Charging your EV on the go — a quick guide for beginners

Monday, 21 September 20205 minute read
Electric Vehicle

Most EV charging happens at home — but it’s always good to know how to charge on the go for those times when we do need to top up.

Most EV drivers do our charging at home or at work.

But it’s always good to know how to charge on the go for those times when we do need to top up.

When taking a look at EV charging on the go, it’s also useful to know how often you’ll need to do it, as it’ll shape some of your options. The average car journey is 22 minutes, so it’s pretty unlikely you’ll have run out of battery when driving an EV.

But there are occasional longer journeys, of course, and also times when it feels reassuring to top up when you’re out and about — or if you can’t charge at home. Because EVs are still fairly new, we haven’t yet got to a stage where there’s any agreement among the manufacturers on designing one charger or one plug that works with all makes and models at all charging stations.

There’s also different speeds at which chargers will power-up your car, based on their kWh output.

And just to make it that little bit more confusing, there’s no single payment system, either. Each roadside charging point will belong to one of several different networks, most requiring membership, with some, such as Zap Map, offering in-app payments for enabled locations. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s straightforward. And most journeys tend to be repeated, which also helps.

For me, I’ve found I just need to take a bit more time planning a long journey ahead of time. I ask myself three basic questions:

  1. Where can I stop?

  2. How long will it take?

  3. How much will it cost?


To plan the potential stopping off points I use the journey-planning website Zap Map. It allows me to filter the charging points by connector type, network, and cost.

Image: Zap Map

I usually draw up a small list of, say, three or four places I can potentially stop for a break and re-charge on my journey — usually places which sell decent coffee.

How Long?

Then I need to make sure that each stopping point has rapid chargers (the ones which take about 30 minutes to add an extra 75% charge, approximately) and that the charger fits my car.

EV charging speeds are either Rapid (43 kW AC, 50 kW DC), Fast (7kW to 22kW AC, 25kW DC) or Medium (3 kW to 6 kW). Unless you’ve got all day, only look for the Rapid ones. The so-called ‘fast’ chargers aren’t really fast at all. They’re the kind we get with home chargers — they take about 7 hours. And Medium, forget it, unless you’re stopping overnight.

Image: Zap Map

As well as ensuring the chargers are Rapid, I’ll check that they fit my car. For the Japanese models such as the Nissan Leaf, which I drive, you’re looking for ‘CHAdeMO’. For European models like the Renault Zoe, it’s called ‘CCS’. Tesla have their own Tesla-only ones.

How Much?

OK, so I’ve identified where I’m going to charge, and confirmed that the charger fits my EV. The final step is to check which charging networks own them. This matters because, right now, every network manages its own payments. And you really don’t want to be downloading apps and entering bank details when you turn up at the charging point.

On my phone I’ve downloaded Polar Instant, Pod Point, Electric Highway, and Plugsurfing. They’re all pay-as-you-go and, between them, seem to have most of the charging points covered in the parts of England where I do most of my driving. In Scotland, consider checking ChargePlace Scotland which is supported by the Charge Your Car app. And for Wales, a great deal of the charge points belong to ZeroNet.

If you’re going to be charging on the go regularly, it may be worth joining the subscription version of Britain’s biggest charging station network, Polar, which for £7.85 gives you cheaper rates than the PAYG option. (Disclaimer, Polar is owned by BP Chargemaster, and BP is an investor in Pure Planet).

Image: Polar

You may occasionally arrive at an EV chargepoint to find there’s a bit of queue, so always give yourself time for the longer journeys. But to be honest it’s also an excuse to have a good natter with other EV drivers, and compare notes.

I’d say that three quarters of my charging on the go has been topping up when I’ve been at the supermarket. Pod Point seems to have most of this market, for now. And they tend to be ‘Fast’ chargers, not ‘Rapid’. So they’re not as powerful, but they’re very often free. It’s handy to be able to spend 30 minutes doing a big shop and get back home with your car’s battery level higher than when you set off.

Finally, if you’ve planned a longer journey days in advance of setting off, remember to double check the status of your stopping points just before you head out the door. I’ve been caught out a couple times where charge points were on the blink, and I had to contact the network.

If that all sounds a bit complicated, believe me that once you’ve done it a couple of times, it’ll become as simple as filling up with petrol. Except this time there’s no dirty fossil fuels, and you’re living the future!