How to Charge an Electric Car

If you’re new to electric cars, chances are you have questions about how they're charged. Could you run out of charge? Can you go on a long road trip? Where and how do you recharge, especially away from home? We’ll answer many of your questions in this guide on charging an electric vehicle (EV), which covers charging times for Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and BMW i3 models.

Where to Charge an Electric Car?

You’ll find that charging your electric vehicle is very similar to charging your mobile phone. Plug both in overnight while you sleep, and they are fully charged in the morning. On days where you use them quite heavily and the battery depletes when you’re out, there are ways to top up away from home with a network of over 10,000 charging points in the UK. How quickly your car charges if a function of the type of charging point you plug into (e.g., 11 kWh, 22 kWh, 43 kWh, 50 kWh, etc.).

Home Charging

Most often, electric cars are charged at home - 80% of the time, in fact. At home, your car can connect to a 2.3 kWh domestic socket or a faster-charging 7.4kWh specially-designed box that's attached to a wall outside your house by a professional installer. These 7.4 kWh chargers can typically charge an EV from 0% to 100% overnight. You might see these charge points referred to as a "home box."

Out-and-About Charging

There is a growing network of charging stations around the UK. Think of them like petrol stations, only they take longer to “fill up.” Many charging points are located on high streets or in the parking lots of large shops, like Waitrose. These typically provide charging rates around 7.4 kWh to 22 kWh, which might take a few hours to fully charge an EV. Charge points with these rates are more useful for a little top up as opposed to a full charge.

Motorway Charging

The fastest charging stations can be found dotted along the major motorways. In fact, there are now charging stations covering nearly the entire motorway network, so you should be able to get wherever you need to go without running out of battery. Motorway "rapid" points are designed to get you back on the road after a cup of coffee by offering 43 kWh (AC) or even 50 kWh (DC) rates, which can charge an electric vehicle to 80% in under 30 minutes, depending on the car.

How Far Can You Drive in an Electric Car?

Electric cars can cover between 80 and 340 miles on a full charge. The potential range on an electric vehicle mostly depends on the capacity of the battery, which is expressed in kilowatt hours (kWh). Basically, the larger battery (i.e., more capacity) the more miles you can drive before the battery runs out of charge. You can find out more in our article about real-life ranges of the Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Tesla S.

How Much Does it Cost to Charge an Electric Car?

On average, it costs £3 - £7 to fully charge an EV. Tesla models cost more to charge because they have such large batteries. It’s typically cheapest to charge your electric car overnight at home, at a cost of roughly 3p – 5p per mile. Depending on your electricity tariff, you probably pay between 9p and 17p per kWh. If you’re on an Economy 7 tariff, your night time charge rate will fall at the low end, around 10p per kWh.

Home Charging Costs at 7.4 kWh

The following chart shows the cost to charge UK electric cars at home on a 7.4 kWh home box, assuming the cost of electricity is 16.7p/kWh.

Home EV Charging Cost

Cost per Full Charge (£)Cost per Mile (pence)
BMW i3 90Ah£4.523.6p
Nissan Leaf 30 kWh£4.983.8p
Renault Zoe 22kW R90£3.654.1p
Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 R90£6.814.4p
Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 Q90 Quick Charge£6.814.8p
Nissan Leaf 24 kWh£3.985p

Public Charging Point Costs

Charging away from home will cost a bit more. Be aware that some charge points have a minimum charge per session - if you plug into one of these, try to stay for the full session duration to get the most of your money. For example, Ecotricity charges £6 for any charge up to 30 minutes on their fast pumps. Ideally you plug in for the full 30 minutes as you’ll pay the same £6 if you unplug after only 10 minutes as you would charging for a full 30 minutes.

How Long Does it Take to Charge an Electric Car?

Charging can take anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight to fill an electric car battery. Or nearly a day if you plug into a domestic 2.3 kWh socket. It would take far less time to fill up a swimming pool with a fire hose than with a garden hose. Electric cars work in a similar way, really – charging speed depends on the rate electricity flows into the car. Interestingly, the battery starts charging much slower once it has hit 80% of capacity, especially at rapid charge points.

You can use a rough calculation to figure out how long it would take to charge an EV battery. Divide the battery capacity by the charge point speed. For instance, a 22 kWh battery would take roughly 2 hours to charge on an 11 kWh charger (22 divided by 11). On motorway chargers, this calculation works well up until about 80% of capacity; after that the battery charges much slower up to 100%.

Generally speaking, charging at home will be slower than charging out at a public charging station. At home, you’ll charge at a rate of 2.3 kWh from a domestic plug or 7.4 kWh from a “home box” system, which you can have installed on an external wall of your house. Public charge points supply electricity anywhere from 7.4 kWh to 50 kWh – charging up to 20 times faster than at home.

Estimated Charging Time for BMW i3, Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Tesla S

Below is a table that shows approximate charging times for the BMW i3, Renault Zoe, Nissan Leaf and Tesla S. We’ve analysed range and charging data from car websites where available and otherwise by surveying dealers. Charging times are approximate and can vary according to conditions such as temperature. For each car, we estimated charge times at home using the car’s unique “home box” system and also at the fastest motorway charge available.

Electric Car Charge Time on a 7.4 kWh Home Box

All-Electric CarZero to 80%Zero to 100%
Nissan Leaf 24 kWh (6.6 kWh Charge Unit)3h4h
BMW i3 90Ah3h 45m4h 50m
Nissan Leaf 30 kWh (6.6 kWh Charging Unit)4h 30m5h 30m
Renault Zoe 22kW R903h4h
Nissan Leaf 24 kWh (3.3 kWh Charging Unit)5h 20m7h
Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 R905h7h 25m
Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 Q90 Quick Charge6h 20m8h 25m
Nissan Leaf 30 kWh (3.3 kWh Charging Unit)7h 20m9h 30m

Estimated Electric Car Charge Time on a 43 kWh or 50 kWh Motorway Charging Point

All-Electric CarZero to 80% Charge TimeZero to 100% Charge Time
Nissan Leaf 24 kWh30m1h
Nissan Leaf 30 kWh 3.3 kWh30m1h
BMW i3 90Ah^40m1h 15m
Renault Zoe Z.E.40 Q90 Quick Charge1h 5m1h 30m
Renault Zoe 22kW R9054m1h 45m
Renault Zoe Z.E.40 R901h 40m2h 40m

^BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf calculated at 50 kWh DC charge points. Renault Zoe calculated using 43 kWh charge points.