I spend a lot of time on car blog sites which are frequented with comments like “I’ll never buy an electric car because it costs a bunch of money to put a charger in my home” or some such crap. I bought a Chevy Bolt for about 1/2 price in Jan of 2001 without any way to charge it at my wife’s house which is over an hour away from everything. This article is about how I dealt with having an electric car without ever installing a home charger and how more than 1/2 of the electricity I’ve put into it over the last 18 months has come from free sources (not my house). What does this have to do with ebikes? Pretty much nothing except I already wrote a long article on Anarchistic’s Guerrilla ebike charging about 6 years ago here. Things with electric cars are quite a bit different hence the new article and this article is for Gentlemen not Anarchists. Yup, you know who you are.
Quit whining about the price of gas and do something about it
First off I want to talk about my cost savings. Since I have solar panels at my house and I get electricity wherever I can get it for free I save about 33 cents a mile for every mile that I don’t have to drive my Tundra assuming gas is $5\gal. At 15mpg with gas at $5/gal : 5/15 = 33.33333 cents a mile. The average American drives 14,263 miles a year so that would be a savings of $4,754.33333333 a year for your average oversized truck the size of a Sherman tank that you probably really don’t need. Now we are actually talking about real money here so pay attention kids.
There are three ways to charge electric cars, level 1, level 2 and Level 3. Level 1 adapter that came free with my Bolt gets me about 4 miles of range per hour at 12 Amps and 3 miles of range at 8 amps. Since many cheap 15 amp outlets will actually melt if you try to charge at 12 amps continuously and because 3 miles of range per hour sucks I’m going to say here that guerrilla charging at 120v/8amps is a total waste of time. Unless you find a spot that is near a place that you live and sleep it’s almost certainly not worth it (maybe a neighbor you don’t really like). Level 3 is DC fast charging which always costs money so I’m not going to discuss it here because I’m cheap and don’t like to pay money for anything.
Don’t waste your money installing a home charger, get a Level 2 charging cable instead
People think a home charger has to cost between $600-2000 + several thousand dollars for an electrician to install it. Honestly I think this is totally nuts. I installed a 30 amp 240v plug from Lowes that cost me about $12 with a scrap of 2′ 10 AWG copper wire that I had kicking around in about 10 minutes. I was so lazy I didn’t even mount the outlet properly and it sort of tilts at a janky angle which I sort of like (although the electrical inspectors don’t find it quite as endearing). Instead of buying and installing a car charger I just bought a 30 Amp charging cable from Amazon for $299 here (side note: Most car chargers are just a charging cable with a fancy box you don’t need and some pretty blinking lights, the charger is inside your car). This plugs into a standard 30 amp dryer plug that you might already even have somewhere in your garage or utility room. Go ahead, look around.
You might want to consider getting a 50 amp adapter (that will only charge at 40 amps continuous vs 24 amps continuous for the 30 amp adapter) which will charge about 66% faster than the 30 amp adapter I got but realize that doing that will make it more difficult to use 30 amp plugs. There are adapters that will allow you to plug in a 50 amp charger to a 30 amp plug, but you’d have to make sure to set the charger to charge at 24 Amps (not 40) before you plug it into your car and blow their breaker so that setup is really not recommended. If you forgot to set it to the lower charge rate and the breaker didn’t trip then the wiring could melt and cause a fire (fire=bad). Please note as well that a 50 amp circuit can only charge at 40 Amps continuous and a 30 amp circuit can only charge for 24 Amps continuous. If you buy a 50 amp charger and a 30 amp plug adapter and then set the charge rate to 30 Amps (instead of the correct 24 Amps) then the wires will overheat without tripping the circuit breaker and will probably melt and cause a lot of problems and expense for the owner of the plug.
Now just get a 50 amp adapter, and maybe another TT-30 amp adapter
For about $12 you can get a high quality NEMA adapter, I got mine on ebay and the description read “50Amp NEMA 14-50P to NEMA 10-30R Power Plug Cord Adapter” (go find your own). I can plug my 30 amp charger into the 50 amp adapter and charge at about 24 Amps out of any NEMA 14-50 plug (these are pretty standard at parks and RV areas). The most common 30 amp plug at campgrounds is the NEMA TT-30 so if you want to use those plugs as well you will need another $12 ebay adapter that goes from NEMA TT-30 Male to NEMA 10-30R Female. For around $325 you can now charge at NEMA 10-30R, NEMA TT-30 and NEMA 14-50P which are by far the most common 240v plugs in the US. Keep the charger and the adapters in your car everywhere you go and start looking for free places to charge.
Consider a Tesla Adapter
A Tesla Tap gets you access to 4,500+ Destination chargers in the US, most of which are FREE (they are level 2 , the adapter won’t work with superchargers). You can get the Tesla Tap for $159 here although there are also a bunch of clones out there for about the same price. The forums make it sound like the Tesla Tap is the way to go, although honestly I have never used mine so I really have no opinion. Seems like a lot of money for a little adapter, I like my $12 ones better. A Tesla Destination charger will add between 30 and 44 miles of range per hour which makes them about equivalent to a 50 amp charging cable.
Extension cords, if you’re going to get one, get the right one
Although they sell J1772 Extension cords for electric car charging you should not get them because getting a NEMA 10-30R extension cord is about 1/2 the price. It costs about $75 for a good quality 25 foot cable and $125 for a 50′ cable. I think it’s unwise to get longer than a 50′ cable. The charging cable is 25′ which for me has always been plenty long enough. With a 50′ extension that means you only have to get your electric car within 75′ of a 240v outlet. There is a spot under the trunk of the Bolt where a spare would go if the car shipped with a spare (it doesn’t). Instead there is a large block of foam where the spare should be (crash protection? mouse prefab housing?), that would be a great place to store your 30 amp extension cord. I keep my charging cable behind the passenger seat since I pull it out frequently when I need to charge.
Also note that every electric car charger I have ever seen says implicitly in the manual to not use an extension cord. I have done it and not had issues, but if you use an extension cord that has a gauge of wire that will not support your load then that cable will melt the insulation and at best blow the breaker and at worst start a fire.(fire=bad) You have been warned.
Shame the people you love into installing a NEMA plug for you
I told my dad that I was getting an electric car and I wanted to charge it in his garage with a 30 amp NEMA plug. I was shocked and amazed when he showed me that he had already wired a plug there for his emergency generator. To think I didn’t even have to pull the ‘if you really love me dad you’ll let me install this plug in your garage with my questionable wiring skills’. If there is a place that you go frequently that is far away consider installing a $12 NEMA 10-30R surface mount receptacle like this one here.
Ask before you charge, generally you will find people don’t mind as much as you’d think
This is America, everyone has guns and is pretty territorial. I always ask before I plug in and make sure the person I am getting electricity from has a good idea of how much it’s going to cost them. The best way to approach it is to tell them how much it costs per hour of being plugged in and then how long you want to charge. In NY electricity is about 14 cents a kWh. The charger goes at 24Amps x 240v = 5.7Kw per hour x $.14 = 80 cents an hour. What does 80 cents an hour of someone else’s money get you? For me it’s about 25 miles of range which makes it well worth the trouble (think about how much it would cost in gas to go that 25 miles in your big beautiful truck, about 10x as much). A good way to start the conversation is to offer to pay for the electricity you plan to use. You will find that most places will refuse to take your money (especially if you are patronizing their business) but won’t mind you using their outlets.
I have gotten permission to charge at the park that I always kiteboard at (they are looking into installing EV chargers at my urging) as well as my home and my parents house. All of these things are over an hour away from each other. I spend 50% of my time slaving away at my wife’s house which is also an hour away from all 3 of those things and I have no place to charge my car at my wife’s house. With the Bolt recall I can’t charge over 80% and I loath to let the car get below 40% because of the risk of it bursting into flames. I know it sounds like I am exaggerating but I’m really not, this is what GM recommends. I actually like driving a car that could burst into flames at any moment, sort of feels like how I live my life, just a little on the edge. It’s not for everyone of course, and for those scaredy cats out there you can always do the Bolt buyback program. I’ll never sign up. You can pry my electric car from my cold dead hands.
Finding 30 or 50 amp 240v plugs
These things are everywhere if you know where to look. Most commonly they are used for dryers but also I’ve seen them just preinstalled into garages, basements or utility rooms not plugged into anything and sometimes installed for a generator hookup. The best 240v outlet to use is one you already have, so if you have a different 30 or 50 amp outlet then buy the car charger that goes with the NEMA outlet you already have and then purchase the adapters you need as you find other plugs to charge at. For lots of money they sell auto-switchers for 30 amp plugs which will allow you to share your electric car charging with your dryer. To me that is a waste of money, just unplug your dryer and plug in your charger when you need it or wire up another dedicated breaker for your car charger. It only takes about 10 minutes to do.
If you don’t know how to wire up a new outlet to your home, then you should either hire a licensed electrician (the smart thing to do) or just watch a bunch of youtube videos and do it yourself (what I always do). Probably not legal in whatever nice state you live in, but still legal here in beautiful rural NY.
Most parks with any kind of campgrounds, marinas or anyplace that allows for plugging in large RVs or Boats will often have 30 or 50 amp plugs that are close to places you can park. Once you start looking for high voltage plugs you’ll be amazed at how many you can find.