How to charge an electric car for free

Buying an electric car opens up a whole new world of driving, like never having to pay for a single drop of gas. Yet just because you bought an electric car or truck doesn’t mean you have to waste time and money charging it.

Recharging the battery of an electric vehicle (EV) costs less than filling a gas tank. But when you do a little research and planning, you can find a number of free EV charging stations.

According to the United States Department of Energy, 80% of electric car charging is done at home. But what about those times when you need a recharge while traveling or haven’t accessed a charging station before getting behind the wheel?

Use our tools and expert advice to enable you and your electric car to charge for free in a wide range of driving scenarios.

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Where can I charge my electric car for free?

The good news is that there are several convenient ways to charge without spending money – and an important first step is to use the power of your smartphone. The PlugShare application allows electric vehicle drivers to filter all kinds of charging stations, including those that are absolutely free.

Available on Apple and Android smartphones, PlugShare encourages users to provide real-time information on the location and status of charging stations. After all, a free charger is useless if every slot is full or out of order when you stop with low battery.

ChargePoint is another great resource to help you find a free charging station. It’s a good tip to download multiple apps for the chargers you use regularly anyway. Moreover, you may just prefer the user interface of one over the other.

Charging station providers such as Electrify America and EVgo will also show you information about the location of the stations. Sometimes they offer promotions involving free charging at locations convenient for you at particular times of the year. They may also offer rewards that provide benefits to subscribers, such as free recharge after earning enough points.

EVgo Rewards, for example, offers subscribers $10 free recharge once they’ve racked up 2,000 points. With this program, one dollar in fees equals five points earned.

Your city or local utility company may also provide free chargers or utility programs. You can find such free chargers in malls and other mall parking lots, hotels and casinos, and even in recreation areas run by the National Park Service. Some car dealerships may also offer a form of free charging for electric vehicles.

What to know about free EV chargers

The best things in life can be free, even if they aren’t always the most convenient. Chances are a free EV charger will offer a slower level 2 charge rate. Generally speaking, this provides about 20 miles of range when an EV is plugged in for about an hour. DC fast charging, or level 3 chargers, is much faster and 30 minutes can be enough for a full charge. Although finding a free one might take a little extra research.

Queues for free charging stations can also be long, or there may be no empty chargers when you arrive at your destination and need to plug in. If you’re going to be driving in an unfamiliar area and you know you’ll be close to your EV’s maximum range, make sure you have a backup plan in case your scheduled free EV charger isn’t available.

Tips for finding free chargers in public

As already mentioned, free chargers are often positioned in high traffic areas like malls, airports or popular fast food chains and grocery stores. Your city or town can operate free charging stations to promote clean energy and encourage drivers to visit their town centers or other shopping centers. Using an app to find these charging stations is an invaluable tool for any EV owner.

Even if a charger isn’t free, keep in mind that the electric vehicle you’ve purchased may come with some form of charging incentive. Tesla owners who bought their vehicle before 2017 have perpetually free access to the automaker’s network of Supercharger stations.

Electrify America, one of the largest providers of charging stations, has partnered with various automakers to provide free charging for a specific duration or number of kilowatt-hours of charge. The Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup and the Hyundai Kona Electric SUV each come with 250 kWh of free charging through Electrify America, which equates to about 1,000 miles of free charging. So if you’re shopping for an electric vehicle, be sure to ask if the make and model that catches your eye comes with an added benefit like free charging.

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Christy J. Olson