its battery at home then use it in EV mode for short journeys without starting the engine.
Which type of Level 2 charger is best?
This depends on whether you want your charger to be portable or wall-mounted. A portable Level 2 charger plugs into a wall outlet at home and, as long as you have had your electrician fit a 240 volt outlet, will fill up the car at around 12 to 18 miles of range per hour.
Buying a portable charger makes sense if outright speed isn't your primary concern, and if you have a second home, as it's easy to take the charger and cable with you.
If portability is not important to you, then a wall-mounted Level 2 charger is best, as they are larger and more powerful, filling batteries at a higher rate.
You will then need to decide if you want a cable attached to the charger, or just a socket on the wall of your property, or in the garage. With just a socket, the charger looks much neater and will be a subtle addition to your home; you then keep the cable in your car, as most have a dedicated space for them in the trunk.
Alternatively, if you don't want to carry a cable around, you can install a charger with its own. These tend to be around 15 feet in length, making it easy to plug in your car so long as you park within a few feet of the charger. For us, a socket looks neater but a charger with its own cable increases convenience, and potentially car storage space, too.
Be careful not to locate a charger where the cable will be a trip hazard iStock
How to understand the power of a charger
There are several ways to measure the power and speed of an electric car charger, such as volts and amps. But perhaps the most widely used stat is kilowatts, written as kW. The slowest public chargers are 3.6 kW (or 16 amps), then 7 kW, 12 kW and 22 kW are common faster outputs.
Your car might not be able to accept electricity at the faster rates, but your future one probably will, so we recommend buyers consider spending more on a faster charger now, instead of having to upgrade to a new one when you buy your next electric car.
For context, the fastest public and Tesla chargers are much quicker, with charge rates at between 120 kW to 250 kW and even 350 kW in the case of Porsche's upcoming 800-volt system.
Can a car charger be installed at any property?
This depends on the type of property you live in, and who owns it. If you are renting, then it is unlikely that your landlord will want you installing a car charger — but then again, there is no harm in asking to make sure.
If you own a house with a garage or driveway, then go ahead and buy yourself a car charger. You may need an electrician to come and upgrade your wiring, or fit a 240 volt outlet, but this is simple enough to have done.
Amazon Home Services provides a car charger installation service, which asks all of the important questions before letting you make the purchase. However, the actual charger is not included, so you'll need to buy that separately, then book installation from Amazon.
If you live in an apartment and have a designated parking space, perhaps in the basement parking lot, then you will need to check with the landlord before booking a charger installation.
How much do home car chargers cost?
A less powerful, portable Level 2 charger can be had for under $200 — like this Duosida model for $186 — while more premium portable options get closer to $400, due to having longer cables, higher power outputs, and integrated displays.
Wall-mounted chargers generally fall in the $400 to $500 region, with some options approaching $700 or even $900 for this model from Bosch.
This 240-volt, $560 charger from ChargePoint offers a good range of features, including a long 25-feet cable, integrated cable, compact design, and its own smartphone app. It can add up to 25 miles of range per hour, works with all electric cars, and has Amazon Alexa support. This model is hardwired, but a plug-in option is also on sale for $600, and both are weather-resistant and suitable for use outdoors.
What extra features are worth paying for?
As with most products, you can spend more money to have a car charger with extra features. Some connect to your Wi-Fi network and can be controlled via a smartphone app.
The app also shows the status of the charger and a log of how much electricity it has provided since first installed; this can be a useful way to keep track of electricity usage, but in many cases your car (and its own app) will do this anyway.
Some chargers also have Amazon Alexa support, so you can ask the voice assistant to start and stop charging. This may seem helpful, but personally we're happy with a charger which works when plugged in and stops when removed; for us, there's no need for voice assistant support here, but we understand if some readers see value in this extra convenience.