How to use a public charger for an electric car

2nd Dec 2019 Danny Morgan

Most charging is completed at home, but you will sometimes need to use a public charger. 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 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 a public charger or rapid charger, answering questions such as:

  • How do you use public chargers?
  • Are they all the same and does my EV work with them all?
  • How do you pay to use a public EV charger?
  • What do they look like?

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Types of public charger

The principle of using a public charger does not fundamentally change, but there are some differences between chargers depending on the operator and location. This table shows the basic differences, but you can find more detail further down the page.

Public Charger Types Compared

  On-the-Road Public Chargers Destination Chargers
When are they used? Long journeys or if you're running low While you're doing other things and the car is stationary, such as while you're shopping, at work, or staying at a hotel
Typical Location Motorway services or near major roads; some Shell and BP petrol stations Workplace, supermarket car parks, shopping ventres, hotels, gyms
Typical Charging Output 50kW - 150kW 7.4kW - 22kW
Typical Charging Speed 200 - 300 miles an hour 30 - 60 miles an hour
Payment Method Pay-as-you-go via app or contactless; app subscription; RFID card/fob Pay-as-you-go via app or contactless; app subscription; RFID card/fob
Typical Cost 25 - 35p/kWh; some providers are much higher such as IONITY Free; 20 - 35p/kWh used
Connection Types Tethered - CCS, CHAdeMO, Type 2 Untethered - Type 1 and Type 2, although you will need to bring your own charging cable
Example Operators BP Chargemaster POLAR; IONITY; Ecotricity; PodPoint; GeniePoint; InstaVolt; Tesla (for owners only) PodPoint; POLAR; Engenie; GeniePoint; AlfaPower, FastNed, Source and other regional operators


On-the-road charging

Rapid chargers are easily identifiable thanks to their size, location and cable attachments. They resemble a traditional petrol pump, are quite large and have a number of units for multiple vehicles, as well as being located near major roads such as motorways.

They also have the rapid charging cable already attached, like a petrol pump. It’s best to check in advance to make sure your vehicle is compatible, but many rapid chargers include the main rapid charging connections – CCS and CHAdeMO – while some also include a Type 2 cable for fast AC charging.

On a longer journey, most people have a "bladder range" and will generally stop for a break anyway. This is the ideal time to use a rapid charger to add some miles to your electric car.

Rapid chargers are the fastest chargers available, but the charging speed can vary depending on the type of unit.

  • The most common rapid chargers are 50kW which will charge from 0-80% in less than 40 minutes for most cars.
  • If your car already has range then it won't take as long to charge up - for example from 30% to 60%.
  • There are an increasing number of even faster chargers, such as the IONITY Rapid chargers which go up to 350kW and promise 1000 miles an hour of range.
  • Some electric cars have a max charging speed of 50kW, while a number of other cars can go up to 150kW such as the Tesla Model S and the Audi e-tron.


Destination charging

Destination chargers tend to be slower than rapid chargers. Instead of charging your car super-fast so you can get on with your journey, they tend to be located in places where cars are parked for a significant period of time, such as a supermarket car park, gyms, coffee chains, hotels or workplaces.

  • Like home chargers, most destination units will charge at 7.4kW and others will go up to 22kW. The charging speed will depend on the unit itself and your vehicle.
  • Many businesses are offering EV charging as a perk to employees. If you’re able to take advantage of this, then your electric car running costs will be even lower.
  • Some destination chargers, at hotels or gyms for example, are free if you are a customer. But you will need to check first.
  • Otherwise, most chargers in public spaces are pay-to-use service.
  • Destination chargers are best used to "top up" your EV range while you are busy doing other things, such as shopping or at work.
  • Most workplace chargers will be 7.4kW, adding about 30 miles an hour depending on how full your battery already is.
  • Some workplaces may offer 22kW AC charging, but most vehicles are limited to 11kW or 7.4kW anyway – be sure to check what your vehicle is capable of in Car Guides section.


Plugging in to a public charger

The act of plugging in your electric vehicle using a public charger is very simple.

  1. Locate the charger and park up
  2. Open your charging port (this may be on the front of your vehicle or on the side)
  3. 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.
  4. Payment – the charger should recognise your vehicle is connected. You should now be able to pay for the service and start charging.


Public charger payment options

Payment for a public charger (if it isn’t free) is usually done via a contactless card payment, smartphone app or RFID card – there are no kiosks to pay at and the payment process is completed before charging begins.

  • Contactless
    Contactless payments are becoming increasingly common at paid-for public chargers allowing for faster payments. In this case, follow the instructions which should be located on the charging post or on screen and tap your contactless card when instructed. This should initiate the charge in most cases.
  • Smartphone app
    Most public charger operates have a mobile phone app, which allow you to pay for the service. Some operators require you to use the app to access the charger. While there are benefits in many cases to registering an account, such as faster payment, most will allow you to “Pay as a Guest”. Download the relevant app, follow the on-screen instructions to pay and activate the charger.
  • RFID
    Some charger operators also use an RFID card. This is not a requirement (there should be an alternative such as a smartphone app or contactless), but RFID card can make using public chargers quicker and easier.
    If you use a particular charging operator regularly, such as POLAR, then it may be worth requesting an RFID card that is synced with your account.


Costs to use a public electric vehicle charge point

Costs vary, but there are two primary methods of pricing up the service:

  1. Cost per kWh – this basically charges you for the power you use. The longer you charge for, the more you will pay. This is useful if you only need to top up your battery or if you are taking advantage of a charger while you are shopping for example.
  2. Flat fee – some chargers have one price for accessing the service. For example, the IONITY network of chargers cost £8 per session. These types of chargers are better if you need a lot of charge, so it’s best to get as much as you can for your money.

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