As the subtle hum of electric motors gradually replaces the traditional roar of gasoline engines, an auto industry transformation is upon us. Navigating this electric revolution raises one critical question: “Do all electric cars use the same charger?” In this blog, we unravel the nuances of charging compatibility, how it might affect your car buying or leasing decision, and how adapters could help keep your EV on the road.
Different Types of Electric Cars
Electric vehicles (EVs) fall into two main categories, each catering to different driving needs and preferences:
1. Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs, or “Full” EVs)
BEVs are entirely electric, running solely on power stored in their batteries. They offer emissions-free driving, with the electricity usually drawn from public charging stations or specially installed home chargers.
Prominent examples of BEVs that have been around a while include the Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf. However, a whole array of new BEVs have emerged over the last several years, including fully electric versions of popular car and SUV models from most major auto makers.
2. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)
PHEVs combine an electric motor with an internal combustion engine. Like BEVs, they have rechargeable batteries, but the batteries have much lower capacity. These vehicles can run purely on electricity only for a limited range, after which the gasoline engine must pitch in some juice. At that point, the vehicle runs like a traditional hybrid.
This dual power source design offers flexibility and reduces range anxiety. Notable classic PHEVs include the Toyota Prius Prime, Chevrolet Volt, and Kia Niro. As with BEVs, a wide variety of PHEVs now exist, including numerous models offered by Ford, Hyundai, GM, and many, many others.
Different Charging Options
Electric vehicle owners can choose from three standard charging options, each offering distinct benefits based on speed and convenience.
Level 1 Charging
Also known as trickle or drip charging, Level 1 charging involves using a standard household outlet (110 to 120 volts). In theory at least, any electric vehicle can be charged using a Level 1 cable. However, it’s the slowest way to charge an EV, typically adding only about 3 to 5 miles of range per hour of charging time. Charging a fully electric car (BEV) with a drained battery in this way would take multiple days.
Therefore, Level 1 charging is most suitable for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) because they have smaller batteries. For BEVs with large batteries, Level 1 charging is just too slow for regular use. That’s why most BEV owners depend primarily on Level 2 charging, which better aligns with their driving needs.
Level 2 Charging
Level 2 chargers provide faster EV charging, and are commonly found at public charging stations, workplaces, and residential garages. Level 2 charging can charge a vehicle up to 10 times faster than Level 1, adding anywhere from 12 to 80 miles of range per hour. The exact charging speed depends on both the power output of the charger and the maximum charge rate of the vehicle.
Many fully electric vehicle (BEV) owners prefer Level 2 speed for home charging, which usually requires having a special charging station installed. When using Level 2 charging, your BEV can typically be fully charged overnight, even if you plug it in with a nearly empty battery.
DC Fast Charging
Also known as Level 3 charging, DC fast charging stands out for speed, capable of adding a remarkable 3 to 20 miles of range per minute. Unlike Level 1 and Level 2 chargers that work with alternating current (AC), Level 3 charging utilizes direct current (DC), just like batteries. Moreover, Level 3 charging operates at much higher voltage than Levels 1 and 2. These high-powered chargers are ideal for long-distance travel.
Level 3 charging stations are most often located at highway rest areas, and as part of designated fast-charging networks. DC fast chargers are not generally found in residential settings, because very few residential locations have the necessary voltage supply to support them. Also, it is not advisable to use DC fast charging for daily driving, as the extremely rapid infusion of power can shorten a vehicle battery’s life.
Do All Electric Cars Share the Same Charger?
The short, disappointing answer is no, not all EVs use the same charging technology. However, MOST of the EVs available in North America can use the same charging stations, cables, and connectors for Level 1 and Level 2 charging. Tesla is the big exception, but Tesla vehicles sold in the U.S. usually come with an adapter that enables drivers to access a wider variety of charging stations.
Larger issues with charging compatibility in the U.S. may arise with Level 3 (DC fast) charging. And worldwide, additional variations in connector types create more compatibility headaches. Current and potential EV owners owe it to themselves to learn about the different connectors, and how to avoid ending up in a “charging desert” due to incompatible equipment.
Understanding the Commonly Used Connector Types
Charging connectors are the vital interface between electric vehicles and charging stations. Understanding the various connector shapes and sizes will help you evaluate which EVs are most compatible with the charging infrastructure available to you. The primary EV charging connector types include J1772, CCS, and CHAdeMO, along with the proprietary Tesla connector.
1. SAE J1772 Connector
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed the J1772 connector, which is a standard connector used for both Level 1 and Level 2 charging. It is commonly found at charging stations across North America, and offers compatibility with all electric car makes and models sold in the U.S, except for Tesla vehicles.
The North American (Type 1) J1772 connector is distinguishable by its “J” shape and five connector pins. (The European Type 2 version has seven pins.) It is one-way compatible with CSS connector inlets, meaning that if your EV has a CCS charging port, you can charge it just fine with a J1772 connector.
However, you cannot use a CCS connector to charge a vehicle with only a J1772 inlet, and as of now, no adapters exist to make it possible to do so. For this reason, among new EV models, you will find J1772-only ports primarily on PHEVs, since plug-in hybrids do not generally need high-speed (Level 3) charging.
2. Combined Charging System (CCS)
The CCS connector was created specifically for DC fast (Level 3) charging. The present-day U.S. version combines the five AC pins of a J1772 (Type 1) connector with two additional DC pins for faster charging. Nearly every auto maker has signed on to use the CCS protocol for BEVs marketed in North America, including European, Asian, and North American manufacturers. Therefore, you will find a CCS charging port on the vast majority of new and late-model fully electric vehicles sold in the U.S.
If your vehicle has a CCS inlet, you can charge it using either a CCS connector or a J1772 connector. (With the J1772, the two DC inlets just won’t be used.) Typically, you will use a J1772 connector for Level 1 or 2 charging. Remember, manufacturers generally recommend using a Level 2 station for your regular BEV charging, and switching over to DC fast charging only for longer trips.
Once again, if your car has only a J1772 port, you cannot charge it with a CCS connector, and there is no adapter available for this purpose.
3. CHAdeMO Connector
Another DC fast-charging connector, the CHAdeMO protocol is standard in Japan. Not surprisingly, CHAdeMO is predominantly utilized by Japanese car makers, including Toyota, Nissan, and Mitsubishi. Other EVs compatible with CHAdeMO charging stations include the Kia Soul EV Mk1, along with several Citroen and Peugeot models.
A CHAdeMO connector cannot be used with a J1772 or CCS charging port, and no adapters exist to solve this compatibility problem. Therefore, driving an EV designed only for CHAdeMO connections could create major issues with finding charging opportunities in the U.S.
Fortunately, vehicles sold in the U.S. with a CHAdeMO inlet, like the Nissan Leaf, typically have a J1772 inlet as well. As long as an EV has both ports, you will have broad access to Level 1 and 2 charging across the U.S.
4. Tesla Connector
Tesla has its own proprietary connector, often referred to as the Tesla Supercharger. The Tesla connector is designed exclusively for Tesla vehicles, and is not compatible with other EVs without an adapter. Tesla operates thousands of exclusive charging stations in the U.S. and around the world.
Fortunately, Tesla cars sold in the U.S. generally come with an adapter that makes them compatible with J1772 connectors, or you can readily obtain such an adapter separately. With a little more digging, it is also possible to find an adapter to make Tesla vehicles compatible with a CCS or CHAdeMO connector.
Tesla Charging Connector Adapters
The uniqueness of the Tesla charging port creates a need for connection adapters. These adapters allow a Tesla EV to connect with other charging station plug types, or, in some cases, allow other EVs to connect to a Tesla charging station. Here are the most common adapter types:
1. J1772 to Tesla Adapter
These adapters cater to Tesla owners, enabling them to charge their Tesla vehicles from a standard Level 1 or Level 2 charging source with a J1772 connector. This versatility ensures that Tesla owners can access many of the same charging stations used by non-Tesla EV drivers. Generally, a J1772 to Tesla adapter is included with Tesla vehicles sold in the U.S., but if not, you can get one at a reasonable price, especially considering the gain in convenience.
Typical price range: $40 to $175
2. Tesla to J1772 Adapter
This adapter is made for owners of non-Tesla EVs, allowing them to charge their vehicles using a Tesla Wall Connector, Tesla Mobile Connector, or a Tesla Destination Charger. However, Tesla to J1772 adapters are not compatible with Tesla Supercharger stations. Unfortunately, no adapters are currently available that allow non-Tesla electric vehicles to use Tesla’s proprietary rapid-charging facilities.
Typical price range: $16 to $25
3. CHAdeMO to Tesla Adapter
Tesla used to offer an adapter that enabled Tesla owners to charge their vehicles at DC fast charging stations with CHAdeMO connectors. These adapters can still be obtained through online resellers.
Typical price range: $200 to $500
4. CCS to Tesla Adapter
A much-anticipated adapter, the CCS to Tesla adapter allows Tesla owners to connect to CCS fast charging stations. While Tesla has started selling this adapter in Korea, it is not yet widely available in North America. However, various online retailers have begun purchasing them in Korea and reselling them online. Other companies are also developing their own versions of CCS to Tesla adapters, so they will soon be easy to obtain in the U.S.
Typical price range: $150 to $500
European to North American Adapters
As with most things electrical, EV charging connectors have different pin layouts in North America and Europe. Adapters for J1772 charging connectors (which convert between the Type 1 and Type 2 pin configurations) typically cost between $50 and $150. Adapters also exist for CCS Level 3 charging facilities, although these adapters may cost considerably more.
Tips for Ensuring Charging Compatibility
When evaluating EV models, make sure to consider each vehicle’s charging needs. Think of charging compatibility as a critical vehicle feature. Here are our top five tips for electric car owners to ensure that connector incompatibility never ruins your trip:
1. Understand Your Vehicle’s Connector Type
Check the owner’s manual or consult the manufacturer’s website to determine the specific connector type each EV model requires. Remember, the CHAdeMO connector is the rarest type in North America, and cannot be made compatible with other connectors by using an adapter. Therefore, for U.S. driving, a CHAdeMO-equipped EV should also have a J1772 or CCS inlet to make standard charging sources accessible.
2. Carry Necessary Adapters
If you plan to drive a Tesla in the U.S., make sure you have at least a J1772 to Tesla adapter, so you can access standard Level 1 or 2 charging when proprietary Tesla facilities cannot be found. Conversely, if you need to drive a non-Tesla EV in an area dominated by Tesla charging sources, you would be well served by a Tesla to J1772 adapter. Keep your adapter in the car at all times.
3. Use Charging Network Apps
Several different mobile apps provide real-time information about charging stations and their compatibility with various electric vehicles. For example, PlugShare, ChargePoint, and Electrify America can all help you locate suitable charging stations nearby.
4. Plan Your Route
Before embarking on long trips, carefully plan your route to ensure that you can find charging stations that are compatible with your vehicle and/or charging adapter. A little advance planning can help ensure that you never end up stuck in a charging desert.
5. Keep an Emergency Backup
In case you encounter an unforeseen situation that leaves you without access to a compatible charging station, it’s advisable to have a backup plan. For example, a long extension cord can enable you to connect a Level 1 (drip) charging cable to any available three-prong outlet. If you drive a BEV in remote areas, consider carrying a portable charger for emergencies.
Emerging Technologies in EV Charging
In this section, we will provide insights into the evolving landscape of electric vehicle charging. Emerging technologies like wireless charging, ultra-fast charging stations, and bidirectional charging hold the promise of far more convenient EV charging in the future.
1. Wireless Charging
Wireless charging technology eliminates the need for physical connectors, allowing drivers to charge their EVs simply by parking over wireless charging pads embedded in parking spaces or roads. The convenience factor is off the charts, but this technology is not yet widely available. Plugless and WiTricity are the two big-name providers in North America, but there are hundreds of other startup companies poised to enter the wireless charging market.
2. Ultra-Fast Charging Stations
Ultra-fast charging stations, also referred to as High Power Charging (HPC) stations, can deliver immense power to electric vehicles, significantly reducing charging times. An HPC has the potential to fully charge a typical BEV in 30 minutes or less. These stations are particularly helpful for long-distance travel, and are likely to become more widespread by the end of the decade.
3. Bidirectional Charging
This promising technology allows electric vehicles to not only consume energy, but also feed energy back into the grid. Widespread deployment is years away, but the potential benefits are huge, including power grid stabilization and more efficient energy storage and distribution for everyone.
Since not all electric cars use the same charger, EV owners and potential buyers need to know the different connector types, and which ones can be made compatible with adapters. Fortunately, fledgling technologies and the increasing standardization of the charging landscape promise greater convenience for electric car users in the years to come. As the electric vehicle industry advances, compatibility concerns will diminish. For now, informed preparation is as valuable as any charging cable.
A car enthusiast who knows how overwhelming the knowledge gap is between the tire manufacturer and the end customer. My aim is to simplify your tire buying process by doing the nitty-gritty research, filtering out the details which don’t matter, so you can focus on the few which do.