Free EV Charging Stations: 4 Easy Options
Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate based in Greater Boston, Massachusetts. He is a content creator and marketing professional who contributes written and recorded pieces to a wide range of media outlets. His analysis has been featured in Find The Best Car Price, WWLP TV, and Torque News, among others. He has also had video content featured on Inside EVs. Birkett was an EV Guide for Plug in America events in Massachusetts (Drive Electric Cambridge and Drive Electric Lowell) and Ohio (Earth Day 2019 at Cleveland Zoo). He participates in quarterly advisory panel meetings for EVolve New York (a state-level charging initiative) and has contributed to focus groups for prominent U.S. charging networks.
Birkett is a father-of-two who loves nothing more than packing up the family and hitting the road in their latest electric car, which is currently a 2022 Hyundai IONIQ 5. With multiple Chevy Bolts in his past, as well as a Chevy Volt and Tesla Model 3 LR in the extended family, plus various EV rentals when he ventures back home to his native United Kingdom, Birkett has more than 100,000 all-electric miles under his belt and is always ready to try out a new electric vehicle.
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One of the main benefits of owning an electric vehicle (EV) is that running costs are usually much lower than a traditional combustion vehicle. Part of that is down to fewer moving parts and fluids in an EV, which cuts down on maintenance, but there’s another way that often gets overlooked: free EV charging.
That’s right, in some scenarios, it’s possible to bring your running costs down to zero, at least in the sense of actually fueling the vehicle. But why is it free and where can you find this kind of complimentary EV charging?
Read on, as we highlight four ways to do just that in this article!
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4 Ways to Find Free EV Charging Near You
Although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, complimentary EV charging comes pretty close. Because electricity is less expensive to source than gasoline, there are plenty of places and opportunities for those invested in electric vehicles to offer it at no cost to the consumer.
Here are a few of the ways that can happen:
- Manufacturer Perks
- Ad-supported Electrons
- Ask the App
- Dealership Charging
Let’s take a closer look at each of these to explain what they are and how you can access their generous charging offers.
Manufacturer Offers Free EV Charging
From the early days of Tesla trying to find its place in the automotive market, complimentary EV charging has been used as a way to tempt drivers over to the all-electric side. Unlimited access to the rapidly expanding Supercharger network convinced thousands of customers that the high entry price of a Tesla would slowly pay itself off with “free fuel”. At the same time, Nissan and BMW offered similar “No Charge to Charge” programs for their EV customers, albeit on much less expansive, slower charging networks.
Nowadays, most manufacturers have some form of EV charging incentive, ranging from enough energy to cover a few road trips to years of unlimited charging.
For example, buyers interested in new all-electric models from Ford, Kia, or Hyundai, will find that their vehicle purchase comes with 250 kWh of complimentary charging on the Electrify America network. Assuming an efficiency of around 3-4 miles per kWh, that’s good for somewhere between 750-1,000 miles of driving.
To really extend this perk, however, budget-conscious buyers will look to the Volkswagen ID.4. As we covered in our article on affordable electric cars to consider, VW’s new all-electric crossover comes with three years of free EV charging via the Electrify America network, which is backed up by settlement funds from Volkswagen. With more than 700 active charging sites across 45 states, this is essentially free fuel whether you’re on the road or close to home.
The ID.4 represents the best of these offers, though many more models also offer two years of free charging, from the new Hyundai IONIQ 5 to the more luxurious end of the market, with the Mercedes EQS and the BMW iX and i4.
Each of these models benefits from complimentary 30-minute fast charging sessions on the rapidly expanding Electrify America network, or 60 minutes on the slower charging level 2 connectors. In most cases, this offer switches to paid charging after the 30 minute period is up, but drivers of these quick charging models can usually get back to 80% state of charge or higher in this time.
Free EV charging sessions are then locked for an hour, giving owners time to get back on the road and crank out some miles before stopping for another complimentary charge session a few hours later.
Allow Advertisers to Pay for Your Fuel
Okay, if you’re not paying for the product you are the product. But if it cuts out your fuel costs, perhaps it’s worth it? That’s what Volta Charging is betting on, as it continues a rapid expansion of ad-supported EV charging in select markets across the United States.
The Volta model is simple enough: install highly visible EV charge stations with large display screens in popular retail locations across the country. Throw in complimentary charging and sell the display space to advertisers, who effectively subsidize the station’s users. It’s a unique model in the nascent EV charging sector and one that is attracting a lot of investor capital.
For now, the Volta model is mostly geared towards slower level 2 charging, which will only deliver around 20-25 miles an hour. For low-mileage drivers (or people who shop a lot!), this could still cover the majority of their weekly miles. For everyone else, it’s a nice bump in range at no cost, and Volta is also working on a model that brings free fast charging in the near-future.
Use Other Apps to Find Free EV Charging
Volta isn’t the only network you can use to charge an electric car for free. ChargePoint, for example, allows its host sites to set the price, so some locations opt to offer complimentary charging. The same goes for some non-networked charge stations, where hosts like hotels, municipalities, and even some auto dealerships use free EV charging to attract visitors.
Unless you have a local EV friend who knows all the good spots to charge, you’re going to need an app or two to find these free EV charging options. Other than filtering out paid locations in a specific network’s software, there’s one go-to platform that functions as that knowledgeable friend for all EV drivers: Plugshare.
Available as both an app and desktop search tool, Plugshare is a crowdsourced platform that shows almost every free charging option that early adopter EV drivers have stumbled upon. Just select your connector type, uncheck the “Payment Required” or "Requires Fees" option in the site’s filters, and browse areas of interest to see where you might charge an EV for free.
Here's a step-by-step guide and video on how to find free EV charging in the Plugshare mobile app:
- Download and open the Plugshare mobile app - Android | Apple
- Tap the filter icon in the top right of the screen.
- Choose the relevant connectors/plugs for your vehicle.
- Scroll down to the "Misc" section and uncheck the "Requires Fee" option.
- Use the back arrow to return to the Plugshare map.
- Browse the markers for EV charging locations that do not charge a fee.
Note that this one remains the “Wild West” option of the four, as it could include private businesses that reserve their charge stations for patrons (typically hotels and restaurants). Remember that Plugshare is primarily a crowd-sourced platform, meaning the listings data is only as good as the person who entered it and those EV drivers who have added to the listing after visiting the location. If there isn’t much feedback or activity on the listing, it’s wise to call ahead to confirm the availability and accessibility of free EV charging.
Then there are the stations that might not be well-maintained - they don’t make money, after all - and those that attract “campers” for long periods of time due to limited enforcement of charging rules.
In any case, another positive of Plugshare is that it allows users to leave feedback on their charging experience via check-ins and rates the location accordingly, so savvy drivers can dismiss locations with poor scores and focus on those that previous visitors trust.
Charge for Free at a Car Dealership
This is another option for free EV charging that requires a qualifier, as not all car dealerships that have a charge station open it up for public use. Access can vary greatly across different areas and brands, so be sure to consult Plugshare as described above. As a rule of thumb, it’s rarely a good idea to rely on dealership charging as your first option for road trips or other use cases away from home.
With that out of the way, charging your electric car at an auto dealership can be very advantageous in the right scenario.
In some cases, you might purchase your EV from a dealer that offers free charging for customers. If the dealer is on a route you commonly take or near to retailers you often visit, this can be a great option to top up your EV after work or on weekends. Similarly, if you’re shopping for a second EV, any dealer might be happy to let you add some electrons while talking to their sales team!
It’s important to note that getting permission from the dealership first is always a good idea, as is calling ahead to confirm the location and availability of their charging stations. Some are reserved for service center use, while others will be blocked by dealer inventory cars outside of opening hours to prevent misuse. And even if you can get access, many dealers are limited to hardware that only delivers between 7-25 kW, which is generally considered slow charging.
Despite all of the caveats above, free charging at dealerships is worth knowing about if you want to investigate complementary options in your area.
All of these ways to find free EV charging emphasize an early benefit of the technology and adds to the reasons to switch to an electric car. When you consider the potential expense of your next vehicle purchase, don’t forget to check out these options and see if you can add free fuel to your cost savings!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do manufacturers offer free EV charging?
In order to convince customers that the high entry price of EVs will pay itself off, some manufacturers like Tesla, Nissan, and BMW offer programs that allow for free EV charging. Tesla has its Supercharger network and other brands rely on the Electrify America network.
What manufacturers offer free EV charging?
Tesla, BMW, and Nissan offer complimentary charging on their respective networks. Brands like Ford, Kia, and Hyundai offer up to 250 kWh (750-1,000 miles) of complimentary charging with a purchase of a new all-electric vehicle. Volkswagen offers up to three years of free EV charging with their ID.4 model.
How many charging sites does Electrify America have?
The Electrify America network has around 700 active charging stations across 45 states.
How can I find free EV charging stations?
You can download an app to find active Volta charging stations in your area. Plugshare is another resource to find free charging options. Be sure to uncheck the “Payment Required” option in the filters to find all the complimentary charging stations.
What is Volta Charging?
Volta is an ad-supported EV charging station; they are highly visible charge stations with large display screens installed in popular retail locations. They offer complimentary charging and sell the display space to advertisers.
What is ChargePoint?
ChargePoint is another charging network that allows its host to set the price, so some locations may offer complimentary charging as a way to attract customers.
What companies provide free charging for electric cars?
Those who most commonly provide this service are retailers who would like to attract customers to stay at their location and spend money, such as grocery stores, outlet malls, hotels/resorts, and movie theaters. Well-known companies installing free EV charging around the US include Wegman’s grocery stores, Regency Centers, and AMC movie theaters.
Why do private businesses offer free EV charging?
The most compelling is to attract new customers who are motivated to stay longer and potentially spend more money at the business or surrounding retailers. Private businesses can also add EV charging to boost their green credentials and earn media coverage for sustainability initiatives.