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Electric Vehicles

How to Charge an Electric Car Without Being a Jerk

A prim and proper guide on charging like you live in a society.

A gentleman offering an EV charger.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

You have traveled far. For the last half-hour, you’ve been staring at your EV’s big touchscreen and its dwindling estimate for how much battery will remain when you arrive at your destination. At last, the promised plug appears before you. But it’s broken, or there’s a line for the fast-charging depot, or the only two chargers at the hotel are taken by cars who’ll be there for goodness-knows-how-long.

The one thing more infuriating than range anxiety is plug denial — when you really did have enough battery to reach the next charger and you still can’t charge. It’s doubly maddening when the cause is someone else’s negligence, such as a car still hogging the plug when it’s finished, and their disregard for good manners is the thing that stands between you and the sweet relief of energy.

Electric vehicle chargers, like any shared resource, are subject to abuse. As the nation electrifies, we need to have a collective chat about sharing and etiquette to stop EV charging from becoming another tragedy of the commons. Here are a few rules to get started.

1. If your car is done charging, move.

This is the simplest and most important commandment. Every moment your car is parked in an EV stall but not charging is a wasted moment someone else could be getting precious energy. You wouldn’t block a gas pump and wander off for hours, which is fundamentally the same thing.

This courtesy is so crucial that sometimes it’s enforced: Tesla superchargers give drivers a 5-minute grace period after charging ends, then begin to tack on “idle fees” by the minute. This, admittedly, is annoying. There are times we have shopped or eaten during a charging stop and I had to run back mid-meal to move the car to an ordinary parking space. But it’s necessary. In many cases, however, there’s no punishment for hogging the charger long after your car is done — other than the endless shame you should feel.

2. Take care of the plugs.

A charging cable left on the ground looks terrible and is likely to be rained on and run over. Put it back in its holster. This is easier said than done at some Superchargers, where the magnets supposed to hold the plug in place don’t always cooperate. But try. If you find a busted one, use the charging company’s app to report it so it gets fixed faster. Karma will come around the next time you snag the last open charger and it works. You’ll see some people hang the cord over the post as a signal to other drivers that it’s down, but this analog communication is becoming less necessary. Click on a supercharger location in the Tesla app, for example, and it will just tell you which ones, if any, are offline.

3. Thou shalt not ICE.

ICE, in this case, is the internal combustion engine; ICEing is EV owner slang for when a gas-powered vehicle parks in an EV stall and blocks the plug. Some drivers do this out of ignorance, or because it’s a really good parking spot and they’ll only be gone for a second. A few ICErs surely do so out of politically motivated spite toward the electric vehicle. Whatever the reason, don’t. Somebody needs that electricity to get through the rest of their day.

4. Don’t take the charging spot if you’re not charging.

EV drivers commit a sin similar to ICEing when they poach the perfectly located parking stall marked “EV only,” then barely charge because they’re already full or don’t bother to plug in at all. Plugs are for charging.

5. Be real about your needs.

If you find yourself alone at a 12-stall station, then please, charge to your heart’s desire. But in far too many charging deserts, a couple of Level 2 chargers might be the only plug-in options for many miles. In this case, consider passing on the plug if you’re mostly full and you’re just getting a top-off because it’s there, or if you drive a plug-in hybrid and aren’t in danger of the car dying if the battery runs out.

6. You don’t need to go all the way.

With speeds of 250 kW or more, today’s EV fast chargers will charge your battery from nearly empty to halfway in the blink of an eye. Because of battery physics, however, it slows to a creep as you approach full, and going from 80 to 90 percent or higher feels like an eternity. If you’re at a busy station, and 70 or 80 percent capacity is enough to get you comfortably to the next stop, take off and open up a plug for somebody else a little earlier.

7. Mind the queue.

If every charging stall is taken, drivers will try to line up in an orderly fashion. Sometimes the preferred direction is obvious because there’s only one way in and out of the charging depot. Other times it’s not, which leads to confusion and hurt feelings. Either way, don’t be the person who swoops in from out of nowhere and wittingly or unwittingly jumps the line, unless you feel like getting in a shouting war today.

8. Do not unplug someone else (unless you’re really, really sure).

It’s simple — don’t touch what isn’t yours. Even if you’re really, really sure that other driver is a jerk who has violated these rules, don’t be that person.

I can think of two exceptions. The first is if you’re absolutely desperate and your car is moments away from dying. Then, all bets are off — find any juice you can. (Before you plug into the 110V outlet on the side of a business, though, ask them first and offer to pay a few bucks for the electricity.) The second is if the other person has one of those courtesy tags hung from their car to tell you it’s okay to unplug theirs if you really need the energy.

9. Check your brand rage.

You can find stories of EV drivers enraged because a Tesla, which presumably has a better array of charging options, plugged in at their spot. Similarly, Tesla drivers will no doubt be cranky when other brands’ EVs begin to show up at Superchargers. Look, it’s tough out there for an electric vehicle. People need to charge when they need it. There’s no need to bring some kind of Ford vs. Chevy fanboy animosity to the party.

10. Leave it like you found it.

To kill the necessary time at a charger, people eat, walk their dogs, clean out their cars — all sorts of activities that share the common theme of generating garbage. Since the charging station is a shared public space, treat it like a park or campground, and don’t leave paper cups or dog poop for other people to drive over or step on.

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Andrew Moseman profile image

Andrew Moseman

Andrew Moseman has covered science, technology, and transportation for publications such as The Atlantic, Inverse, Insider, Outside, and MIT Technology Review. He was previously digital director of Popular Mechanics and now serves as online communications editor at Caltech. He is based in Los Angeles.

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