Navigating the charging network for battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids can sometimes feel like a maze. Why is that? Because there are so many charger types with varying levels of output. Some even have different connectors that certain BEVs can’t use.
That being said, we’re going to explain to you the differences between each type. We’ll look through the differences between level 1 vs. level 2 charging, and what distinguishes these two versus level 3 DC charging.
Differences between levels 1, 2, and 3 charging
Level 1 Charger
The level 1 charger usually outputs around 120 volts. This is your typical wall outlet and is sometimes called the trickle charger because it barely gives around 1.5 kW of power. That means it will take a long time to charge your BEV because of the larger capacity battery. Anything over 20 kWh will take more than overnight to fully charge. In certain cases, it will take days for the vehicle to get to 100%. This is best used for plug-in hybrids, many of which have batteries that are 20 kWh or less.
However, some also have sizable batteries like the Karma GS-6, Polestar 1, and plug-in hybrid versions of the upcoming Land Rover Range Rover and Range Rover Sport. Every BEV or plug-in hybrid sold today comes with a charging cable for level 1 charging and is best used for times when you need to top off for a few hours before getting on your way.
Level 2 Charger
The level 2 charger adds convenience to BEV or plug-in hybrid ownership because you can now charge quicker at home. Its biggest difference between the level 1 charger is the amount of power it puts out. At 220 to 240 volts, most level 2 chargers at home or in public can put out upward of 6 kW, drastically cutting the amount of time you spend plugged in. Some can also charge up to 20 kW, which is especially beneficial on cars like the Porsche Taycan that’s offered with an optional 19.2-kW onboard charger.
A level 2 charger doesn’t always have to mean installing a dedicated home charger in your garage or driveway. Another type of level 2 charger is the NEMA 14-30 or 14-50 outlets, which are what’s usually used for dryers and washers. These have a different prong style and are at least 30 amps. These can generate at least 3 kW of power with higher output examples putting out closer to 10 kW.
The majority of BEVs and plug-in hybrids use a J1772 connector for their level 2 charger. Tesla, however, has a proprietary connector for its AC charging. You can also use an adapter that allows you to use a J1772 charger on your Tesla vehicle.
Most level 2 chargers can also be found at hotels and other lodging establishments, which should make road trips easier since you won’t need to find a nearby charging station.
Level 3 Charger
Found mostly in public areas like shopping centers, restaurants, and near major highways, the level 3 charger is the quickest of the three. Unlike levels 1 and 2, which are AC chargers or alternating current, level 3 is DC or direct current. This means there’s no conversion happening when charging your vehicle since the electricity stored in its battery is also direct current.
There are currently three types of connectors being used by DC chargers. The most common one is the CCS combo plug, which uses a J1772 and two larger prongs below it. Nearly every BEV on sale today uses with the exception of Tesla vehicles, that have the second type, a proprietary unit just like their level 2 connector. That could change as the Supercharger network opens to non-Tesla vehicles.
In Europe, vehicles from other brands are already charging on the Supercharger network since some now have the CCS combo connector. Certain Tesla models have also switched to the CCS standard in Europe.
The third DC charging connector, called CHAdeMO, is the least common and is being phased out outside of Japan in favor of CCS. In the U.S., the only vehicles left using this standard are the Nissan Leaf and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. However, these vehicles are on the tail end of their current life cycle or are about to get a new generation, which will most likely switch to CCS for DC charging purposes.
The Nissan Leaf is going to be replaced in the middle of this decade by a subcompact SUV based on the Chill-Out Concept using the same underpinnings as the Ariya. Mitsubishi’s next-generation 2023 Outlander PHEV, on the other hand, is due out at the end of 2022 packing more powerful electric motors and a larger battery.
In terms of energy output, most level 3 DC chargers from Electrify America, EVGo, ChargePoint, Volta, Tesla, and other charging companies put out at least 50 kW regardless of the connector. The CCS connectors, on the other hand, can put out up to 350 kW, allowing cars with a high peak DC charging rate to take advantage of its capabilities. However, these chargers aren’t as common as the 150 kW stations and are mostly limited to Electrify America, Tesla Superchargers, and EVGo. Newer versions of the Tesla Supercharger, called V3, will be able to put out up to 250 kW.
The only caveat with DC charging is that you unplug at 80%. Why? It’s because the charging speeds drop significantly once you get past that threshold. The closer you get to 100% the slower it charges to protect the battery from premature wear or degradation.
Knowing your car’s charging rates and the type of charger that works best enables you to get the most out of your BEV or plug-in hybrid. Additionally, you’ll be able to maximize your range and efficiency, improving the ownership experience. Also, figure out your vehicle’s charging rate, which is usually on the specification of the owner’s manual or in the vehicle charging and efficiency section of the infotainment system. Together with apps from charging networks like Electrify America, ChargePoint, EVGo, and PlugShare, you’ll be able to plan trips more strategically.
Looking for a home charger? Check out our recommendations for the best home EV chargers.