Free Fuel: 3 Ways to Get Complimentary EV Charging
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 work has been featured in Find The Best Car Price 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 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV. With 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 60,000 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 three ways to do just that in this article!
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3 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
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 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 around 600 active charging sites across 45 states, this is essentially free fuel whether you’re on the road or close to home.
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 or 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” option in the site’s filters, and browse areas of interest to see where you might charge an EV for free.
Note that this one remains the “Wild West” option of the three, as it could include private businesses that reserve their charge stations for patrons (typically hotels and restaurants). 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.
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 600 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.