EV Charging Connectors: What You Need to Know

It's pretty simple to charge once you know which charging connectors your EV uses. Here's our guide.

Tesla Superchargers at a Buc-ee's gas stationBelema Iyo | Capital One

Article QuickTakes:

For anyone considering purchasing their first electric vehicle, one of the main areas of confusion is the array of plug and connector types used to charge EVs in North America.

Here are the ins and outs of getting plugged in.

The Basics of EV Charging

There are two methods of charging, and they can be viewed as slow and fast. Slow charging uses alternating current (AC), the same power that comes from your wall sockets at home. Fast charging uses direct current (DC) and is entirely different.

With both charging methods, the driver plugs a charging cord into a socket on the EV. (It will be behind a panel that often looks like a gas filler door but with an electrical socket inside rather than a tube leading to a gas tank).

The plugs and sockets differ for slow and fast charging. If you're going to own an EV, it's a good idea to have at least some familiarity with each type.

Slow EV Charging

Most EV charges these days are done by slow charging, which means being plugged in for several hours, often overnight — a lot like your cell phone. This works well for new-car buyers; four out of five of them have dedicated off-street parking where they can install a charging station. Home charging is tougher for those who live in townhouses, condos, apartments, and other multiple-unit dwellings.

Whether it's a charging station in your own garage or a shared charging station in a public parking lot, there are two kinds of AC charging, conveniently referred to as Level 1 and Level 2.

Level 1 runs off your basic 120-volt household wall outlet. Most new EVs come with a portable charging cable that lets you plug the car into a wall socket, but you might get only three or four miles of range per hour of charging.

Level 2 is a 240-volt charging station that may provide six to 20 miles of added range per hour of charging. These stations operate on dedicated electrical circuits, often in or on the side of a garage. Most public charging stations in parking lots, shopping malls, and other non-highway routes are Level 2.

Electric vehicles in North America have one of two connectors into which that charging cable is plugged. All EVs except Teslas use what's called the J-1772 connector. Teslas have a smaller, two-pin socket, but they are offered with an adapter that enables drivers to use standard public charging cables.

Fast EV Charging

For long road trips — or EV drivers who have no access to public Level 2 charging — DC fast charging is especially useful. It will recharge a battery to 80% of its capacity in 20-60 minutes.

Sockets and Connectors

There are three types of sockets and charging connectors for DC fast charging: Combined Charging System (CCS), Tesla, and CHAdeMO, though this last one is already being phased out in North America and won't be built into future EVs sold here.

CCS is the fast-charging connector on virtually all EVs not made by Tesla. It's essentially the J-1772 connector with a pair of extra high-voltage pins added to the bottom. It's odd-looking and can be unwieldy, but it lets carmakers use the same communications software and hardware for both slow and fast charging.

Tesla conveniently uses its same proprietary socket for charging cables at its DC fast Supercharger stations that it uses for slower AC charging in garages.

The CHAdeMO standard, designed in Japan, uses a socket that's entirely different from the J-1772 slow-charging socket and was used only in 2011-2023 Nissan Leaf cars and a handful of other, very low-volume electric cars and plug-in hybrids. If you visit a DC fast-charging station, you'll likely see several CCS cables and perhaps one lone CHAdeMO cable at the end of the row. That indicates its waning importance in North America.

So Which of These Does My EV Use?

Understanding these differences is important when you're searching for public charging, whether slow or fast. Phone apps that show the locations of EV charging sites in the U.S. let you filter by connector type, but you need to know what to look for. Here's a cheat sheet:

For any Tesla model since 2012:

Slow charging: With an adapter, you can charge at any Level 1 or Level 2 station.

Fast charging: You will likely use the Tesla Supercharger network, which for now is for Tesla drivers only. The company has said it plans to open its network up to non-Tesla vehicles, but it has not yet done so in the U.S. The car's navigation will route you to the most convenient Supercharger sites if your trip exceeds the battery range.

For 2011-2023 Nissan Leaf:

Slow charging: You can charge at any Level 1 or Level 2 station.

Fast charging: You need to find public fast-charging sites with CHAdeMO cables, presuming your Leaf has DC fast-charging fitted. Not all of them do. The much more prevalent CCS stations won't do you any good.

For any other EV:

Slow charging: You can charge at any Level 1 or Level 2 station.

Fast charging: You need to find public fast-charging sites with CCS cables, presuming your EV has fast charging built in. A few lower-end models don't.

The number of CCS stations in the U.S. is growing fast, and the recent Inflation Reduction Act will fund a lot more of them. Among various other initiatives, the Inflation Reduction Act includes tax credits aimed at increasing the number of charging stations in low-income and rural areas.

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John Voelcker
John Voelcker is a reporter and analyst covering electric vehicles, auto technology, and energy policy. He has written or edited more than 12,000 articles on low- and zero-emission vehicles and the energy ecosystem around them. His work has appeared in print, online, and radio outlets, and he is frequently quoted as a subject-matter expert. He splits his time between the Catskill Mountains and New York City, and still one day hopes to become an international man of mystery.