How To Buy And Install The Right EV Charger

How to Buy and Install The Right EV Charger

Electric vehicles have lots in common with gasoline-powered cars—room for four-plus passengers, range of several hundred miles, good safety—plus that one big difference: recharging with a plug at versus refueling from a pump. We’ve all pumped gas and know it’s a five- to 10-minute process; we suspect recharging takes longer and we know there are far fewer charging stations than the 125,000 U.S. public gas stations.

Here’s what you need to know about buying, installing and using the right EV charger. The more you know, the clearer it becomes that the unique aspects of EVs aren’t automatic disqualifiers.

Clearing Up the Range-Anxiety Misconception

With a gas-engine car, most owners drive until it’s low on fuel because gas stations are everywhere and gassing up is a quick stop. But empty-to-full charging is not what EV owners do most of the time. They top off every night or two, and as long as the car is charged in the morning, charging time doesn’t matter and range anxiety isn’t an issue for daily driving. Some use public charging, which means you do have to wait on the car. But 80% of charging is done at home, according to the JD Power U.S. Electric Vehicle Experience (EVX) Home Charging Study

Range and charging time may be less of an issue if an EV is the second car. If an EV is the only car, for long summer or holiday trip, owners can do what owners of compact gasoline-powered sedans may do: Rent a midsize or larger SUV for that two-week vacation. Or find a hotel with on-site charging.

For those who charge at home, you need to have the right charging equipment, and the proper electrical supply.

With EV charging, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Electric vehicles have different charging capabilities and requirements and every owner also has their own driving needs.

Here’s a look at key aspects of choosing the right charging equipment, installing it properly and best practices for using EV charging equipment at home.

Popular sizes of 240-volt chargers deliver 16, 32, 40 or 48 amps of power. They recharge a smaller battery (60 kWh) in 5.5 to 16 hours, a larger 100-kWh in 9 to 26.5 hours. Using 120 volts at 12 amps, it could be 43 to 72 hours. Some automaker-supplied cables can charge at 240 volts.  Note the cables are all coiled and hung up. Cables left on the ground sooner or later get run over. Tom Moloughney

Do You Need to Buy an EV Charger When One Comes Free?

Every electric car comes standard with a portable charger. (This thick cable that plugs into a wall outlet and the car counts as a charger.) However, every manufacturer provides a different unit, with varying levels of charging capabilities. In some cases, the same manufacturer provides different standard charging equipment depending on which of its EV offerings you purchase or lease.

Some of these supplied chargers are powerful and can fully recharge your EV overnight. These are called Level 2 chargers because they need to be plugged into a 240-volt outlet. (Memory aid: for Level 2, think Level 240 volts. Even if that’s not why it’s called Level 2.)

Some standard, EV-maker-supplied chargers plug into a regular 120-volt household outlet and deliver power slowly. These Level 1 chargers are fine for most plug-in hybrids. PHEVs have smaller batteries than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) do. PHEVs have batteries of about 5 to 20 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Pure EVs are more on the order of 60 kWh to 100 kWh.

Is the automaker-supplied charger enough for a BEV? A rule of thumb to follow in determining if the standard charger is enough for your daily charging needs is: Can it fully recharge your EV’s battery overnight? If it can, you probably don’t need to buy another charger. Keep in mind, if the supplied charger is a Level 2, 240-volt unit, then you’ll need to install a 240-volt outlet in your garage, or wherever you plan to charge the vehicle.

How to Choose the Right EV Charger

If you’ve determined that the supplied charger isn’t adequate for your daily charging needs, you’ll need to consider a number of factors to determine which EV charger is right for you.

  • Cost: There are many different EV chargers to choose from, with prices ranging from $200 to over $1,000.
  • Plug-in or Hardwired: EV chargers are available in plug-in or hardwired options. Plug-in units offer the flexibility of easily removing the charger to use in another location, or perhaps return it for a replacement if there’s ever a problem. Hardwired chargers are permanently affixed to the wall and require an electrician to disconnect and remove them.
  • Cable Length: EV chargers come with cables that can be as short as 12-feet and as long as 25-feet. Choose one that has a cable long enough to reach the charge port of your car in any position you park it. Get a cable at least 20-feet long.
  • Smart or Dumb: Smart EV chargers come with apps and allow the owner to do things like review charging sessions, monitor real-time charging, start/stop a charging session, schedule charging, set up reminders to plug in, and more. Dumb chargers don’t have the ability to do anything but charge your EV, which is all that some EV owners want from their charger. Dumb chargers do stop when the battery if full.
  • Power Delivery: You want your EV charger to be able to deliver at least 32-amps (7.7 kW) and ideally 40-amps (9.6 kW) to the vehicle. We recommend this because even if the EV you own today cannot accept that much power, most likely the next EV you get will, and you’ll future-proof your garage by getting the right charger today.
  • Safety-Certified with 3-Year Warranty: There is a wide array of EV charging equipment available today on the internet. Many of these products are low-quality, inexpensive units that are not safety-certified and have very short warranties. Make sure the EV charger you get has been safety certified by established entities like UL and ETL and has at least a 3-year warranty.

Mustang Mach-E comes with a 66-kWh or 88-kWh battery. With the larger battery, owners will probably need a 40-amp, 240-volt charger to get the electric horseman on the road next morning with a full charge.  Tom Moloughney

Mustang Mach-E comes with a 66-kWh or 88-kWh battery. With the larger battery, owners will probably need a 40-amp, 240-volt charger to get the electric horseman on the road next morning with a full charge.  Tom Moloughney

 

How Much Power is Enough?

Plug in Hybrids usually accept a lower amount of power than fully electric BEVs do. A typical PHEV can only accept up to 16-amps, and that’s fine because they have smaller batteries to recharge. However, BEVs have large batteries, because unlike PHEVs, they are entirely reliant on the battery for their driving range.

For home charging, BEVs sold today can accept between 30 amps and 48 amps. Therefore, it’s important to know how much power your EV can accept when you shop. However, you shouldn’t necessarily let your current EV’s charging rate dictate your purchase, because your next EV may be able to accept more power.

With daily charging, EV owners are usually only topping off, rather than filling up. A common mistake that new EV owners make is buying the most powerful charger, only to later realize they could have managed just fine with a lower-powered, less expensive charger. You’ll rarely pull into your garage with an empty battery, so the time it takes to charge your EV from 0% to 100% shouldn’t be the primary consideration. You only have to replenish the amount of energy you used that day.

Don’t rush to get the most powerful EV charger until you examine how many miles of range you’ll need to replenish daily. We’ve assembled the chart below to help you understand how many miles per hour of range you can replenish depending on the power output of your EV charger.

How Fast your EV Charger Charges

Power Delivery (Amps)

Power Delivery (kW)

Range Added Per Hour

60kWh Battery Charge Time from 0%

100 kWH Battery Charge Time from 0%

12-amps
(120-volt)

1.4 kW

4-5 miles

43 hours

72 hours

16-amps
(240-volt)

3.8 kW

11-15 miles

16 hours

26.5 hours

32-amps
(240-volt)

7.7 kW

23-31 miles

8 hours

13 hours

40-amps
(240-volt)

9.6 kW

29-38 miles

6.5 hours

10.5 hours

48-amps
(240-volt)

11.5 kW

34-46 miles

5.5 hours

9 hours

The table shows how fast common charger types recharge a medium EV battery (such as Chevrolet Bolt EV) and large EV battery (Tesla Model S): How much power each charger type delivers in kilowatts (thousands of watts), how much range is added per hour, and the typical charge time from 0% charge. Look for a charger that gets the battery from empty to full car overnight.

Chargers Over 40 Amps Must Be Hardwired

One thing to remember is that chargers that deliver 40 amps or less can be ordered as plug-in units whereas chargers over 40-amps must be hardwired. There are a few EVs available today that can accept 48-amps, so you may be tempted to buy a 48-amp charger, but that will then require that you have the unit hardwired. It will also require a lower gauge (thicker) wires be used to power the circuit and that may add considerable cost to the installation.

The additional 8-amps you get with a 48-amp charger may not be worth it, as a 40-amp unit will most likely fully charge your EV overnight anyway. We suggest that a 40-amp plug-in charger installed with a NEMA 14-50 outlet (don’t worry, the electrician will understand) may be the best balance of power and cost while still offering portability.

Finally, don’t worry that your chosen charger can deliver more power than your EV can accept. The car always dictates the amount of power it accepts. When you plug the charger in to the vehicle, there’s a communication process between the charger and the car, and the car tells the charger the maximum power it can take in.

Installing the EV Charger

Once you’ve selected your charger you’ll need to install it. EV chargers draw a lot of power and must be installed on a dedicated circuit. According to the National Electrical Code (NEC), the circuit must be capable of delivering 125% of the power the charger will deliver. Therefore, if you buy a 32-amp charger, it needs to be installed on a 40-amp circuit (32 x 125% = 40). Likewise, a 40-amp charger requires a 50-amp dedicated circuit.

Hardwired units are mounted on the wall first, and then the wiring is piped directly into the device. Plug-in units are simply mounted to the wall above or below the 240-volt outlet, and then plugged in. Plug-in units are more popular because of the ease of installation and portability.

Regardless of the power level or if the unit needs to be hardwired or plugged in, always obtain the services of a licensed electrician to install your EV charging equipment. EV chargers deliver a lot of power for many continuous hours and often on a daily basis. It’s important to make sure the work is done properly and up to code, so you don’t experience issues that could damage your car or your residence. This is more complex than a homeowner extending a 15-amp 120-volt outlet in the basement.

Finally, where you install the charger also needs to be considered. You’ll want the cable to be able to reach the charge port of your EV even if you park the vehicle in a different spot than usual. Different EVs have different charge port locations, so your next EV may have a different place to plug in. You won’t want to have to move the charger if you get a different EV. For that reason, a central location in your garage is usually best.

Using Your EV Charger

Once you’ve installed your charger, you’ll want to make sure it remains in good working condition for many years of service. We’ve listed a few best-practice recommendations below:

  • Coil the cable when not in use to prevent it from being run over
  • Holster the connector when not in use to prevent dirt and moisture from reaching the metal pins inside
  • Unplug the unit during lightning storms
  • For plug-in units, make sure the plug is secured completely into the outlet
  • Never leave the connector lying on the floor

Some EV manufacturers recommend not charging the vehicle to 100% every day, in order to prolong the battery’s lifespan. If your EV has a recommended daily charge limit that’s less than 100%, you should adjust the charge limit in the vehicle’s settings and only change it to 100% when you need the extra range for the occasional long road trip.

There’s no need to rush to unplug the charger once the vehicle finishes charging. Leaving the connector attached to the EV won’t hurt it. Once the vehicle reaches its desired charging level, it will stop charging and cut off the power. You can leave the charger plugged into the vehicle for as long as you’d like without any negative effects.

Teslas with their proprietary charger plugs can use non-Tesla chargers with the Tesla-to-J1772 adapter (left) and other EVs can use Tesla chargers with a J1772-to-Tesla adapter. Want to charge your Tesla at home? Get the Tesla-branded charger.  Tom Moloughney

 

How Tesla Charging is Different

All electric vehicles sold in North America use the same charging connector, called the J1772, except for Teslas. Tesla uses a proprietary connector that can only plug into Tesla cars. For that reason, Tesla includes an adapter with every car it sells called the J1172-to-Tesla adapter. This adapter allows Tesla vehicles to be charged from a J1772-equipped charging station. Our recommendation: If it’s a Tesla you have, buy the Tesla-branded Level 2 charger.

Conversely, there are chargers available that allow non-Tesla vehicles to charge from Tesla home chargers and Tesla Destination chargers. These adapters do not work on Tesla’s high-powered Superchargers in public locations.