Can't Find a Charging Station for Your EV? Let Us Help!

All it takes is an app and a little extra time to keep your electric vehicle juiced up.

Electric car
Photo: Carlos Sanchez Pereyra/Getty Images

I'm more than a little bit in love with electric cars. We've only bought about five tanks of gas per year since we invested in a straight-up electric car and a plug-in hybrid, as we're able to do most of our errand-running, commuting, and driving by charging up at home.

And we've even managed to do a few road trips with our EV—though a long one last year was definitely a different experience than our old gas-powered road trips, with a longer wait time to refuel, and a little bit of a detour to find the fastest charger.

That's one of the biggest hurdles people have on their road to buying an electric vehicle. In fact, a recent survey by Consumer Reports found that 61 percent of people said that charging logistics—when and where they'd be able to charge their cars—would likely prevent them from buying an electric car.

Fortunately, charging an electric vehicle is getting easier by the day. For most day-to-day driving, home charging will be the way to go. But if you're worried your car will conk out on a road trip, there's good news: "There are already 125,000 public charging ports at 50,000 locations across the U.S., including over 26,000 fast-charging ports," says Britt Carmon, senior advocate, Federal Clean Vehicles & Fuels at the National Resource Defense Council. "But we still have a bit to go, both in terms of building out the network and in educating folks to alleviate common misconceptions."

Still not convinced? Here's what you need to know about recharging an EV.

Electric Vehicle Charging on the Go

There are three levels of EV charging, depending on how quickly you need to charge and what's available to you. Level 1 (110 volts) uses a standard outlet and can take a day or more to fully charge your car, depending on your car's range and how low you let the charge go. Level 2 chargers, which can be easily installed at your house or available at some locations, use 240 volts of power (like your dryer and other major appliances), and can give you about 32 miles of range per hour of charging. Level 3 (or DC fast) chargers deliver 480 volts of power, helping you recover up to 80 percent of your range in less than 30 minutes.

If you're on a road trip, you'd most likely seek out the DC fast chargers to get you back on the road quickly—unless you can find a level 2 charger somewhere where you'd like hang out for a few hours, like a shopping center or a zoo or other attraction.

Chargers have been cropping up at nearly anywhere you might spend time—the supermarket, malls, theme parks, theaters, libraries, hotels, restaurants, Airbnbs, schools—and even some gas stations. (We're partial to Royal Farms, which offer super-fast charging and excellent fries to snack on while you wait.)

You'll be able to find more and more EV charging options in the next few years, as the federal government invests in fast chargers in highway rest stops, and private companies use chargers to entice customers to spend more time at their business. "With private and public investments – including redirecting funding from versatile pots of transportation funds toward the buildout of EV charging – and policies or regulations that encourage utilities to step up, we can expand our nation's charging infrastructure to meet the needs of all consumers," Carmon says.

Apps and Sites to Help You Find EV Chargers

Most electric vehicles come with an app installed in the car's system to help you locate the nearest charger, and even get you directions to it. But the interface can sometimes be a little bit clunky to manage (especially while you're driving!). If you're going on a long trip, it pays to plan ahead to allow you to pick a charging station closest to your route, and ensure you get a DC fast charger to speed up your charging time.

Many of the apps and sites have similar capabilities, letting you map out a route, find appropriate chargers (even from outside their network), and suit your timeframe and your budget. Consider downloading some of these options.

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Plugshare helps you find chargers that work with your car, and includes images of the chargers, charging speed, cost to charge, and user reviews, so you can opt to skip a charger that posters say is regularly down for repairs.

Their handy road trip planner lets you put in your destination, and find the best chargers that keep you topped off along the road, based on your car's estimated range.

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This pay electric charging station provider shows you all the locations near you with chargers (even ones that aren't on their network).

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Another popular network of high-speed electric vehicle chargers, EVGo's app will show you nearby chargers, and let you access your (free) account for easy one-click charging.

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EV Connect Charging Network

Another basic (and brand-agnostic site), this one offers a simplified look at the best chargers near you.

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Electrify America

This EV station finder also makes it easy to pay for your charging session right in the app.

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Chargehub's trip planner works with the major navigation apps (Google or Apple maps, Waze), to help you navigate every stop you need before you reach your destination.

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Google Maps

The ubiquitous search engine gives you info about nearby chargers—and will showcase them all along your route when you put in your destination.

Electric Vehicle Charging Tips

Charging an EV isn't altogether different from filling up your gas-powered car: Put your credit card or EV loyalty card into the slot (or tap it on a reader), then plug the line into your car. But there are a few key tips and tricks you'll want to know to get the most out of every charge.

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Your home charger can do a lot of the heavy lifting

If you have a driveway or garage–and access to an outdoor plug—you can keep your car charged whenever you're at home. (In fact, that's where 80 percent of EV charging happens, Carmon says.)

Plugging into a standard outlet will take longest to charge (often a day or two, if you let your battery run low and you need to fully charge). A standard outlet is great for topping off your car after a commute or running errands—and my family's been doing just fine with level 1 charging at home when we aren't heading out on a road trip.

You can also have a 240-volt level 2 charger installed, which can speed up your charging if you have a longer commute or more frequent long-haul trips.

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You may not want to fully charge your car

It may seem counterintuitive—why not top it off when you're already stopped and charging? But a completely full charge can degrade your car's battery over time. You'll also find that while you'll hit that 80 percent sweet spot pretty quickly when you're charging, your battery will significantly slow down the charge at the 80 percent mark to minimize damage to the battery.

Even though you may need to stop an additional time during your road trip, you'll likely save time over waiting for that final 20 percent to slowly trickle in.

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Charging will get faster

Fast-charging on the road can take longer than a gas fill-up, with a car getting back 80 percent of its range with a half-hour of charging. But researchers may have figured out how to charge cars much faster without damaging the battery, according to a report presented to the American Chemical Society. Expect to see EV batteries going from nearly zero to 90 percent charged in 10 minutes in the not-so-distant future.

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You can get charging adapters to expand your options

There are four main types of EV chargers out there: Port J1772 (the most common), CHAdeMO, SAE Combo CCS (a faster charging version of the J1772), and Tesla's proprietary chargers. But if all the chargers in your area seem to support a different charger type than your car uses, you can now buy adapters, like Lectron's EV adapters, that can help you take advantage of other types of chargers when you're on the road.

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You can still find a free charge

Topping off a car is much cheaper than gas, even if you do have to stop at one of the many pay-to-play fast chargers that are cropping up. But if you have a little time to spare (and use an app like Plugshare), you can find plenty of free-to-use chargers, often at destinations like municipal buildings, shopping centers, and libraries.

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A plug-in hybrid may be an ideal happy medium

If you're someone who travels long distances, and through off-the-beaten path areas where chargers are few and far between, a fully electric car may not work for you—but a plug-in hybrid could be perfect.

"Electric vehicles can be charged on standard household outlets and generally have all-electric ranges sufficient to meet daily driving needs—displacing the vast majority of annual miles driven," Carmon says. "And they can switch to operating as efficient gasoline hybrids for longer trips, no charging required."

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