Electric car charging

How to charge an electric car

Find out how electric vehicles charge, what it costs and how long it may take

Electric vehicles (EVs) have grown increasingly popular in recent years, and this trend looks set to continue.

Due to this increase, the number of electric car chargepoints available has also grown rapidly. There are now over 16,000 public charging locations and almost 44,000 connectors across the UK.

But how long does it take to charge an electric car and how much does it cost to use a charger? In this comprehensive guide, we provide detailed information about electric car chargepoints and how they work.

Learn lots of useful information about EVs in our beginner's guide to electric and hybrid cars.

In this article

Sign for electric car public chargepoint

What are electric car chargepoints and how do they work?

An electric car chargepoint is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a charger for your electric car battery. Most charging happens at home, but you'll also find them in car parks, at offices and at motorway service stops.

EV drivers connect cars to a chargepoint via a connecting cable to top up the battery charge. The type of charger you use affects how quickly your battery is charged and how much it costs you.

How do electric cars charge?

Electric car charging points work by connecting to your electric vehicle and transferring power supply directly to the traction battery pack. Unlike other vehicles, electric vehicles have an electric motor in place of a combustion engine. The traction battery pack is what powers the electric motor, and that's why you always need sufficient charge before setting off.


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How to use an electric car chargepoint

How to charge your EV will depend on where you're charging it and which kind of chargepoint you're using.

EV chargers can be different, so make sure to read the instructions and follow them carefully. If you’re on the road, you can download apps for chargers which should provide instructions on how to use them.

Your car manual may also provide instructions on how to charge the vehicle.

Generally, you'll need to do the following:

  1. Park your car next to the chargepoint so that the cable will reach.

  2. If it’s a tethered unit, make sure the connector is the right type for your car. Most charge points have Type 2 cables as standard, but some older EVs may have Type 1 inlets that won't be compatible. If it’s an untethered unit, connect your charging cable to it. You may also see rapid charging options like CHAdeMO, which can speed up the process for cars like: Toyota Prius Plug-In, Citroen C-Zero, Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Nissan e-NV200, Kia Soul EV Mk1, Tesla Model S.

  3. Plug the cable into the socket on your car.

  4. Once your car has enough charge, end the charging process (you normally need to do this before disconnecting your EV from the chargepoint).

  5. Remove the connector from your car and place it back on the charging station if it’s a tethered unit. If it’s untethered, make sure to take your cable with you.

  6. If you need to pay, make the payment according to the instructions (not many chargepoints are set up to take direct card payments, so you’ll normally need to pay using the app).


How long does it take to charge an electric car?

The time it takes to charge an EV depends on the battery size and the type of charger you're using, ranging from less than an hour to up to 12 hours.

Rapid chargers (>50kw)

Rapid EV chargepoints can charge compatible batteries to 80% full in around 30 minutes or less. All rapid chargers have the charging cable tethered to the charger.

They can be found at motorway service stations.

Fast chargers (7kw to 22kw)

Fast electric car chargers take between 1 and 5 hours to charge a compatible EV, depending on the size of the battery and speed of the charger.

They're sometimes called “destination chargers” because they're often found in places like car parks, shopping centres and tourist destinations where you'd normally leave your car for an hour or more.

7kw home chargers, such as the BP Pulse unit, are also popular as they provide quick charging at home.

Slow chargers (2.4kw to 6kw)

Slow chargers have been installed in many workplaces and homes but charging can take over 12 hours.

Find out how to maintain and repair an electric car.


Is it free to charge an electric car?

Often workplaces offer free chargepoints that you can use while at the office. Similarly, shopping centres or tourist destination car parks may provide free charging while you're using the facilities.

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?

Certain chargepoints may charge you. Rapid charge points at motorway services will generally be the most expensive.

If you’re charging an electric car at home, you can use this formula to work out costs (but remember that this will provide the cost to charge a completely empty battery to 100% which you’re unlikely to be doing on a regular basis).

Size of battery (kWh) x Electricity cost of your supplier (pence per kilowatt hour) = Cost to charge an electric car

Some home charging units have smart options that save money by charging at cheaper times of the day.


How to get an electric car charger installed at home

If you have an EV, it’s most convenient to get a chargepoint set up at home where you park. You’ll need a qualified specialist installer to come out to set it up. Installation normally takes a few hours.

Discover more about charging an electric car at home.  

Can any electrician fit car chargepoints?

It’s best to get a qualified electrician with experience of EV chargers to install it.

Thinking of getting an EV charging point installed at home? Save £50 with our partner, EO.

Government grants for electric car chargepoints

The Government's EV chargepoint grant can cover up to 75% of the cost of 1 charge point and its installation, but the grant cap is set at £350 including VAT.

If you'd like to charge your EV at the office, there’s also a Workplace Charging Scheme which can help with up-front costs, so speak to your HR department to see if it’s an option.


What are the differences between electric car chargepoints?

Electric car chargepoints can vary in terms of the connector type, whether they are tethered or untethered, battery charging time, cost and payment method.

It’s best to follow the instructions for the chargepoint you're using.

Can you charge an electric car from a normal plug?

Yes, you can but it will be very slow and should only be done as a last resort. It’s better to install a 7kw charger at home as it will generally charge an EV 3 times faster than a normal plug.

Some vehicle manufacturers also recommend that against charging an EV from a regular socket.


Can I charge my electric car in the rain?

Yes, you can charge an electric car in the rain. The chargers and cars are weatherproof and designed to protect you and the vehicle from electric shocks, so you don’t need to worry about charging your EV during a period of wet weather.

Should I charge my electric car every night?

Home chargers often take several hours to fully charge a battery, so charging an EV overnight is a good way to make sure it’s fully charged and ready for the next day.

Go to our EV advice hub to find lots of useful advice on electric cars


What happens if you run out of charge in an electric car?

Most, if not all, electric vehicles will give you plenty of warning that power is getting low and that you'll need to find a place to charge up – some models even have an onboard navigation system to direct you to the nearest car charging point.

However, you may still run into unforeseen circumstances that lead to you running out of power. In this case you'll need to call out electric vehicle assistance for a tow to the nearest charging station. If you have electric vehicle breakdown cover with us, one of our mechanics will tow you to a chargepoint or your destination – whichever is nearer.

Where can I charge my electric car?

As mentioned above, your vehicle may have an onboard navigation system that can direct you to the nearest electric car charging station. Alternatively, if you have a smartphone you can open Gmaps and search for electric vehicle charging points in your area.

Take note though that not every charging point may be free to use. Commonly, you can find free charging points in public close to places like supermarkets, shopping centres and cinemas. The large majority of motorway service stations will also have a free electric vehicle charging point.


Are all electric car chargers the same?

No, there are different types of electric vehicle chargers. Most commonly you'll see two different types, known as Type 1 and Type 2 chargers. The one you need to connect to will depend on the model of car you’ve got.

Some of the chargers you come across will be slower while others will be ‘rapid’ or ‘ultra-rapid’. Rapid chargers could get you up to 80% power in as little as 20 minutes but expect these to be more expensive.

Do electric cars pay the congestion charge?

According to TFL, zero-emission vehicles that meet the correct criteria will not have to pay the congestion charge until the 24th of December 2025.

Is it free to charge an electric car in the UK?

There are plenty of free charging points throughout the UK, commonly found in public by supermarkets, shopping centres and in large public car parks. The faster charging stations (known as ‘rapid’ or ‘ultra-rapid’) may require payment.

Is it cheap to charge an electric car at home?

A full charge at home for an electric vehicle will likely cost less than it would to fill a petrol or diesel tank, but there are costs involved with setting up the equipment you need to charge your car.

Published: 28 September 2021 | Updated: 17 May 2023 | Author: The AA