Unlike the first two charging types, where every plug-in car in the U.S. uses the same "J-1772" socket (except Tesla, and even it provides an adaptor), there are three different kinds of DC quick charging.
- CHAdeMO: This is currently the most popular standard, used by the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Kia Soul EV.
- CCS (Combined Charging Standard): All U.S. makers except Tesla and all German makers use this standard, including cars from BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, and Volvo that are fitted with quick-charging ports.
- Tesla Supercharger: As usual, Tesla has gone its own way and created a dedicated network of free, high-powered fast-charging stations that can only be used by Tesla owners.
Tesla Supercharger site with photovoltaic solar panels, Rocklin, California, Feb 2015Enlarge Photo
Note that except for Tesla, DC fast-charging uses either a separate charging socket (CHAdeMO) or a larger socket that includes the conventional Level 2 socket (CCS).
Not all electric cars have fast charging in the first place—only a very few plug-in hybrids offer it—so make sure you know whether your car has it, and if so, which standard it uses.
After that comes the question: So, where exactly do I go to recharge, anyway?
ChargePoint electric-car charging station at Nest Labs, Palo Alto, CAEnlarge Photo
WHERE TO CHARGE
- Home: Today, a majority of recharging is done at home, and overnight. That's usually when electricity is cheapest--just think of it like plugging in your cellphone at night. If you have a battery-electric car, it's best to install a charging station in your garage or carport. For plug-in hybrids, many owners just stick with the 120-volt charging cords.
- Work: Charging at work is quietly growing in popularity. It's a good way for corporations to cut their carbon footprint, it's not that expensive to install, and it's a nice employee perk--whether or not the company or landlord charges a fee for it. (Some do, some don't.)
- Public sites: Finally, there are thousands of public charging stations throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the number grows each week. Virtually all public sites offer Level 2 charging, with a few providing DC fast-charging as well--increasingly with both CHAdeMO and CCS cables. Some public charging is free, while other sites impose a fee, using a number of different (and mostly) incompatible networks that generally require membership up front.
We strongly recommend that you get a smartphone app to locate charging stations wherever you may take your electric car.
MORE: Charging Your Electric Car At Home: What You Need To Know (Aug 2010)
One of our favorites is Plugshare. It not only lets users rate and offer advice on individual stations but even includes locations where homeowners offer up their own charging station for other electric-car drivers to use.