Electric car charging – how it works and how much it costs

Filling up with fuel is easy. Charging an electric car, however, can be a little more complicated. The different connectors, compatibility and variable rates of charge may make it seem like a complex job.

Fortunately, electric car charging doesn’t need to be confusing. Free yourself from the tangled mess of charging cables with this guide, which we've created in partnership with the Energy Saving Trust.

How to charge your electric car


There are three basic ways to charge an electric car: at home, at work, or at a public charging point.

Home charging

electric-car-charging-home

Want to start each day with a ‘full tank’? Charging each night at home will provide all the daily driving range the average driver will need.

You can charge using a regular domestic three-pin socket, but a dedicated home EV charger is a much better – and faster – option.

Dedicated EV home chargers typically deliver around 7kW of power. In contrast, most vehicle manufacturers limit the current drawn from a standard domestic 3 pin socket to 10A or less, which equates to a maximum of 2.3kW. 

A 7kW home charger therefore delivers approximately three times as much power and is approximately three times as fast as using a domestic socket.

We've got a full guide dedicated to charging an electric car at home, so head there for more information.

How much does it cost to install an electric car charger at home?

The typical cost of a home charge point is around £800.

Under its Electric Vehicle Homecharge Scheme, the Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) currently offers a grant of up to 75% of this cost, capped at a maximum grant of £350.

If you own or have primary access to an EV and off-street parking, you may be eligible for an OZEV-funded grant towards the cost of a home charge point.

If there are two qualifying vehicles, a pair of charge points may even be applied for at the same property.

Install a home charging point

Going electric? Installing a home charging point makes owning an electric car so much easier and cheaper.

Install a home charging point
Install a home charging point

Workplace charging

electric-car-charging-work

Workplace charging points make electric cars more viable for commuters who live a distance away from their location of work.

If your work doesn’t have an electric vehicle charge point installed, it could take advantage of the Government's Workplace Charging Scheme (WCS).

The WGS is a voucher-based scheme that provides a contribution towards the up-front costs of the purchase and installation of EV charge points. It’s worth up to £300 per socket – up to a maximum of 40 sockets.

Employers can apply for vouchers using the Workplace Charging Scheme application.

Public charging

electric-car-public-charging

Public EV chargers can be found at service stations, car parks, supermarkets, cinemas and simply at the side of the road.

Public chargers at service stations fulfil the role of petrol and diesel forecourts and are best suited for longer journeys. Such a rapid charging unit provides up to 80% of charge in as little as 20-30 minutes.

The network of public chargers continues to grow. Zap-Map reports a total of 25,258 charging points at 15,903 different locations nationwide at the time of writing (August 2021).

EV charging networks

There are a number of public EV charging networks in the UK, each one taking a slightly different approach to charger access.

BP Pulse (formerly called Polar) is one of the UK's largest public charging networks. Access is granted via an app or membership card, and is available as a pay-as-you-go or subscription service.

Gridserve has operated the previous Ecotricity-branded Electric Highway charge points since June 2021, and is upgrading them. Charge points that have been upgraded can be accessed by contactless debit or credit card payment. 

Users of Electric Highway charge points that have not yet been replaced need to register their details via a smartphone app, which is used to control the charging process. In 2020, Gridserve opened the UK’s first service station forecourt purely for electric vehicles, the first of 100 sites planned within five years.

Ionity ultra-rapid charge points can charge cars at speeds of up to 350kW. While you tend to pay for the privilege with higher charging rates, you can use contactless payment via a customer card, an RFID-token or by a smartphone app.

If you own a Tesla, simply turn up at a Supercharger station, plug in and wait for your EV to be recharged.

There are also regional charging networks, but many of them also offer access to customers of the larger EV networks.

If you are planning to rely on public EV charging, make sure you’re signed up to the correct network for any chargers you plan on using. There are several resources that allow you to check ahead, both for the location of chargers and the network running them. This can be important, as some network providers charge a hefty authorisation fee. It will be refunded, but can take some time.

How can I charge my car if I don’t have private parking?

If you don’t have private parking, an EV may still be a practical option for you – particularly if you have charge points at your place of work or a public charger near your home.

The RAC is the first breakdown assistance company in the UK to introduce a mobile charging unit for electric vehicle owners who have run out of charge and have become the number 1 provider of breakdown cover for electric vehicles. ​Find out more about RAC EV Boost.​

How much does it cost to charge an electric car?


To fully charge an electric car at home it typically costs around £6.

To charge an EV to 80% at a public rapid charger (the level you normally would here) it usually costs between £7 and £10.

Naturally, this varies depending on the location, tariff, energy cost, battery capacity, charging speed and charge level. However, charging an EV far undercuts fuel costs for a petrol or diesel car.

The above estimates were calculated using Zap-Map’s home charging calculator and public charging calculator.

Read our full guide to electric car charging costs.

How long does it take to charge an electric car?


electric-cars-guide

How long it takes to charge an EV depends on the size of the battery and the type of charger, which is defined by the power in kilowatts (kW).

Read our full electric car charging speeds guide to find out everything there is to know about how long it takes to charge an EV.

Electric car chargers, connectors and adaptors

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This is where things get slightly more complicated because there isn't yet a universal connector for electric vehicles and their different chargers.

Each charger type (slow, fast and rapid) has its own set of connectors for low or high power, and for AC or DC charging.

Here is a list of every different type of connector within each category.

Slow charge connectors:

  • 3-pin 3kW AC
  • Type 1 3-6kW AC
  • Type 2 3-6kW AC
  • Commando 3-6kW AC

Fast charge connectors:

  • Type 2 7-22kW AC
  • Type 1 7kW AC
  • Commando 7-22kW AC

Rapid charge connectors:

  • CHAdeMo 50kW DC
  • CCS 50-350kW DC
  • Type 2 43kW AC
  • Tesla Type 2 120kW DC
Source: Zap-Map

The last thing you want is to get to a charging station when your battery is low, only to find it's not compatible with your car's charging input.

Always check your car's handbook and the charging network provider’s website for more specific information.

Are all EVs compatible with all chargers?

Most EVs and chargers in the UK are compatible. But for non-rapid charging you usually have to supply your own cable, which may come with your vehicle.

For non-rapid charging, EVs available in the UK will either have the above Type 1 inlet socket or Type 2 inlet socket.

Luckily, your EV should be supplied with a cable that has the plug it requires, and at the infrastructure (charger) end, the cables are all compatible.

Rapid chargers use what are known as tethered cables – i.e. they are permanently connected to, and cannot be removed from, the charging unit. 

In the UK most rapid chargers have two cables providing the two most popular rapid charge connectors (CHAdeMO and CCS), so you simply select and use the one that fits your EV. 

AC rapid charging was supported by a few older EVs, such as the Renault Zoe, but this has effectively been replaced by much faster DC rapid charging. Rapid chargers may have this option available on a third tethered cable, though.

Tesla uses its own network of 25,000+ rapid chargers known as Tesla Super Chargers. Currently, these cannot be used by other types of EVs. Some Tesla ‘destination chargers’, found in hotel car parks for example, can be used by other EVs though, and drivers of other EVs may be able to use the Super Charger network soon.

How do I know which chargers my EV can use?

If you have an EV you will know – from your dealer, lease company or handbook – what type of charging port it has.

The easiest way to find suitable public charge points is to use an app like Zap-Map, which shows the charge points on an interactive map. 

Zap-map can be filtered by connector type, EV type or charging speed. It also tells you if there are any reported problems with a charger.

RAC Breakdown Cover

Join the RAC and get breakdown cover. Our patrols fix 4 out of 5 vehicles on the spot, with repairs done in just 30 minutes on average.

RAC Breakdown Cover
RAC Breakdown Cover

Electric car range


electric-car-charging-range

Most commonly, EV range is between 100 and 300 miles.

As battery technology develops, this number is continually improving. The Tesla Model S Long Range, for example, boasts an impressive 405-mile range, and many new EVs are rated at over 300 miles.

As the UK’s charging infrastructure catches up with demand, this makes EV range very usable and practical.

The RAC has a mobile charging unit for electric vehicle owners who have run out of charge. ​Find out more about RAC EV Boost.​

Read our dedicated guide to electric car range.

Electric car battery life

electric-cars-breakdown

All batteries lose some performance over time and with use, but with EVs the losses tend to be fairly small and incremental. 

The more dramatic battery failures that many of us have experienced with devices such as phones or laptops, where battery performance drops quickly with a device that’s a few years old, are almost unheard of with EVs. 

One of the main reasons for this is that EVs have sophisticated battery management systems. These protect the batteries from overcharging and from charging too rapidly, both of which can cause damage.

This is why rapid chargers begin to ‘taper’ (reduce the power they deliver) once batteries are more than 80% full.

Today, many EVs are offered with long battery warranties. For example, Nissan offers an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty. Under these terms, batteries are replaced or repaired if they lose more than 25% of their original capacity.

How to find electric car charging points

Zap-Map has a useful app that shows you the location of charging points across the UK.

Many electric cars also have sat nav that recognises these locations and can direct you to those within range.

Can electric cars charge themselves?

Not completely, although recently some manufacturers have begun calling non-plug-in hybrid vehicles ‘self-charging’ hybrids because they recharge their batteries via regenerative braking, or via a generator powered by their internal combustion engine.

This term has the potential to confuse, since all hybrids and all EVs have the ability to ‘self-charge’ their batteries when braking.

Read our guide for more about hybrid cars.

The idea of a fully self-charging electric car is an attractive one for obvious reasons, but sadly no such cars currently exist on the market.

Can I charge in the rain?

Yes! Rain does not affect charging.

While EV charging is definitely more complicated than sticking a fuel nozzle in your car, we hope this guide has cleared up any confusion you might have about these vehicles.

What is the OLEV grant?

The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) is a Government agency that aims to support the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV).

The OLEV Grant' refers to £350 funding for citizens looking to install a home charger.

Who qualifies for OLEV grant?

Vehicles that qualify for an OLEV grant include all EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicle's with CO2 emissions of less than 50g/km.

Is the OLEV grant ending?

The OLEV grant expires at the end of March 2023.

Install a home charging point

Going electric? Installing a home charging point makes owning an electric car so much easier and cheaper.

Install a home charging point
Install a home charging point

The RAC is leading the way when it comes to supporting drivers in the switch to electric vehicles.

An ever-increasing number of our patrol vans have built-in emergency mobile charging systems capable of giving an out-of-charge electric car enough power to be driven a short distance home, or to a working charge point. Our All-Wheels-Up recovery system also allows our patrols to safely rescue electric cars with no need for a flatbed.

Find out more about the RAC’s electric car breakdown cover and EV insurance options today.

Home EV charging cables are also available to purchase from the RAC Shop.

Are you sold on EVs? Or are you planning on holding on to your petrol car as long as possible? Leave us a comment below.

Return to the RAC Drive Electric cars hub

Read our guides on choosing, charging and running an electric car.

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