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Charging Station Won’t Release My Electric Car: Now What?

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Charging Cable and Socket

Charging Cable and Socket

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Ask owners to give you a list of fears associated with their electric cars, and a few charging concerns are bound to be on the list. 

Usually, they include not finding somewhere to charge, or that a charging station isn’t accessible for some reason.

Now a new one can be added to the list: not being able to unplug. 

A reader contacted Green Car Reports about a SemaConnect Level 2 charging station in Decatur, Georgia.

As reported on the CarStations website, more than one electric-car owner has had difficulty with that station over the past few months. Several drivers found they couldn’t unplug their cars after charging had completed. 

[UPDATE: SemaConnect contacted us swiftly after this article was published, sending a statement that said, in part, "We are working very closely with the supplier of this component to quickly resolve this matter.  We greatly appreciate your patience."]

The problems seem to revolve around the latching mechanism used on J1772 connectors to prevent the charging cord from being accidentally pulled out of the car while it is charging.

“CAUTION,” wrote one user about the Decatur station back in August. “Connector latch does not move enough to remove connector from vehicle without prying off with a screwdriver.”

Another electric car owner, using the same charging station last Sunday, reported being stuck for two hours trying to remove the charging station handle from the car.

“The guy at the 800 number couldn’t even find the location on their system and said that we would have to wait until 8 am tomorrow,” he said. “[We] called the cops and they were able to pry it off.”

Meanwhile, as reported yesterday on AutoblogGreen, a Think City owner on the way home from last months’ National Plug-In Day had a similar experience at a Level 2 charging station at a Walgreens pharmacy in Philadelphia.

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit

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“The charging went fine, but when I went to disconnect, I could not,” the owner wrote on the Think_EV message board. “It felt like the release button on the nozzle couldn’t be pressed down far enough.”

In all of the above cases, it appears the latching mechanism on the J1772 charger plug is to blame--not lifting up enough to allow the plug to unlatch from the car. 

At the moment, this issue seems rare.

But should you encounter a similar situation, there are a few things to remember:

  • Don’t panic: the charging connection is a physical, mechanical one between your car and the charging station. If the handle went in, it will generally come out again. You won’t be stuck forever.
  • Don’t try heroics: If the latch is stuck, or the charging plug is stuck to your car, use extreme caution if you think you have to pry it off with a screwdriver or any other tool. Not only could you damage the car or the charging station, but there’s also a risk of hurting yourself.
  • Call for help! On most charging stations, there’s an 800 toll-free number to call if you have any kind of question. Call it, explain the problem, and ask for advice.  
  • Tell the business or location about the problem: if the charging station is sited at a business or parking garage, try and find someone on site you can tell about the problem. That person may not know how to fix it, but if there’s a fault, it should be logged.
  • Call an emergency service: If the above steps don’t work, call for assistance from your breakdown company or--in the case of cars with built-in assistance like OnStar-- the automaker.  That way, if anything goes wrong during the removal of car and charging station, you’ve got a mechanic or two-truck driver on hand to help. 

 +++++++++++

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Comments (4)
  1. I wonder if those J1772 connectors are wearing out...

    According to SAE standard, it should be able to last a minimum of 10,000 connection cycles. Assuming 10 times per day, that is over 2.7 years. Assuming 4-5 times per day, that is about 6 years. Assuming twice per day, that is more than 13 years...

    So, it shouldn't break yet.
     
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  2. Count me as a fourth EV driver that this has happened to. I got stuck on a charging station in Baltimore inside a deserted garage on a Sunday afternoon. In a desperate attempt to get my car free, I resorted to forcing the connector handle upward with two hands while pulling out and it finally released.

    Since that happened, I never plug into a public station without checking the latch opening first. Calling the 800 number after getting stuck may not be fruitful. Several people have reported that they've been told that they would have to wait until Monday morning for a response.

    If you encounter a short-opening latch, report it to the charging network operator and leave a note on PlugShare and perhaps hang a note on the station itself.
     
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  3. Xiaolong; MTBF analysis is flawed. public chargers could EASILY exceed 10,000 plugs in a year or two. luckily, most are rated for much higher reliability although as always, some are designed for a "better" price point
     
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  4. Well, 10,000 cycles are "minimum" requirement. But if the plug is "priced" to meet the minimum, then the Station owners should have a "maintainence" schedule.

    I am still amazed a Public charging stations can have 10,000 cycles per year. That is 27 cycles per day for every day of the year...
     
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