Searching for electric car charging stations near you? Plugging in an electric car in the middle of a trip is still a challenge that takes some planning and patience. There are no giant signs for charging spots along the road like there are for gas stations.
Still, the trend is clear. Car makers and municipalities are charging ahead on electric cars. GM plans to phase out all gas vehicles by 2035. Jaguar is moving even faster, promising to sell only electric cars by 2025. And while some European countries, like Norway, have announced plans to ban combustion engine vehicles, in the U.S. California will ban the sale of such vehicles as of January 1, 2035.
So if you're thinking of switching to electric now, you should consider where you're going to charge your vehicle. When you're on the road, charging stations may be close by or far afield.
So you need to know where to look, especially when you're running low and know it's going to take 40 minutes to top up your car. It doesn't give you a lot of time to futz around, especially if the weather is cold and your electric car's range is affected.
With that in mind, here's what you need to consider if you're considering an EV and want to know where to charge.
How many charging stations are there?
As most electric vehicle (EV) owners will tell you, charging stations are far from pervasive. And a lot depends on where you live. There are fewer charging facilities in the Plains states and mountain West states — where the distances between towns is greater — than there are in California or the Northeast United States.
Across the country there are about 28,000 charging stations with about 94,000 outlets, according to November 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Energy. Compare that to the more than 112,000 gas stations in the U.S., according to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau survey.
Don't car companies offer charging stations?
Car companies are trying to make the search for chargers easier. Tesla started by literally building its own network of red-and-white stations at locations like hotel parking lots and interstate service centers, but its high-speed "SuperCharger" stations only work with Tesla EVs. Other electrics can use Tesla's Destination chargers (which are usually free) but it requires the use of a Tesla to J1772 adapter (J1772 is the standard plug most EVs in the U.S. use), and the adapters can cost as much as $150.
Fortunately, other car companies are building out their own networks and forming partnerships. So when you buy an EV it will include access to that network. Ford, for example, has its FordPass Charging Network, which offers over 13,500 charging stations through partners including Greenlots and Electrify America.
You should start with the automaker's suggested stations for several reasons. The car maker is going to have the most accurate idea of when you could run out of fuel, and therefore be the most accurate in terms of selecting a charging station on the road. Plus in-network charging stations are usually free for new owners.
Finally, sticking with the automaker's network can be more reliable, particularly with new car models. That's because compatibility is not just about the plug. New battery types can confuse some charging stations, requiring a software update before they will work with some EVs.
What about charging networks?
There are several nationwide independent charging networks. Some are already working with car companies to support branded services. GM works with partners like EVgo and ChargePoint, for example. However, you can sign up directly with companies like Blink and ChargePoint.
The advantage of joining a network is that you usually get a discount. Blink gives members 20-percent off charges on its network and signing up is free. Furthermore, these operators have better and more accurate information about their own charging stations, such as live data on whether a particular station is available or not.
Is there an app for finding electric car charging stations near me?
There is a welter of apps for EV owners. The car companies usually have their own, and network operators like ChargePoint and Blink (Android, iOS) have very good apps that show not only location information but also recent photos of the facilities and fees. There are also independent apps such as PlugShare, Open Charge Map, and ChargeHub. These apps will point you to as many locations as possible, ranging from Whole Foods Market parking lots to nearby garages, regardless of network, but you can filter the results to fast chargers, for example, or only free stations.
Does Google Maps show car charging stations? What about Apple Maps?
Yes...and no. Google Maps and Apple Maps will reveal charging stations with very significant caveats.
You can search for "EV charging stations" in Google Maps and see nearby locations, but you cannot ask the app to plot them like you can hotels or pharmacies automatically. However, once you've set your route, you can then search for EV charging stations, and Google Maps will show you a handful of spots. In our tests, however, Google Maps included a mere fraction of the locations that were actually available, so there's considerable room for improvement. And it's certainly not reliable enough when you need a quick charge.
Apple, meanwhile, is looking to do better by automatically including locations in an EV routing feature. It is available in OS 14, but there's a catch: It only works via your particular car maker's app. So it is basically just using the app you already have with your Tesla or Mustang Mach-E — if the car company has updated the app to work with Apple Maps.
Can I pay for charging my electric car by credit card?
Yes and no. Most chargers don't have old-style credit card readers and rely instead on contactless payment systems. Charging networks like ChargePoint, for example, require that you set up an account with a credit card first. Then when you arrive at the station, you open the app and tap-to-pay either using Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay. Prices can vary widely, ranging from free charging to rates established by the facility where the charger is located. So ask first or only stop at stations where you already have an account.
Is there a single place to go where I can see a map of all electric car charging stations?
Surprisingly, no. Ideally, there would be one shared database that every app, car company and EV owner could use pinpointing stations and their status, but that day has not yet arrived. Such a move could happen, however. Google's popular traffic and navigation app, Waze, is considering adding charging stations to its routes but no date or timeline has been announced. At the moment, you can select "Electric" as your vehicle type in Waze, but it won't point out the location of charging stations.
There are a variety of companies vying to deliver a comprehensive list of every charging station locations. ChargePoint, for example, includes independent stations that aren't part of its own network, but it can't independently vet those stations, relying instead on information provided by the operator.
"We're trying to make it as frictionless as possible," ChargePoint's CMO Colleen Jansen told Tom's Guide, "but it's still early days."
Read next: how to charge your electric car at home.