Where can I charge an electric car for free?

Five years ago, it was relatively easy to find cheap or free places to recharge your electric car. At worst, you’d pay £10 for a card that gave you access to roadside charging points for a year.

That simply had to change. No one can afford to give motorists free fuel, even if they are driving efficient EVs. So now there’s a significant cost for public charging – and it’s almost always cheaper to charge at home.

Even if you find a public charging point that’s free, there’s an unexpected downside: it might be occupied by a plug-in hybrid. These vehicles – which use a petrol engine and an electric motor – have less need to top up, but may do if charging is free.

Making drivers pay for electricity frees up charging points for proper EVs.

Council roadside and car park chargers

You’ll be lucky to find any free ones now, although there is sometimes a limited ‘free charge’ promotion to attract new customers.

Pod Point, for example, offers the first 15 minutes free.

Filling stations

There’s no chance now of finding free electricity at petrol stations. However, the number of charging points is growing rapidly in these locations.

Supermarkets

Volkswagen has partnered with Tesco and Pod Point to provide 2,400 free charging points at Tesco Extra stores around the UK.

They are 7kWh devices, much the same as you’d have at home, which means you might add 25 miles of range if you shop for an hour.

Car dealers

Every car dealer that sells electric cars has at least one charging point and may allow customers to charge for free. In our view, though, that’s far from a realistic proposition.

First, car dealers are usually in places that are out of your way (although the better ones will offer decent coffee and a waiting lounge). Second, the point is usually in use recharging their own demonstration vehicles. Finally, have you seen how packed dealer car parks are? It can be impossible to park anywhere.

Hotels

Many hotels, and even some B&Bs, offer electric charging for their customers – and with a modicum of luck you can do this at no extra cost. We can think of no nicer place to stop while your car is being charged than a country house hotel where you can imbibe tea and cake.

Tesla owners

This is complicated. Owners of the early Model S and Model X Teslas received free use of the Supercharger network for the life of their car. You could also pass this on to subsequent owners. Later, you couldn’t pass it on, then you didn’t get it free. And now you do get free charging again – but on the Model S and Model X only.

All Model 3 owners have to pay for charging in the UK. However, if you are referred by an existing Tesla owner, there is a promotion that gives you ‘1,000 miles’ of free charging.

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