How To Charge an Electric Car for Free

By Nick Kurczewski 01/30/2023 12:00pm

Quick Facts About Free Charging Stations

  • Some towns or local utility companies may provide free public chargers or offer programs.
  • Besides universities and public transit stations, you can find free chargers at places like malls and grocery stores.
  • You can use your favorite public charging app to find free charging stations.

Buying an electric car opens an entirely new world of driving, like never needing to pay for a single drop of gasoline. Yet just because you bought an electric car or truck doesn’t mean you need to waste time and money when it’s time to charge.

Juicing up the battery of an electric vehicle (EV) costs less than filling a gas tank. But when you do a bit of research and planning, you can potentially find a handful of free electric vehicle charging stations.

According to the United States Department of Energy, 80% of electric car charging happens at home. But what about those times when you need a charge while on the road trip or if you didn’t access a charging station before jumping behind the wheel?

Use our expert tools and tips to get you and your electric car free charging in a wide range of driving scenarios.

Where Can I Charge My Electric Car for Free?

The good news is that there are several convenient ways to recharge without spending any money — and an essential first step involves using the power of your smartphone. For example, the PlugShare app allows EV drivers to filter through all sorts of charging stations, including ones that are absolutely free.

RELATED: How Much Does It Cost to Charge an Electric Car?

Available on both Apple and Android smartphones, PlugShare encourages users to provide real-time information about the location and status of charging stations. After all, a free charger is useless if every spot is full or it’s out of order when you pull up with a low battery.

ChargePoint is another great resource to help find a free charging station. It’s good advice to download several apps for chargers you regularly use. Plus, you might simply prefer the user interface of one over another.

Charging station providers such as Electrify America and EVgo will also show you information regarding station locations. Sometimes they offer promotions involving free charging at locations convenient to you at special times of the year. They also might offer rewards that provide subscriber perks, like free charging after earning enough points.

EVgo Rewards, for example, gives subscribers $10 worth of free charging once they accumulate 2,000 points. With this program, one dollar of charge equates to five earned points.

Your town or local utility company might also provide free public chargers or offer programs. You can find such free chargers in malls, other shopping center parking lots, universities, hotels and casinos, public transit stations, and even at recreation areas run by the National Park Service. Some car dealerships may provide some form of free EV charging as well.

What To Know About Free EV Chargers 

Types of  EV charging stations, which may be free depending on the location.

The best things in life might be free, though they might not always be the most convenient. Chances are good that a free EV charger will offer a slower, Level 2 rate of charge. Generally speaking, this provides about 20 miles of range when an EV gets plugged in for about one hour. DC fast charging, or Level 3 chargers, are much quicker, and 30 minutes could be enough for a full charge. However, finding a free one could take a little extra searching.

Lines for free charging stations might also be an issue, or there could be no empty chargers when you arrive at a destination and need to plug in.

If you’re going to drive in an unfamiliar area and know you’ll be near the maximum range of your EV, be sure to have a backup plan in case your intended free electric car charger is unavailable.

Tips for Finding Free Chargers in Public

Free chargers often get positioned in high-traffic areas like shopping malls, airports, or popular fast-food chains and grocery stores. Your town or city might operate free charging stations to promote clean energy and to encourage drivers to visit their downtowns or other commercial hubs. Using an app to find these charging stations is an invaluable tool for any EV owner.

Even if a charger might not be free, remember that the EV you purchased could come with some form of charging incentive. Tesla owners who bought their vehicle before 2017 have perpetually free access to the automaker’s network of Supercharger stations.

Electrify America, one of the largest charging station providers, has teamed with various automakers to provide free charging for a specific length of time or a certain amount of kilowatt hours of charge.

The Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup and Hyundai Kona Electric SUV each come with 250 kWh of free charge via Electrify America, equating to roughly 1,000 miles of free charging. So if you’re shopping for an EV, remember to ask if the make and model that’s catching your eye comes with an added perk like free charging.