You just picked up your first electric vehicle. (Congrats!) Charging at home is super easy, but what about road tripping? This guide helps demystify the process of charging your EV at a DC Fast Charging (DCFC) station while on the road.
What is DC fast charging, anyway?
DC fast charging is a way to pump a lot of amps and volts into your car in a short period of time in order to quickly replenish driving range. It’s especially useful on road trips, but may also be useful to get some extra juice in your car if you’re in a bind. These chargers can provide between five times and thirty times the amount of electricity as your 240V home (level 2) charger.
Fast charging stations – just like gas stations – are run by numerous companies, including prominent examples such as ChargePoint, EVgo and Electrify America. Similarly, they are often located in shopping centers or near interstates for convenience.
How do I find a DCFC station?
While each charging company often has its own smartphone app to help drivers locate stations, there are other services that aggregate this information into easily accessible maps. One such example is PlugShare, which allows you to filter by brand, charging speed, plug type, quality and so forth. Here’s an example of PlugShare displaying fast charging stations available near me – filtered for those compatible with my EV.
PlugShare also lets users report quality, upload pictures of charging stations, and notify other drivers if one of the dispensers is inoperative. Depending on the company, PlugShare may also report how many dispensers are currently available for use at each station. The company-specific app nearly always provides availability information if PlugShare does not.
How do I know if my car is compatible with a given station?
The vast majority of DC fast charging stations use CCS plugs. Some include both CCS (Combined Charging System) and CHAdeMO plugs for the Nissan LEAF. Further, some non-Tesla stations even include Tesla plugs! If you’re the owner of a modern EV, as long as it’s not a Tesla or a Nissan LEAF, you’re probably looking for CCS-compatible stations. If you’re a Tesla driver, you’re looking for Superchargers or a CCS station if you have an adapter. Trust us: It’s less complicated than it sounds!
How do I pay for DC Fast Charging?
- App-based payment: Some fast chargers require payment in-app. They keep a credit card on file or ask you for a credit card number each time you charge. When you arrive at a station, you indicate the stall number in-app or scan a QR code on the dispenser to provide payment and begin charging.
- Dispenser-based payment: Some fast chargers don’t have an option to pay in-app, so they provide you with an option to pay at the dispenser. Many do both. Some dispensers accept credit cards directly, an option that is increasingly commonplace as new stations open. In some rare cases, there may be a phone number to call to provide your credit card number.
- Account-based payment: This is somewhat of a hybrid of the first two. If you have an account along with a credit card on file, certain providers will give you a physical tap card or phone-based NFC tag to tap on the dispenser to provide payment and begin charging.
- Free days, free chargers: Some charging networks provide free charging days where almost nothing is needed in order to charge. Just plug in and fill up!
- Ad-supported charging: Volta is one example that allows for free end-user charging while profiting from ad space on the charging dispensers. These are more commonly seen at shopping centers and grocery store lots.
How much does it cost?
DC fast charging costs run the gamut and depend on the company. Your car might have even come with a couple years of free fast charging. Some companies charge a per-minute fee, and some charge a per kWh fee. Many also charge a fixed session fee of a few dollars. Others charge surge pricing during high-demand times. In any case, you almost certainly will not pay more than you did for gas, but it does cost more than it does at home.
What’s the deal with all these different kW numbers I see?
Every EV has a maximum speed at which it can accept DC fast charging. Some, like the Chevy Bolt, accept 50-55kW at the most, regardless of the station you use. Others, like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, accept up to 230kW. Similarly, fast charging stations have a maximum capacity as well.
While there’s no dangerous or incorrect way to plug in at a DC fast charging station, you want to make sure you choose one that maximizes the speed available for your car. It’s also polite to not occupy a 350kW charger with a car that can only accept 50kW if there are other 50kW chargers available – but you can read more about charging etiquette here.
Long story short, the higher the kW rating of your car’s onboard charger and the charging station, the faster you’ll charge – up to a point. That point is defined by the charge curve of your car, which you can learn more about from ChargePoint.
Important Reminder on DC Fast Charging
Your EV battery does naturally degrade over time. This is typically a very slow process that many EV drivers will not even notice for several years. Frequent fast charging, over time, may degrade your vehicle’s battery faster than infrequent fast charging. For more about that, read the free e-book below!