How to Charge a Tesla – The Complete Guide

Tesla Model 3 Charging
Tesla Model 3 Charging

Tesla has one of the most robust charging capabilities of any electric vehicle, making it easy to charge at home or on the road by utilizing its massive Tesla Supercharger network or any other public EV charging station across the US, Canada and Europe.  

Many new or prospective buyers want to know how to charge a Tesla, so we created this tutorial to walk through all the aspects of charging a Tesla, whether a Model 3, Model S or X. 

Tesla Charging Basics

The Tesla Charging Port

All electric cars, including Tesla vehicles, have a charge port (or two, in some cases).  These charge ports have a special EV charging connector that connect compatible charging cables.  There are four major charge port connectors in the US, with Tesla being one of them, and one of the most popular, especially as they continue to outsell other electric vehicles.

The charge port on Teslas is located on the left rear of the vehicle near the taillight assembly is and integrated in such a way that the charge port door is hidden and neatly integrated into the design.

Tesla Model 3 Charging Port
Tesla Model 3 Charging Port

Opening the Charge Port

To open the charge port door on a Tesla, you simply bring the charging cable near the door, press the button on the cable and the door opens. Make sure you have the key with you, however, otherwise it won’t work. You can also open the charge port via the screen in the car or using the Tesla app.

Open Charge Port on Tesla by Pressing Cable Button
Open Charge Port on Tesla by Pressing Cable Button

Charging

Once you plug in the cable, your Tesla will begin charging. 

The color near the charge port will turn blue indicating the charge is starting and then green once the charge has begun and everything is working correctly.  A fast green pulse means it’s charging quickly and a slow green pulse means it’s charging slowly. If it turns orange or red, that means there’s a problem. Try plugging back in again, or using a different charger or stall (if available).

Tesla Charging - Green Light
Tesla Model S and X Charging – Green Light

Charge Port Locking

Once the charge starts and you leave the vehicle, the charge port locks automatically so others can’t remove the charger.  You can remotely unlock the charge port from your app, if needed. It will unlock again once you approach with your key. 

Monitoring The Charge

You can monitor your charge, charge rate and the battery charge state using the screen in the car (by pressing the lightning bolt on the screen) or via the Tesla smartphone app, which is handy if you’re off shopping or dining and want to know how much time is left.  

Charging Status in Tesla App
Charging Status in Tesla App

Finishing Your Charge

Once your charge is completed, return to your vehicle, press the button on the charging cable, wait for the ring around the charging port to turn light blue, then remove the cable and replace it on the charger.

Note that many Supercharging stations will charge owners an idle fee if the vehicle is left in the charging stall after a full charge.  This is to ensure others have a chance to access the chargers and owners aren’t leaving their vehicles sitting in charging stalls after the charge is complete.

Where to Charge a Tesla

You can charge a Tesla almost anywhere there is power, even a 110V outlet (although very slowly) since Tesla includes adapters for standard power outlets (some included, some extra). 

Example Tesla North America Power Adapters
Example Tesla North America Power Adapters

That said, most people install high speed charging adapters at home, or if they live in an apartment, either use included Mobile Adapter (see below) or visit a nearby Tesla Supercharger to fill up quickly. 

On the road, you can utilize the robust Tesla Supercharger network, one of the largest in the world and other public charging stations.  We’ll get into more of that in a bit.

When to Charge a Tesla

It’s best to charge a Tesla before the battery level becomes too low which could damage the battery over time, just like the battery in your cell phone, for example.  Ideally, charge your battery when it gets to around 15 to 20 percent and stop charging at around 85 to 90 percent. It’s OK to go lower or higher occasionally, but it should be the exception to ensure the longest life possible for your Tesla battery pack.

Tesla Battery Ideal State of Charge
Tesla Battery Ideal State of Charge

When charging, you can set your Tesla to stop charging at a designated level, allowing you to simply plug in when you come home and not worry about overcharging. Tesla also has a recommended maximum charge for daily charging, set by default.

Additionally, you can set your Tesla to charge at certain hours to avoid peak electricity rates and take advantage of lower rates at night or if you have an EV rate plan, for example, that certain states like California offer.

How to Charge a Tesla at Home

Install a Wall Connector

For home charging, most people install a Tesla Wall Connector that includes the Tesla connector cable and taps directly to your home’s 240V electrical circuit so you can enjoy relatively high-speed charging overnight.  

Tesla Home Wall Connector
Tesla Home Wall Connector

When charging at home, it usually takes a few hours to overnight to fully charge a battery, depending on how many amps are powering your Wall Connector (see How Long Does it Take to Charge a Tesla). Most people connect the Wall Charger to a 60 amp circuit, which provides 11.5 kW of charging power and will provide 30 to 44 miles of Range Per Hour (RPH) for a Model X and Model 3, respectively. 

Use the Mobile Connector at Home

Alternatively, if you don’t want to install a Wall Connector, you can use the Mobile Connector that comes with new Tesla vehicles (and that you can buy online).  

Tesla Mobile Connector
Tesla Mobile Connector

This allows you to connect your Tesla to any standard North America power outlet, such as a standard 110V power outlet (NEMA 5-15).  Note however, that charging from a standard 110V outlet is extremely slow and only provides a few miles of charge per hour, typically.  Tesla also includes a NEMA 14-50 adapter that allows you to plug into a 240V socket like those that are used for clothes dryers, for example.  They provide a higher rate of charge to so you can fill up faster.

Note that Tesla sells a wide variety of chargers and adapters via the Tesla Store online.

Cost to Charge a Tesla at Home

The cost to charge a Tesla at home is usually fairly economical, more so than on the road or than of an equivalent gas vehicle.  For example, the average cost of electricity in the United States is around $0.13 per kWh. So, hypothetically, charging a Model 3 Standard Range Plus with a 75 kWh battery from 0% to 100% would cost $9.75.  See How Much Does it Cost to Charge a Tesla for more.

Charging at a Tesla Supercharger Station

Tesla provides its owners with ample fast charging options while charging on the road.  In addition to the ability to charge at a growing number of public charging stations (more on that below), Tesla owners can also charge quickly and cost-effectively at one of the many convenient Tesla Supercharging stations placed strategically throughout the country on popular routes. 

These high-speed chargers are also sometimes called “DC Fast” chargers or “Level 3” in the EV parlance, but for Tesla owners, they are simply called Superchargers.

Tesla Supercharging Network - North America
Tesla Supercharger Network

Superchargers allow Tesla owners to simply pull up and plug in to start charging, unlike most other public chargers. Any costs incurred are billed directly to the owner’s account. 

There’s no need to log in when arriving at the station, the station recognizes the car and the account automatically. Founder Elon Musk wanted to ensure charging is easy and simple for Tesla owners and a better experience than going to a gas station.

Tesla V2 Supercharger
Tesla V2 Supercharger

Each Supercharging station has multiple stalls, often between 8 and 12, so multiple vehicles can charge at once. There are different types of Superchargers, each with unique characteristics, which we’ll explain below.

Finding Superchargers

Finding Superchargers with a Tesla is simple.  Tesla drivers simply click the charging icon on the map.

Tesla Supercharger In-Car Map
Tesla Supercharger In-Car Map

The map will then show nearby chargers, the speed, availability, number of stalls and costs for each charger. You can click on any charger for more information and to navigate directly to it.

The Tesla App also shows nearby charging stations and how many stalls are used.

Tesla App - Nearby Superchargers
Tesla App – Nearby Superchargers

Charging During Trips

For road trips, the built-in Tesla navigation system will automatically calculate the vehicle’s state of charge along the trip and route you to Superchargers along the way to ensure you always have enough charge.

Tesla Trip Navigation with Charging Stops
Tesla Trip Navigation with Charging Stops

Cost to Charge at a Tesla Charging Station

Most Supercharger stations charge on a per-kWh basis (i.e. amount of electricity used) and currently charge $0.28 per kWh.  This is roughly twice the average US home electricity rate so filling up a Model 3 Standard Range Plus with a 75 kWh battery would cost $21.  Some Superchargers charge by time instead of kWh (which is less ideal since many factors can influence charge rate), but luckily they are in the minority. See How Much Does it Cost to Charge a Tesla for more.

Many owners also take advantage of free Supercharging by using a Tesla referral code when purchasing their new vehicle (depending on the offer at the time), allowing them to save a bit of money upfront.

How Long to Charge at a Tesla Charging Station

The charging time at a Tesla Supercharger depends on the station type. In general, they are all fairly quick, allowing you to fill up under an hour in most cases, however, some are faster than others.  We’ll explain the differences below. Also see How Long Does it Take to Charge a Tesla for more.

Types of Tesla Supercharger Charging Stations

There are three types of Tesla Superchargers:

  • Tesla Urban Superchargers
  • Tesla V2 Superchargers
  • Tesla V3 Superchargers

Tesla Urban Superchargers

Tesla Urban Superchargers are meant to provide a quick charge solution in urban environments where Tesla owners, many of whom may live in apartments, don’t have access to charging at home or at work. 

Tesla Urban Charger
Tesla Urban Charger

They can also serve drivers on road trips who need to top-off along their route. Urban chargers provide the lowest rate of charge for Superchargers at 72 kW, but don’t split the charge with other stalls, so they provide a consistent rate of charge (unlike V2 Superchargers below).

Typically you’ll fill up your Tesla here in about 45 minutes to an hour.

Tesla V2 Superchargers

Tesla V2 Superchargers are the original Superchargers first deployed by Tesla at a large scale and are strategically placed along popular routes across the country to allow owners to drive from coast-to-coast and most urban centers.

Tesla V2 Supercharger
Tesla V2 Superchargers

These chargers can provide charging speeds up to 150 kW, but split the charge between stall pairs (for example stalls labeled 2A and 2B will split the charge between cars in those stalls, effectively cutting the charge power in half).  

Tesla V2 Charging Stall Pairs
V2 Superchargers – Charge split between 3A and 3B here.

Therefore, may Tesla owners will try to park in an open stall that has the other pair also open, to avoid splitting the charge.

Typically, you’ll fill up your Tesla here in about 30 minutes to an hour or more (depending on how busy the station is).

Tesla V3 Superchargers

Tesla V3 Superchargers are the latest and greatest chargers deployed by Tesla in 2019 and rolling out in earnest in 2020.  These provide the highest power rate, up to 250 kW, and best of all, don’t split the charge between stalls as the V2 Superchargers do.  The only way to identify V3 Superchargers is via the built-in vehicle map or by visiting Tesla/findus. They look exactly the same as V2 Supercharger, except have thinner, water-cooled cables.

V3 Supercharger cable vs V2 cable
V3 Supercharger cable vs V2 cable

Typically you’ll fill up your Tesla here in under an hour.

Speed of Charging Depends on Your Tesla

One thing to note is that the charging time depends on your Tesla.  A new Tesla Model 3 will charge faster than older Tesla Model S or Tesla Model X vehicles, even if the charger can provide a higher rate.  See How Long Does it Take to Charge a Tesla for more.

Tesla Supercharger Station Etiquette

Certain Supercharger locations are very popular and may often have wait lines to charge. For new owners, it can be confusing to understand how and where to queue up in line if all the stalls are full. 

Sometimes there’s a sign that Tesla Provides showing where to queue up.

Tesla Supercharger Queue Line with Sign
Tesla Supercharger Line with Sign

Other times you’ll have to survey the parking area and find a place to line up that is out of the way of traffic. 

Tesla Supercharger Line Queue
Tesla Supercharger Line

In addition, popular Tesla Supercharger locations may automatically limit the maximum charge to 80% since charging becomes slower as the battery becomes fuller (see Tapered Charging).  By limiting the charge to 80%, your vehicle fills up quickly and doesn’t clog up a charging stall just to fill up the small remaining amount, which could take a while. You can always override this setting, but it’s nice to be courteous, especially if others are waiting.

As mentioned earlier, once your charge is complete, you may also be charged an idle fee if you don’t vacate the charging stall in a timely manner so others can charge their vehicle.

Tesla Destination Chargers

Tesla also provides a version of the home Wall Connector mentioned above to businesses to help them attract Tesla owners so they spend time at their place of business, often hotels or wineries, for example.  

Tesla Destination Charger
Tesla Destination Charger

These destination chargers look exactly like the home Wall Connectors but are placed outside, often in parking lots so Tesla owners can charge while visiting the business.  They are typically free to use for customers of the business.

Since they are connected to the power line from the business (usually 240V at 80 amps or more), they charge relatively slowly, usually providing 8 or 16 kW of power.  But still, these can be great time savers, when staying at a hotel, for example, since you can often charge up in several hours.

Charging a Tesla at Public EV Charging Stations

In the times where you can’t charge at a Tesla Supercharger or Destination Charger, you can utilize one of the growing number of public EV charging stations. While it’s great that more public EV charging stations are becoming available, they aren’t as quick and easy to use as Tesla chargers.

Different Plug Types

For one thing, there are three different plug types for Public EV chargers (four total if you count Tesla … which isn’t really public) in North America.

North America EV Charging Port Examples
North America EV Charging Port Examples

That means you have to use an adapter to connect them to your Tesla.  Tesla provides the J1772 charging adapter, however, it’s unfortunately the slowest of all the plug types (similar to Tesla Destination chargers in speed). 

Tesla also offers an optional CHAdeMO adapter for purchase so you can utilize stations with that plug type. There’s currently no CCS adapter for Tesla vehicles, but most stations with CCS adapters also have CHAdeMO plugs so it’s usually not an issue.

Level 1 vs. Level 2 vs. Level 3 EV Charging

You may hear the terms “Level 1”, “Level 2”, and “Level 3” charging. Here’s a brief overview of what they mean.

  • Level 1 Chargers – This is simply charging at home on a regular AC 110V outlet. This very slow and you may get something like 2 to 5 miles of Range Per Hour (RPH).
  • Level 2 Chargers – These are higher voltage 240V AC based chargers. They’re still fairly slow and can typically deliver around 25 miles of RPH. ChargePoint has many Level 2 charging stations.
  • Level 3 Chargers – Level 3 chargers are “DC Fast” chargers (like Tesla’s Superchargers) that tap directly into the vehicle’s battery system and can deliver anywhere from 100 to 1000 miles of RPH.

Charging Speeds and Costs Vary Widely at Public Chargers

The other challenge with Public EV charging stations is that costs, payment methods and charging speeds vary widely.  The best thing to do is plan ahead for any trip that may take you out of the way of Tesla charging stations.

Major Public EV Charging Networks

The largest public EV charging networks in North America include:

  • ChargePoint – thousands of primarily Level 2, J1772 chargers (some DC Fast)
  • EVgo – 750 sites, 1,250 chargers (DC Fast)
  • Electrify America – 385 stations, 1,300 chargers (DC Fast)
Chargepoint Public Charging Station
Chargepoint Public Charging Station

ChargePoint is one of the older networks, but most widespread. They have primarily slower Level 2 chargers. Electrify America is owned by the VW Group and is expanding quickly. There are more networks, which you can find with one of the apps below, as needed.

Finding Public EV Charging Stations

There are many apps that can help you find a public charger including Plugshare and Chargepoint. Both will not only locate a charger, but also provide information on the charge rate, cost, plug type and number of stalls. That can be handy when wanting to find a fast charger, with a rate of over 50 kW, for example.

Cost and Paying for Charging at Public Stations

Public charging stations all unfortunately have different payment methods. Luckily many of these companies have entered into roaming agreements with one another. So if you get a Chargepoint account, for example, you can roam on EVgo and Electrify America networks. There are also different options to pay (e.g. pay-as-you-go, subscriptions, etc.). Check the Chargepoint site for for information, if you’re interested.

Plan Ahead for Public EV Charging Stations

The bottom line for public EV charging stations is to plan ahead.  Make sure you have the adapters you need, the apps downloaded on your phone and an account set up (e.g. with Chargepoint, for example). 

Wrapping Up

Charging a Tesla is getting easier and more convenient all the time as Tesla continues to build out its Supercharger network. When Tesla first came to the market almost a decade ago, it was certainly more challenging to charge on the road, but today options are plentiful and Tesla owners enjoy a variety of charging options, make road trips fun and exciting. No other electric car has access to as many charging options as a Tesla!

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