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A charging port on a Mercedes Benz EQC 400 4Matic electric vehicle.

MARK BLINCH/Reuters

We’re thinking about getting an electric car in the next year or so. I think I understand the basics about charging at home, but I’m a little overwhelmed by public chargers. There are various networks, different plugs and different rates of charging. For example: what’s CHAdeMO? Does it matter how many kilowatts a charging station has? – Lena, Victoria, B.C. Have charged questions about owning an electric car? You’re not alone.

“Most of the questions we get from people are about the details of charging and the intricacies of owning an electric car,” said Michael Stanyer, program co-ordinator with Plug In BC. “I don’t think range anxiety is really an issue anymore for most people – people are more concerned about charging convenience.”

If you’ve never charged an electric vehicle (EV) at a public charger, the idea might seem a little daunting.

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There are sites and apps, including PlugShare or ChargeHub, that help you find chargers along your route. They’ll let you sort chargers by the plug you need, by the charger’s power and by the network it’s on.

All that is less complicated than it seems, Stanyer said.

So, here are answers to a few common charging questions.

Can I drive a plug-in-hybrid without the gas engine kicking in?

If I buy an electric car, do I need to install a 240-volt outlet?

What level charger is best?

That depends on how quickly you need to charge.

There are three levels of charging, from slowest to fastest. Level 1 is just a standard 120-volt wall outlet – all EVs come with an adapter that lets you connect to one. It gives most EVs about 8 km of range per hour.

It’s fine for charging overnight at home. But if you’re stranded 40 km from home with no juice and can only find a standard outlet, it will take hours to recharge.

Because Level 1 is so slow, it’s not used for public charging stations – they’re all either Level 2 or level 3.

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Level 2 delivers about 30 to 40 km an hour. Level 3, also known as direct current fast charging is the fastest. It’s for when you’re in a hurry – if your battery is nearly empty or if you’re on a road trip.

It will get most EVs from empty to 80 per cent of a full charge in 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the car and the charger.

Your EV’s computer starts slowing down charging after you hit an 80 per cent charge. So getting to 100 per cent might take another hour or more.

Will all public chargers plug into my car?

The short answer? Usually.

Basically, chargers are either made by Tesla for its own cars or are public stations that accommodate every EV, Stanyer said.

“Basically, it comes down to whether you have a Tesla or not,” Stanyer said.

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All Level 2 chargers, except for Tesla’s, use the SAE J1772 EV plug – also known as the J-plug.

In Canada and the United States, all cars accept the J-plug – except for Teslas.

While Tesla has its own plug, all Teslas come with an adapter that lets you connect to a J-plug.

So, you can charge any EV at any Level 2 charger. With fast charging, it’s a little more complicated.

For non-Tesla EVs, there are two fast-charging plug standards: CHAdeMO or a combined charging system (CCS).

CHAdeMO was proposed as the industry standard in 2010 by five major Japanese automakers.

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In Canada, it was used by Nissan, Mitsubishi and Kia – but those automakers have been gradually switching to CCS in new models.

On cars using CHAdeMO – which, confusingly, stands for “charge de move” – there are two separate ports side-by-side: a J-plug for Level 1 and 2 charging and a CHAdeMO port for fast charging.

CCS is increasingly more common. It uses the J-plug port and adds two more pins underneath it.

Most public fast chargers offer both standards.

“Everyone is really switching over to CCS, so there’s only a few CHAdeMO vehicles out there now,” Stanyer said, “So some newer big fast-charging stations might have only one or two CHAdeMO plugs.”

Tesla has its own fast chargers, which it calls superchargers. They use their own plug standard. But Tesla sells $400 CHAdeMO adapters – and has announced a CCS adapter – that let newer Teslas use public fast chargers.

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Last month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that he’ll make Tesla’s superchargers available to non-Tesla EVs.

Does the charger’s speed matter?

Fast chargers are getting faster. For instance, Electrify Canada offers 350-kilowatt stations.

For now, no car on the market can charge that fast.

In fact, EVs have a maximum speed they’ll charge at, no matter how fast the charger is.

For instance, a 2022 Porsche Taycan can charge at up to 270 kW and a 2022 Audi e-tron SUV can handle up to 150 kW.

So, at a 350 kW station, a Taycan could charge from five to 80 per cent in about 22 minutes.

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But a 2022 Chevy Bolt, which can only charge at 55 kW, would take about an hour to charge to 80 per cent, whether it’s at a 90 kW station or a 350 kW station.

If your car can take a faster charge, then a 150 kW or 350 kW station will charge it faster.

But, the faster stations can cost up to twice more – and there’s no reason to pay extra for a charger that’s faster than your car requires.

“If you’ve got an older vehicle that charges at 50 kW, you can still pull up to a 250 kW station, but the vehicle determines for its own safety how fast it can charge,” Stanyer said.

Do I need to join every charging network?

There are more than a dozen charging networks across Canada. To use their chargers, some of them require you to set up an account and either download an app or get an access card in the mail.

Some may require you to add value to your account using a credit card, debit card or PayPal.

But depending on where you travel, you might be able to find chargers that are all on the same network.

Plus, some networks will let you use chargers from other networks.

“It’s a good idea to check ahead and see what networks are in the area you’ll travel through,” Stanyer said. “I’ve travelled through most of [British Columbia] using just the BC Hydro app – they have an agreement with Flo and ChargePoint so you can access their chargers, too.”

Some other networks let you pay by tapping your credit or debit card at the charger without having to join.

“In B.C., most highway rest stop chargers are not networked and are just plug and pay,” Stanyer said.

While there are some free Level 2 chargers left, most fast chargers now require you to pay. BC Hydro started charging money for fast charging in May.

“There’s been a general trend toward eliminating free public charging,” Stanyer said. “Just so people aren’t treating them as their own personal chargers or aren’t just parking there connected to it.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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