How Long Does it Take (and How Much Does it Cost) to Charge a Tesla?

Watch this EV charge. Or maybe read this post while you wait?

On Saturday, Jonathon Klein of The Drive published an article purporting to tell readers “all you need to know about charging a Tesla.” Except that it doesn’t. Klein includes unnecessary details and gives estimated charge times with ranges so wide they’re nearly useless. From my experience talking with folks considering making the switch to electric, concerns about charging have to be addressed in simpler terms.

I present here my answers to the titular questions from the piece in The Driven, because I know I’ll have more friends (Hello, friends!) asking me about charging. For comparison purposes, I have a rear-wheel-drive Model 3 Long Range named Sparky, who is EPA rated at 322 miles to the full charge, which for my car is 75 kWh. For everyday use, I charge to around 85%, which gives me 278 miles of range when I leave my house each morning.

This post was originally published in late 2020, when I lived in Tampa, Florida. As of mid-2022, I’ve added updates throughout to reflect current rates thanks to global inflation and my new home near Newark, New Jersey.

Oh, and if this article helps you decide to switch to an EV, please use my referral code, and you’ll get 1,000 miles of Supercharging for free.

The Normal Setup—Charging from Home

Most people getting an electric vehicle should hire an electrician to install an outlet on the side of their homes. The standard outlet is exactly the same as what large RVs use. (It’s called NEMA 14-50, if you need the specifics.) I had a friend install mine. The materials cost something like $50, and it took around an hour, all told, to set everything up.

Most apartment complexes haven’t started installing EV outlets yet, so folks renting their living quarters usually need to use other options I discuss below.

With an outdoor, RV-style outlet installed, you can plug in when you get home and charge overnight. This is the most common, the most convenient, and the most affordable charging option.

How long does it take to charge?

Empty to full, about 8 hours. Conveniently, you also take about 8 hours to recharge yourself empty to full. You’ll rarely notice the time.

But keep in mind—you probably don’t empty your gas tank every day, so you won’t need to charge empty to full every day. In practice, most folks need maybe 2–3 hours of charging overnight. If you live in a place where electricity cost fluctuate throughout the day, you can schedule charging to automatically start when it’s least expensive.

How much does it cost?

Empty to full, it was about $6 for me in Tampa in 2020; it’s about $9 in 2022. Obviously, this depends on electricity rates. Grab a recent power bill and look how much you’re charged per kWh. Multiply that number by 75 for a full charge, and that’s what I would pay to completely fill my battery at home. Different cars have different battery capacities, just like gas-powered cars have different fuel-tank sizes.

You really should keep your battery only around 80–90% charged on a daily basis. Going above that leads to premature battery wear, so it’s best to do only before a long road trip. More on that below. But most nightly charges (remember, 2–3 hours, right?) only replenish that day’s use and probably run around $3 a night.

Road Trips—Supercharging

When going on a long trip, waiting 8 hours for a charge would be a deal-breaker. That’s why there are fast chargers set up all across the country, designed to help get you where you need to go. Think of these like EV gas stations. For Teslas, they’re called “Superchargers”; options exist from other companies for other EVs. Called “Level 3” chargers, they basically shove as much energy into your battery as it can handle, as quickly as it can manage.

One thing to note: Teslas are really, really smart. The cars know where the chargers are. They know how powerful each charger is, how many stalls it has, and how many stalls are in use. When going on a road trip, you tell the car where you want to go; the car will figure out how to get you there. And the route planner has uncanny accuracy. I’ve taken several trips of 11 or more hours, and its prediction has been within 10 minutes over that entire duration.

Another thing to know is, well, Teslas are really, really smart. When you arrive at a Supercharger, there’s no need to insert a credit card, type in your ZIP code, or anything like that. You back in, get out of your car, grab the charging cable, press the button on the cable to open the charging flap on your car, then connect the cable. That’s it. The car connects to your Tesla account, which has a credit card on file. When you’re through charging, you press the same button on the cable to release it, and you put it back in the holder on the charger. Meanwhile, your car closes its charging cover. That’s it. You drive off. It’s irrationally simple, compared with the tedious process of negotiating with a gas pump.

How long does it take to charge?

Typically, around 30 minutes. Some stops might be as short as 15 or as long as an hour, but the vast majority hover right around 20–30. That’s enough time to get the battery from 20% full up to 80% full. Occasionally, you’ll have a long stretch ahead and need to go above that, but it’s rare. To see examples, Tesla offers a trip planner that shows the charge stops you can expect. Anyway, these stops are just long enough to walk to a place and grab a coffee or snack before getting back in the car to continue the trip.

How much does it cost?

To go 20–80% full, usually about $20 in 2022. Different chargers have different rates, due to local regulations and the rollout of peak-rate pricing. In Florida as of early 2022, each charger has a flat rate per kWh, usually around 30¢ (I’ve seen as low as 27¢ and as high as 35¢). In New Jersey as of late 2022, standard pricing hovers around 44¢, but demand-based pricing at many chargers means they’re 54¢ from noon to 9p but only 28¢ outside those hours. In some states (like Georgia), Tesla can’t sell electricity. But they can sell time at their stations. So in those places, you pay by the minute. They’re roughly equivalent to the per-kWh rates in other places. The in-car display shows the rates, and even the current availability, of each charger.

At Dinner—Destination Charging

Some restaurants and many chain hotels have started putting chargers at the curb to encourage EV drivers to stop by and stay longer. The speed, brand, and availability vary widely, but these are handy options for overnighting during a road trip or to get “free gas” while dining out.

For example, my nearest shopping mall in Tampa (International Plaza) had a set of about six slow chargers in an out-of-the-way section of the parking lot. It’s a great way to top up for free, but it’s no faster than my charger at home, so I typically get only about 45 miles of range while eating dinner. It’s honestly easier to park more conveniently and charge at home.

In New Jersey, my local supermarket has two free EV chargers, and the Journal Square PATH station has four—all are free. I often get about 20 miles of range if I take my time with a big grocery run; when I take the PATH to NYC for an evening, I come back to a full charge.

One weekend in 2020, I took a road trip from Tampa to Key West. The Bed and Breakfast where I stayed had a Tesla charger in its parking lot. I arrived with only 11 miles left on my battery, and I was back to 90% full in about 5 hours—it was faster than my home charger. And it was free.

During the summer of 2020, I drove to Chicago and back. Twice. With my cat. Yeah, I’m crazy. But each way, I stopped in Chattanooga at an RV campsite. Remember, at home I have the same outlet that an RV uses. So I just bring my home charging cable with me, and I plugged my car into the RV outlet and recharged overnight. (I also folded down the back seats, stretched my legs into the trunk, wrapped up in a blanket, and kept the a/c on overnight. It’s called “camp mode,” and it’s super convenient.) Paying for an RV spot overnight was a lot cheaper than a hotel, included a full charge, and avoided the hassle of introducing my cat to a hotel room.

But I digress.

How long does it take to charge?

It varies widely, but destination chargers like these take probably between 8 and 12 hours, empty to full. Most folks don’t use these chargers for anything more than short top-ups, so it’s not worth getting into more detail. Basically, you can expect around 20–30 miles of range while you eat dinner or a full charge overnight at your hotel.

How much does it cost?

Usually free, but not always. Some of these chargers are part of another network, and the rates range from the nonexistent to the astronomical. A few examples near me:

  • My local mall in Tampa: Free
  • Public chargers in nearby St. Pete: Free
  • My local grocery store and train-station parking garage in NJ: Free
  • Chargers at Disney theme parks: 35¢/kWh [in 2020] and crazy slow
  • An outlet mall in Orlando: $1.50/hr [in 2020] and slow

Again, not worth getting into here, but I use ChargePoint to find locations and check rates before plugging in. And if you think there aren’t any chargers anywhere, here’s what Tampa Bay looked like in 2020; no doubt with more added since then:

Charging locations in Tampa Bay as of 28 Sep 2020. Yes, that one area really says 76 chargers.

What You Really Need to Know

If you’re thinking about getting an EV, and you worry about how you’ll charge, don’t. For those who can install an RV-style electrical outlet at home, your car will charge while you sleep. It’ll probably cost a couple dollars a day. And if you can’t charge at home, Superchargers are quick and about $20 for a “full tank.” Cheaper, slower options exist, too. Keep an eye out, and you’ll probably have a convenient option nearby.