Electric-Car Charging Etiquette: Battery Electrics Better Than Plug-in Hybrids?

Follow Nikki

ECOtality Blink charging station for electric & plug-in cars

ECOtality Blink charging station for electric & plug-in cars

Enlarge Photo

Thanks to an increasing number of public charging stations, finding a place to recharge your electric car or plug-in hybrid is easier than ever before. 

With recharging of a fully empty car like a 2012 Nissan Leaf taking up to 8 hours at a public level 2 charging station however, how should access to charging points be prioritized?

Should all-electric cars, for example, get preferential treatment over plug-in hybrids like the 2013 Chevrolet Volt? 

It’s a topic we’ve covered before, but thanks to a recent post by The New York Times covering a study by the University of California, Davis on charging etiquette, we’ve decided to revisit the subject. 

At present, most plug-in car owners follow some simple, unwritten rules about charging etiquette, leaving messages on their car’s windshield inviting other plug-in car owners to usurp them at the charging station if they need an urgent charge OR their own car is sufficiently charged already, or perhaps only charging if they really need to.

This share and share alike mentality has served the electric car community pretty well for years, only to be challenged by the occasional selfish plug-in driver, and in California, Assembly Bill 475.

In most situations, it even works with a mix of plug-in hybrid and all-electric car owners. 

Handicapped parking space Shares Room With Electric Car Charging Station

Handicapped parking space Shares Room With Electric Car Charging Station

Enlarge Photo

After all, with most electric-only cars offering ranges well beyond the usual distance travelled, all-electric car drivers are less likely to want to plug-in at a public charging station than those with limited-all-electric range plug-in hybrids like the 2012 Chevrolet Volt and 2012 Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid.

It’s worth noting too, that for most plug-in car drivers, finding another plug-in car monopolizing charging station time isn’t as common as finding an internal combustion engined car blocking access to the charging station

With adoption of plug-in cars extending beyond enthusiastic, well-versed early-adopters, however, will charging station abuse become a more common sight? 

Does there need to be a formal code of use set out for public charging stations to ensure electric car owners aren’t left with a case of charging station rage

Should electric car charging, for example, be given on a first-come, first-served basis? 

Houston's Tranquility Park Garage with GRIDbot charging stations

Houston's Tranquility Park Garage with GRIDbot charging stations

Enlarge Photo

Should plug-in hybrid owners with limited all-electric range but gasoline backup be prohibited from using public charging stations? 

Or, to put a plug-in twist on George Orwell's classic Animal Farm; are all plug-in cars equal, or are some more equal than others? 

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (13)
  1. Interesting question. Should a Plug-in Prius or a Nissan LEAF be given priority?
    1) Perhaps it should be the Plug-in Prius because without using the charging station, it will certainly switch to gasoline for the return drive home.
    2) Perhaps it should be the LEAF, because without the charging station, the LEAF might not make it home.
    3) But the LEAF owner may not really need a charge and can make it home without using the charger, so is it better to let the Plug-in Prius have the charging station?

    Seems like an awkward situation.

  2. It seems only fair to me that electric only vehichles should be given priority to use charging stations over those who have alternative means of propulsion. The caveat however, is that electric only vehicles should be in real need of a charging station, and not just there to "top off". How you enforce that is a good question. Perhaps we should return to attendants, such as we used to have at gas stations. Oregon has the right idea.....namely that self-serve refueling is against the law!

  3. What if "topping" up on a LEAF (for example) would reduce the stress on its battery by reducing the DOD (depth of discharge). Charging up mid-day, every day, perhaps battery life would improve versus waiting until you are home recharge.

  4. @John: Actually, frequently topping up a partially discharged battery (from 80 to 100%) reduces its life in general. The Toyota RAV4 EV, Tesla Model S, and--I believe--the Leaf are set to default to a recharge of just 80% of battery capacity to maximize lifespan.

    Cycling a battery from 80% to 100% over and over actually reduces its life compared to charging the same numbers of times from, say, 40% to 60%. At least, so I'm told by battery engineers.

  5. You are right. Poor choice of words on my part.

    I already assumed the LEAF would be set to 80% maximum SOC for a full charge. So "Topping up" would stop at 80%.

    I was thinking of the LEAF owner recharging midday so that on the trip home the SOC doesn't drop below 30%, which also damages the battery.

  6. Right now in PA, I'm more concerned about getting a meaningful charging infrastructure in place. I'll worry about selfishness later.

  7. Why should BEV has "right" over PHEV?

    Many Volt owners don't carrry large amount of gas in their tanks if they don't frequently use gas. So, what if the Volt owner is "out of gas" and its only way home is by electricity? (Volt can operate fine without a drop of gas). Sure you can claim that Volt can just "fill up" somewhere else. Well, the BEVs are filling up as well...

    Now, I am NOT sure if Prius Plugin can "operate" without any drop of gas. I haven't gotten a chance to test a Prius Plugin with complete empty tanks. But I would think that Prius plugin without any gas in the tank is NOT operable... (despite its EV only mode).

  8. But in any case, the Volt might be able to stay on electricity longer if allowed to charge. This would have environmental benefits. So I think there is a public good in letting the Volt charge up.

  9. But in my Model S, I would be stranded if I was low on charge. I can't take her to tw has station like the Volt, Prius or Karma owners to get home or to where I am going. Yeah the supercharge network is great, but will take years before its readily available do like the Leaf, they BEV's most certainly deserve the right to charge first. I agree however that its not fair if they are just topping off and don't NEED to charge. I think a charge station should have lights indicating that the vehicle attached is charged and therefor unlock to allow others to juice up as well.

  10. I think Tesla is solving that problem with "Tesla only" supercharger stations...

  11. Actually, in another sense, all these talks are kind of pointless.
    Most of the EVs today (exclude Tesla) can only charge at either 3.3KW or 6.6KW. At EPA rated 3.5 mile per KWh. You are talking about 10miles/hr or 20 miles/hr...
    In either case, they are going to hold up the charger for ~ 1 hr for not much distance... 1 Hr is a long time to "hold" up the station anyway...
    But I do agree that a full charged Volt or PIP still plugged in at a charging station after 3-4 hours is really annoying.
    I think a "decent" owner would leave their cell numbers and card to move the car if others need it and their car is fully charged...

  12. Priority of charging should be based on the following criteria/order:
    1. must charge here in order to get home or complete the trip, otherwise would be stranded.
    2. top off to be able to run on electric instead of gas to get home or complete the trip
    3. take advantage of the free charge or prefer to charge here instead of at home
    Am I missing any criteria/scenario?

  13. I own both a Leaf and a Plug-in Prius, so for me this is an easy debate. When my Leaf gets low, I NEED a charge to get home. With the Pip, I like to get a charge to keep from using gas to get home. It's an issue of necessity in my opinion.

    The larger issue is when the charging stations are blocked by ICE's. I would rather have the e-parking spot further away from the building/store, than have a premium spot.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.