How to use a public charger for an electric car
Public charging points can be an excellent option for those without the ability to charge at home, as well as for those on a longer journey. This guide explains how to use the different types of public charger and some of the differences to look out for.
Using a public charger can seem confusing and daunting at first. We will be honest, there are some things you need to be aware of but it isn't as complicated as you may think. This guide will help you understand the basics of charging an electric car with destination chargers or public rapid chargers, answering questions such as:
- What are public chargers?
- What do public chargers look like?
- Where can you find public chargers?
- How do you use public chargers?
- Are public chargers all the same and does my EV work with them all?
- How do you pay to use a public EV charger?
Make paying for public EV charging easy with the Electric Juice card from Octopus Energy. Electric Juice allows you to access and pay for many of the UK's most popular public charging networks with one card and one account.
It's free and easy to do AND if you sign up with the link below you will get £5 FREE CHARGING added to your Electric Juice account.
What are public charge points for electric cars?
Without stating the obvious, public chargers are available for all electric vehicle drivers to use. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and are operated by a number of different companies usually called charge point network operators.
Some well-known public charging operators are BP Pulse, Shell Recharge, Ionity, PodPoint, InstaVolt, Osprey just to name a few.
They are designed for any electric vehicle driver to top up the charge of their car. Some offer ultra-fast charging for quick top-ups, while others are slower and designed for scenarios where the driver may be parked for longer, such as at a shopping centre or supermarket.
Public chargers can be used by those needing to recharge while on a longer journey, as well as being a handy option for drivers who do not have a home charging solution.
What are the main types of public charger? What do they look like?
The size, shape and design of public chargers varies quite a lot, though they will all either have a charging cable attached to them or a socket to plug in a cable.
There are two main types of public charger - destination chargers and on-the-road (rapid) chargers.
Destination Chargers are designed to be used while you are busy doing other things, such as shopping, going to the gym or at work. As such, you'll most commonly find them in car parks where vehicles are likely to stay for 30 minutes or longer.
They tend to have a charging output between 7kW and 22kW, which will add between 30 to 50 miles of range per hour.
While their look varies, they typically use a "bollard" design.
Get more information on destination chargers and how to use them with our Destination Charger tool and guide. There you can also compare the costs of using different providers for your EV.
On-the-road chargers, often known as "rapid chargers", are mainly designed for quick top-ups on longer journeys. As such, they tend to be much faster offering charging outputs from 50kW and even as high as 350kW. The charging speed varies depends on how powerful the charger is (and what your vehicle can accept), but a typical "stay" at a rapid charger is 30 minutes and under.
Because rapid on-the-road chargers are more powerful and often serve more than one vehicle per unit, they tend to be much bigger.
Get more information on rapid chargers and how to use them with our Rapid Charger tool and guide. There you can also compare the costs of using different providers to charge your EV.
Where are public chargers located?
Destination public chargers are located in a variety of locations from council car parks, leisure centres, supermarkets and on streets.
On-the-road rapid chargers tend to be located at motorway service stations or by major roads, however they can also be found at retail parks and by other popular amenities such as Starbucks, McDonalds and more.
Many petrol station forecourts, such as Shell, BP and other providers, are now adding electric vehicle charging points too.
You can find charge points near you through Zap Map - a charger mapping service which will help you locate public chargers across the UK.
How do you use a public charger?
The act of plugging in your electric vehicle using a public charger is very simple, although paying for the charger and starting the charging session can vary between operators.
- Locate the charger and park up
- Open your charging port (this may be on the front of your vehicle or on the side)
- Plug in – if the charger has no cable, you will need to use your own. If a cable is attached to the charger, select the right connection for your car and plug it in.
- Pay - most new chargers accept contactless payment, but some older networks require you to have an account and/or app.
Want more detail on using and paying for public chagers?
Learn about using Destination Chargers with our Destination Charger tool and guide
Learn about using Rapid Chargers with our On-the-Road Charger tool and guide
How much does it cost to charge an electric car at a public charger?
Costs vary and is usually dependent on how fast the charger is. You can also get discounts on public charging via some subscription services if you need to use them regularly.
For rapid on-the-road chargers, the average price is around 35p per kWh, while destination chargers can vary quite a lot.
For this reason we have created tools to help you compare the costs of public charging:
Paying for public chargers can also vary. Many new chargers include contactless payment, but some networks also use apps to access and pay for their chargers - some apps may require you to register and create an account while others allow you to use the app as a "guest".
EV Charge Cards help overcome the issue of different charging network providers having different methods of payment. They are often free to use and help simplify access and payment when it comes to public charging.
Find out which service is best for you in our EV Charge Cards Review.