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With gas prices climbing at the pump and nearly every automaker and truck manufacturer from Ford to Volvo introducing new electric vehicles, you may be thinking it’s time to make the switch. But before you go for a battery-powered car, be prepared to make some adjustments — and to learn the best ways to charge your EV and how to find charging stations on the road.
Most EVs on the market today can typically travel 250 to 300 miles on a single charge. That’s great for getting around town, but longer road trips require a little advance planning to find convenient pit stops to charge the battery. Charging stations take more effort to find than traditional gas stations, which pop up at most intersections and highway rest stops, and there aren’t a large number of them — yet. The bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law last year, includes $7.5 billion to build out a nationwide EV charging network, which should help.
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“But getting approval from local and state governments takes time,” says Brendan Jones, president of Blink Charging. So don’t expect new stations to start sprouting up on interstates overnight.
In the meantime, what’s the best plan for charging your EV, how can you find charging stations while you’re on the road, and what does it take to install a charger at home?
EV charging basics
The good news is that after years of squabbling, automakers have settled on a standard plug for all EVs in the United States — with one exception. The industry standard plug is called a J1772 port, and it is usually located right where you’d find a gas cap for filling up. Tesla, however, uses its own plug standard, which means its cars can only charge at Tesla-branded stations and other EVs cannot charge at Tesla stations — unless you have an adapter. The price of adapters can be as high as $200, and they don’t always work smoothly.
The bad news is that driving ranges for EVs are still limited. Cold weather and hills can deplete a battery faster than driving in mild weather across the prairies. And because it takes longer and puts more stress on these batteries to fill up the first 10 percent and last 20 percent of capacity, if you’re on a long trip, your EV will usually suggest you stop to charge before dropping below 15 percent of power, and then will recommend that you charge up to only 80 percent of capacity. Topping up your EV to 100 percent is usually best done at home, overnight.
For most EV owners, the simplest solution is to charge up at home. A home charger is usually referred to as a Level 2 charger (versus Level 1 charging, which refers to plugging into a regular 120-volt home outlet, and public Level 3 chargers, which use faster direct-current systems). A home charger can bring a vehicle from near zero to 100 percent capacity in approximately seven hours. These chargers, which are relatively easy to install and cost between $500 and $650, are smaller than a bread box and plug into a 240-volt, four-pronged plug known as a NEMA 14-50. Newer homes already have NEMA 14-50 outlets (usually in the basement) for electric stoves. If you don’t have a 14-50 plug near the circuit box in your garage, having one professionally installed costs anywhere from $200 to $800. (In an emergency, EVs usually come with an adapter to allow you to plug into a standard 110-volt home outlet, but it takes hours to add just a few miles of range this way.)
There’s now a growing array of Level 2 EV chargers, including the JuiceBox 40 and HomeStation (both priced above $600). These chargers usually include a smartphone app that allows you to remotely schedule charges, select off-peak hours for cheaper charging and cool or heat the car before you get in. It will also notify you when the battery is fully charged.
Public EV chargers are still scarce in many parts of the country, with about 48,000 charging stations and 120,000 individual charging ports available, according to U.S. Department of Energy data. However, more are coming. GM says it plans to install more than 2,700 stations over the next three years, while Volvo is working with Starbucks to install charging stations at stores along a 1,350-mile route from Seattle to Denver, and 7-Eleven has announced plans to add at least 500 charging ports at 250 U.S. and Canadian stores by the end of this year.