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Level 1, Level 2, or Level 3? EV Chargers Explained – How-To Geek

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John is a freelance writer and photographer based in Houston, Texas. His ten-year background spans topics from tech to culture and includes work for the Seattle Times, the Houston Press, Medium’s OneZero, WebMD, and MailChimp. Before moving to The Bayou City, John earned a B.A. in Journalism from CSU Long Beach. Read more…
Electric vehicle (EV) charging station networks have grown in recent years, but navigating the different types can get confusing. Here we’ll explain types 1, 2, and 3, their connector plugs, and what situations they’re best for.
There are three types, or “levels,” of EV charging stations available as of this writing: type 1, type 2, and type 3. Type 1 is the slowest, while type 3 can charge an EV’s battery most of the way in about an hour.
Before we dive in, we should review some terms. Charging stations are called by multiple names, all of which mean the same thing, which can add to the confusion about which one to pick. For example, a type 2 station could also be called a “level 2” station. It still has the same power output and means the same thing. Other common terms for charging stations include:
All of these mean the same thing. What’s important to look for is which type (or level) the station is, since that’s what will tell you its power output and what connector you need to use to plug in.
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Type 1 chargers are just regular wall outlets, the same thing you’d plug your phone into to charge. As you might expect, it takes a very long time to charge an EV’s battery with a type 1 charger — about 20 hours for a 120-mile charge.
Type 1 chargers use AC (alternating current) power, and range in output from 1kW to 7.5 kW. They’re also called “single-phase” plugs, and type 1 connectors are standard for EVs made in the U.S. and Japan.
This type of outlet is too slow for regularly charging an EV at home, even overnight, but could be good for vehicles with smaller battery packs like plug-in hybrids. That said, you should still try to use a type 2 or 3 charger whenever you can.
All EVs are sold with a cable adapter that lets them use level 1 chargers (wall outlets) and a separate cable with a J1772 adapter for use with level 2 charging stations. Teslas use their own proprietary plug for their chargers but also come with an adapter, allowing Tesla drivers to use level 2 public charging stations outside the company’s network.
Type 2 chargers also use AC power and allow for increased charging speed due to their increased power output. These chargers deliver around 240 volts of power and can charge an EV battery anywhere from five to seven times faster than a type 1 charger.
Type 2 chargers use a different type of plug to connect than a type 1 charger because they require a connector plug with additional wires to carry the additional power. That plug is called an SAE J1772 connector and is the standard for all EVs produced in North America as of this writing. Many EVs sold today come packaged with some kind of J1772 connector. If they don’t, you can usually buy one online from the manufacturer.
Type 2 chargers can also be installed in-home for faster charging without reliance on a public station. It can be expensive, but drastically reduces the hassle of at-home EV charging. The speed of an at-home type 2 charging station will depend on which charger you get installed and your local power grid, among other factors, but you can still expect the same charge time as a public type 2 charging station.
Type 3 chargers, also known as DC fast charging or DCFC chargers, will get you the quickest juice-up of any charging station out there. They use DC (direct current) energy, and require special plugs to connect that are different from the J1772 standard. There are three types of connector plugs that work with type 3 charging stations as of this writing:
A type 3 charging station can get an EV’s battery to around the 80 percent mark in roughly half an hour. While still quite a bit longer than a typical gas fill-up, these chargers are the best option available for longer trips where you may need to charge the battery quickly, like cross-country drives. Their power output is typically between 20 and 50kW, delivering the equivalent of 3-20 miles per minute of charging time. You’ll find type 3 charging stations along major highways at places like restaurants and conventional gas stations, as that’s where they get the most use. They are also becoming more available in public garages and workplace parking lots.
While these chargers are the fastest, they also carry the highest per-minute charge of any of the three types of EV charging stations. Charging up with one of these will usually run you about the same price as a tank of gas.
Unless you have a lot of money lying around, you probably won’t be able to install a type 3 charger at home, as they can cost thousands to put in. However, a level 2 home charger is more than enough for almost any EV driver.
Which type of charging station you use depends on your vehicle and needs. You’ll need to consider proximity, the amount of driving you do, and how much time you have to charge. Whichever one you pick, keep in mind that it will take a while. You’re better off plugging in before you go sit down to eat at a restaurant or at the beginning of a workday, for example, since you can let the vehicle sit for the time it needs to power up.
All three charging station types can be viable. If you own a plug-in hybrid that has a small battery pack, type 1 charging could be all you need. For all-electric vehicles, type 2 and 3 will be what you use most of if not all the time. For the typical EV owner, including Tesla drivers, level 2 charging stations will be the most plentiful and convenient to use, especially if you can get a level 2 home station installed. Level 3 stations are good for quick top-ups and to recharge on long trips, as they provide the fastest rate.
RELATED: How to Find EV Charging Stations in Google Maps
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