Charging etiquette for electric-car drivers: what you need to know

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2015 Nissan Leaf at evGo fast charger at Livingston Mall, Livingston, NJ   [photo: John Briggs]

2015 Nissan Leaf at evGo fast charger at Livingston Mall, Livingston, NJ [photo: John Briggs]

As electric-car adoption expands past early adopters into more general buyers, it may be difficult for public charging infrastructure to grow as fast as the number of electric vehicles on the road.

Here in the U.S., every month roughly 10,000 new plug-in vehicles are sold or leased—and that number could rise dramatically once the highly anticipated 200-mile electric cars like the Chevy Bolt and the Tesla Model 3 are widely available.

Even now, some public charging stations are starting to see backlogs, with not enough plugs available to accommodate the needs of drivers.

DON'T MISS: ChargePoint adds wait-list feature for electric-car charging stations

One major charging network, ChargePoint, has just added a new feature called Waitlist that allows customers to reserve a place in line to use one of its charging stations.

In time, infrastructure will catch up to the demand. But for now, we all need to make do with what’s available.

Regardless of what kind of plug-in electric car you drive, if you use public charging stations, you can help make the experience a little better for everyone else, simply by being considerate.

BMW and Nissan electric car fast-charging station

BMW and Nissan electric car fast-charging station

Here are our tips for general courtesy and charging-station etiquette.

Battery-electric cars vs plug-in hybrids: who gets priority?

Some people believe plug-in hybrid or extended-range electric-car owners shouldn’t even use public charging infrastructure—or should immediately unplug and give priority to a "pure" electric-car driver if one comes along and needs to charge while a plug-in hybrid is using the charging station.

I mention this first because just today someone contacted me to discuss the issue. That person felt only battery-electric vehicles should be allowed to use public charging stations, and that the steady sales of plug-in hybrids will create havoc at charging sites.

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I understand this reasoning—that battery-electric drivers need to recharge to reach their destination, while plug-in hybrid drivers have a backup power source.

But I don’t agree with the thought process that prioritizes charging for one kind of electric-car driver simply because of potential need.

Many people who buy plug-in hybrids do so to drive on electricity as much as possible, and burn as little gasoline as possible. If they arrive at the charging station first, or reserve it ahead of time, they have the right to use it.

Electric Avenue charging stations in Portland, Oregon [photo: Portland General Electric]

Electric Avenue charging stations in Portland, Oregon [photo: Portland General Electric]

That said, it’s always admirable to consider the needs of others.

If you drive a plug-in hybrid and a battery-electric driver arrives while you're charging and seems distressed about not being able to recharge, consider offering them your plug.

You may want to ask a few questions to understand how serious the need is—but do consider offering them your plug if you really don’t need the charge to get to where you’re going.

Sure, your lifetime gasoline consumption may go up a little, but you’ll feel good about having helped someone out, once you have time to think about it.

ALSO SEE: Etiquette Tips For Electric-Car Charging: New Video Explains It All

In these early years of electric cars, we are all de facto ambassadors. Many EV owners are extremely passionate about supporting the transition to electrics: they allow strangers to test-drive their cars, and they evangelize about their benefits at every opportunity.

Yet often we end up quibbling over who has more of a "right" to use public charging, based on “how electric” a specific vehicle is. It’s likely better to be considerate than to stand your ground. Can't we all just get along?

Always return the connector to its holster

Always holster the connector when you’re finished charging. I’ve come across many public charging sites where the connector is lying on the ground near the base of the station.

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