The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Charging Networks

hen it comes to refueling a car, drivers of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles have it easy. They roll up to any one of about 100,000-plus gas stations in the U.S., pump in liquid fuel in a matter of minutes, and pay either in cash or with a credit card. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated with public charging for electric vehicles—although remember that almost all EV charging takes place at home, which usually requires about 30 seconds to plug in each night.

For EV drivers who want to regularly charge in public, it’s important to know about the handful of charging networks offering access to electric fuel on the go. Each network works a little differently. It’s a good idea for EV owners to have a basic understanding of how they compare with one another. That’s why we put together this basic guide on EV charging networks. It’s a work-in-progress, and your input and feedback is encouraged.

Cost Considerations

The three primary approaches are: (1) pay-as-you-go, (2) monthly subscriptions, and (3) free. Obviously, if given the opportunity, it makes sense to grab a free charge, even for a relatively short period of time. But the pay models, depending on the cost for a charge, need to be studied to determine which network makes the most sense for you; if it’s best to collect a wallet-full of membership cards; or if proper planning will allow you to avoid public charging unless you’re running very low on charge.

There are a few gotchas. Keep in mind that the amount of range you add per hour depends on the power capabilities of your car’s onboard charger. As Marc Geller, a director at Plug In America, an EV advocacy organization, told me: “If the car comes with a smaller charger, the cost is relatively higher than if you have a faster charger. It’s a weird fact.” Other oddities include credit card transactions and costs associated with leaving a car plugged in, even if the battery is fully charged and the electrons have stopped flowing. Some of the networks have an unlimited charging plan to avoid these pitfalls.

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