Electric car charging: How it works and what it costs

Last updated March 01, 2021

Motorists have been filling cars up with fuel in largely the same way for decades, but since the advent of electric cars, things have changed. Electric car sales have been on an upward trend for a while and pure-electric models now account for approximately 7% of the total number of new car registrations. Add in plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) too and almost 11% of new registrations are electric vehicles.

Unless you own an electric car, you’re not likely to know how they’re refuelled. Widespread differences in connectors, compatibility and costs of electric charging can make for a confusing marketplace for motorists that are new to electric vehicles.

We’re here to talk you through all things EV charging, making the process a little easier to understand so you can decide if an electric car is for you.

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Using an electric vehicle charger (EV charger)

Petrol and diesel cars run off fossil fuels which means you’re required to go to a petrol filling station to get access to the fuel. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, can theoretically be charged at home, at work or via a public charging point.

Home electric vehicle chargers

Home chargers are designed to deliver a lot of power over long periods of time. Charging your car each night will generally provide enough power to take you around all day. It’s possible to use your dedicated home electric vehicle (EV) charger or a 3-pin socket with most cars (although this varies by manufacturer, so make sure to check).

Home EV chargers usually deliver around 7kW of power (compared to around 2.3kW for a 3-pin) so a proper EV home charger is around three times as fast as using a regular domestic plug.

Electric vehicle chargers for the home are usually installed by an expert engineer who’ll check your home’s wiring and the consumer unit are up to standard before installing the electric vehicle socket.

How much does it cost to install an EV charger?

Costs for EV home charger installation vary but you can expect to pay upwards of £800. It’s worth noting that grants are available to alleviate some of the cost, so you could save up to £350. It is possible that you could have higher electricity bills whilst charging your car, so speak to your energy provider to see if they have a dedicated tariff for electric vehicle owners.

The government also have a Workplace Charging Scheme that provides a contribution towards the upfront costs of the purchase and installation of electric vehicle chargers up to £300 per socket.

Electric vehicle charging stations

Along with the home charging option for long overnight refuels, there’s a growing network of public charging stations across the UK to take advantage of.

There are reportedly more than 30,000 charging points across the UK – more than the amount of petrol stations – so it’s clear to see how much investment electric vehicles have.

As electric charging takes longer than simply filling a tank up with petrol, these charging stations are more for topping up than fully refuelling. Complete refuelling should generally be done at home or at work, where you won’t be waiting around for the charge to finish.

Different types of EV charging

  • Slow charging

    This is when you’ll be charging from empty to 100% using a charger that has between 3-6 kW - it may take around 5-8 hours or up to 12 hours for longer range cars. This type of EV charging will take place at home but slow charging points are also sometimes found in commercial settings.

  • Fast charging

    A 7kW fast charger will charge an electric vehicle in around 3-5 hours. Fast chargers are often found in supermarket car parks, shopping centres, or other places where cars might be left for an extended period.

  • Rapid charging

    Rapid charging might take around 45 minutes to 1 hour for an 80% charge. After the charge reaches 80%, the charging speed tapers to prevent battery damage. Around 15 minutes of charging with a rapid charger should give you in the region of a 30-40 mile driving range. However, not all electric vehicles are compatible with rapid charging stations. Rapid charging stations are generally found at motorway service stations, in close proximity to major roads, and in some city centres.