Nailing down precisely how long it takes to charge an electric car is a difficult task. It’s not a question that has one simple answer. There are many variables involved, such as which electric vehicle (EV) you own, the size of its battery, the charging rate of its onboard charger and the power source you’re using for charging.
While the above four factors are the most obvious, there are several other variables that impact EV charging time. These include, but aren’t limited to, the weather, the temperature of the car’s battery, the length of the charging cable and the battery’s State of Charge (SoC) at the time of plugging in. SoC basically means how “full” the battery is relative to its total capacity.
That said, we can provide a reasonable idea of how long it takes to charge an EV with various power levels. Just realize that your experience may differ slightly – or significantly – depending on which variables are at play.
For example, EVs start to charge slower in cold weather or when their battery is nearing full. On the flip side, if it’s hot outside or your EV’s battery is warm from the weather and lots of driving, it will charge more rapidly. In addition, if the battery is almost empty, it will charge more quickly. This is especially true when using public DC fast charging, which we explain later.
How quickly an EV can charge depends mostly on the charging source, which is often called the charging level or charging speed. There are currently three charging levels for EVs, as established by SAE International: Level 1, Level 2 and DC Fast Charging, the latter of which is often referred to as Level 3 (though Level 3 charging doesn’t officially exist). Tesla Supercharging is also considered DC fast charging.
Level 1 (AC)
The most readily available means for charging almost anything in North America, including an electric car, is a standard 120-volt (15-amp) household outlet. This is called Level 1 charging. The time it takes to fully charge an EV by plugging it into a traditional household outlet isn’t measured in hours, but rather, days. While Level 1 charging is definitely possible, it’s not practical in most cases – especially if you’re trying to charge the EV’s battery in full.
With Level 1 charging, you can expect to add about three to six miles of range per hour. If you only drive 30 to 40 miles per day, you just need to “top up” your battery or you have a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with minimal electric-only range, Level 1 charging may suffice. However, charging a car like the 2022 Tesla Model 3 Long Range – which has 353 miles of EPA-estimated range – from empty to full could take up to four days. Still, it’s better to plug a parked EV into some power source than to not plug in at all.
Level 2 (AC)
Most EV owners rely on Level 2 charging at home. This requires a 240-volt outlet, which you’ll likely have to have installed in your home. Level 2 outlets for home EV charging are usually on a 50 amp circuit to allow safe charging at a maximum of 40 amps and ensure that the car charges as quickly as possible. That said, they can vary from as little as 12 amps to as much as 80 amps.
You’ll also need a Level 2 charging cable or Level 2 charging station at home. If you buy a new EV, it may come with the appropriate portable charging adaptor. However, any circuit over 40 amps will require a hardwired charging station.
It’s important to note, while people have become accustomed to calling such equipment a “charger,” that’s incorrect. A car’s charger is actually built into the car (more on onboard chargers later). The equipment used to charge an EV is called Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment, or EVSE. However, since calling an EVSE a charger has become commonplace, and it’s easier to understand, we’ll follow suit.
Level 2 charging adds about 20 to 30 miles or more of driving range per hour, though there are many variables. Nonetheless, if you’re using a Level 2 system to charge your EV, you should be able to get a full charge overnight. The Tesla Model 3 Long Range takes about 10 hours to charge using Level 2.
Many public charging stations are also Level 2. It would make sense to plug into a Level 2 public charger at or near work, when you’re staying overnight at a hotel or resort or even while you’re sitting down for a meal at a restaurant.
DC Fast Charging/Tesla Supercharging
The quickest way to charge an EV is by using a DC Fast Charging station or a Tesla Supercharger, both of which some people refer to as Level 3 charging – though that’s not technically correct. Unlike Level 1 and Level 2, which rely on alternating current (AC), “Level 3” charging relies on direct current (DC).
While Level 2 public charging is a good option when you have time to spare, it’s not practical for quick “fill-ups” on road trips. DC fast charging isn’t yet as quick as pumping gas, but it’s quick enough to get you back on the road in the time it takes to stretch, use the bathroom and grab a bite to eat. Charging stations also vary by speed, as does each EV’s individual charging curve, but you can expect to charge your battery to about 80% in around 30 to 45 minutes.
If you’re planning a road trip in your EV, use your car’s built-in navigation to help find fast-charging stations that are strategically located along your route. If the car doesn’t offer this feature, there are several apps that can help you in the same way.
As you plan your route, try to keep in mind that charging from about 10% to about 80% during each stop makes the most sense. There are variables, but this should allow for the quickest charging. EV drivers don’t typically drive their cars until the battery is nearly dead, and charging to 100% will add a significant amount of unnecessary time to your charging session. It’s best to charge just enough to make it to the next charging station, so you can take advantage of the fastest part of your car’s charging curve.
EV Onboard Chargers
Electric cars’ onboard chargers (OBC) convert AC power from the power source to DC current matched to the battery pack’s voltage. Onboard chargers can be more or less powerful depending on which EV you own. An onboard charger is limited by its amperage, and its charging rate is measured in kilowatts (kW).
Early electric cars like the first-gen Nissan Leaf only have 3.3 kW onboard chargers. Today, a typical onboard charger has a power rating of at least 7 kW, though many EVs have more powerful chargers. For example, the new Ford Mustang Mach-E has a charging rate of 10.5 kW and the Volkswagen ID.4 has a rate of 11 kW. The Porsche Taycan and Rivian R1T each have 19.2 kW onboard chargers.
If you’re using a Level 1 connector, it makes no difference how powerful your EV’s onboard charger is, since the car’s onboard charger can’t make up for the low-level power source. With Level 1, you’ll only get about a 1 kW to 2 kW rate of charge. If you charge at 1 kW for an hour, it will deliver 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity to your EV. So, if the EV has a 60 kWh battery pack, it will take a bare minimum of 60 hours to charge in full.
Using a Level 2 connector, an EV’s charging speed is impacted by how much power the station is capable of delivering, as well as the charging rate of the car’s onboard charger. Level 2 systems typically deliver between 3 kW and 19 kW. Some people have spent a fortune on a top-of-the-line high-wattage hardwired Level 2 charging system for their home only to learn that it doesn’t allow their EV to charge any quicker. This is because the charging speed is limited by the charging rate of the car’s onboard charger.
DC Fast Charging bypasses a car’s onboard charger since there’s no need to convert AC to DC – the fast charger handles this prior to power delivery – so the onboard charger is unnecessary. While it seems all new EVs come standard with DC fast-charging capability, that’s not true of all used EVs. Make sure when you buy an EV that it’s capable of fast charging, or long road trips will be nearly impossible.