Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

Charging station etiquette - effectively sharing limited resources

Currently charging stations are a limited resource. There aren't enough charging stations, in most areas, to support the electric cars currently in use. There are a few areas with an abundance of charging stations, one being the Netherlands, but largely speaking today there aren't enough public charging stations, and the lack of charging stations means competition for access.

Many news articles have been written about how this competition sometimes results in actual fights. Electric vehicle owners are all in the same boat, trying to make best use of this new type of car, while working around the inadequate infrastructure. We shouldn't be fighting one another, but instead working together on solving the problems.

We can avoid the fight by following some common sense principles:

  • Charging stations are only to be used for charging a plug-in electric car
  • These scenarios are not to be allowed:
    • Non-plugin car parked in front of a charging station
    • Plug-in (PHEV or BEV) parked in front of a charging station, but not plugged in
  • A plug-in car that’s become fully charged should move away as quickly as possible
  • Driving a plug-in car doesn’t give us free reign to violate other laws in order to charge our car
  • Offer education to those who don’t understand, rather than abusive anger

Here's a few problems we're facing:

  • ICE'd Charging Stations: Gasoline car owners sometimes park their car in front of the station, blocking access to charging stations. Sometimes this is done from ignorance, not understanding what a charging station is much less why charging station access is so critical. Other times it is purposeful, by people with a political beef against electric cars. Either way, a blocked station is one that cannot serve electric car drivers.
    • "ICE", in this case, means "Internal Combustion Engine"
    • Electric car owners sometimes do so as well, generally from a mistaken sense of entitlement. As laudable as electric car ownership is, we aren't free to commit other problems.
  • Hogging the Charging Station: Sometimes an EV owner leaves their car plugged in long after the car is fully charged. This blocks access to the station just as completely as if it were a gasoline car.
  • Too many cars for available stations: Sometimes so many people want to use a cluster of charging stations, that some have to wait. Not everyone likes to wait, do they?

Understandably, there's plenty of room for anger. The phrase "charger rage" comes to mind, and has been used in the press. Anger might lead you to do things that aren't entirely wise. I've seen recommendations (in online discussion) to "key" the offending car, to let air out of their tires, to block in the other car, to make revengeful visits to gasoline stations and block gas pumps, etc. Doing any of these things may feel satisfying for a few minutes, but in the long term don't solve anything. Instead these things compound the problem by escalating the level of conflict.

If there's an empty handicapped parking spot next to a blocked charging station, do you park there and stretch the cable over? That's not recommended because you'll then have committed a crime. The handicapped person needs that parking spot just as badly as the electric car owner needs the charging station. The difference is the longer history over which the needs of handicapped people became a big enough political issue to pass laws to govern use of those spots and penalties for misuse.

The cure, until there's enough charging stations, is to learn to share. Electric car owners need to understand cooperative access to shared resources. Gasoline car owners need to grasp the significance of charging stations and why access is so vital.

Points of Etiquette

Safety first: Be careful with how you run the charging cord, taking care to run the cord in a way to avoid a tripping hazard. It's unfortunate that few charging station makers use retractable cords, and instead we are left with a tangled mess of cords at charging stations.

Non-plugin cars do not belong in electric car charging spaces: A non-plug-in car parked in an electric car charging spot is said to have ICE’d the parking spot (ICE: Internal Combustion Engine). These cars are unable to use the charging station, and block electric car owners from using the station.

Hybrid cars are not electric cars: Hybrid cars clearly cannot use charging stations, but are often seen blocking station access anyway. Their owners might be carried away with the pride of owning a hybrid car, and have developed the idea that the phrase “electric cars” includes hybrid cars. While hybrid car ownership is laudable, a hybrid car parked in an electric car charging space blocks electric car owners from using that space. The plug-in hybrid cars (the Chevy Volt and Prius Plug-In) can use charging stations, but normal hybrid cars cannot.

Plug-in Hybrid car owners have a right to use charging stations: Any car that can be plugged in is an electric car, and is a step in the desired direction. There’s an ongoing argument among electric/PHEV owners over whether PHEV’s “count” as electric cars. And some would even deny PHEV owners access to charging stations. However, by choosing a car that can be plugged in PHEV owners choose to avoid gasoline for some of their miles. The greater good is served by encouraging PHEV owners to drive as many electric miles as possible.

There is a question of priority. Given two cars, a BEV and a PHEV, both needing to charge which should be given access to the charging station? There’s no clear answer to that question.

Electric cars should be parked in an EV charging spot only while charging: An electric car owner may think electric car parking is some kind of privilege for electric car owners, but that's incorrect. In reality charging stations are a convenience for those who need to recharge their car. Owning an electric car does not give a right to park in an electric car charging spot. Instead it is the use of a charging station that gives that right. As soon as the charging session ends your right to park there ceases.

When your electric car is done charging, move it so other electric cars can use the charging station: Leaving an electric car plugged in long after its finished charging is called Squatting. To reiterate, just driving an electric car doesn't grant the right to park in front of charging stations. Instead it's the use of the station which gives that right.

Charging stations are just like the concrete pads in front of gas pumps. They are spaces that should be occupied only while the vehicle is being refueled. Since charging stations are a scarce resource we must share them effectively. That means moving your car out of the way once it's fully charged.

Airports and other ultra-long-term parking is the exception: The current electric car charging model doesn't work well at airports. You'll be gone for at least a couple days, but the charging time is less than four hours. By the time your charging session is finished, you'll be hundreds of miles away, probably cruising at 35,000 feet altitude, and unable to return to your car to move it. Airport long term parking should either have lots of low power charging capability, or lots of fast charging, rather than 6 kiloWatt charging. The individual persons etiquette lesson is to recognize the suboptimality of charging stations in long term parking areas, and that there's no clear best practice for this case. It's the owner of that long term parking facility that must think up the best EV charging solution for their customers.

Leave the charging flap open to indicate you need a charge: It sometimes happens you arrive at a station, all the charging cords are occupied, and you need to go somewhere nearby. There might be an open parking space next to the charging stations. Park in that space, and leave the charging flap open indicating you need a charge. This is supposed to be a signal others will recognize.

If you feel the open charging flap is too subtle a signal, leave a note for the other drivers.

Clear signage and labeling at charging stations: What will educate everyone is if charging stations have clear signage, and painted information on the pavement and walls. The idea is to use color and signs to delineate the area around a charging station. Over time everyone will grow accustomed to their presence and understand charging stations' significance.

Place a notice placard in your electric car window: As a courtesy to other electric car owners, leaving a note in your car window giving your phone number can let them get ahold of you if there are concerns or problems.

Look at indicator lights to see if a car is still charging before unplugging it: Many electric cars have indicator lights showing how fully recharged the car is. Unfortunately there's no standard about these lights, and not all cars have them in the first place. In any case, the idea is to, before unplugging a car that’s charging, to have an idea if the car is fully recharged yet. It's okay to unplug a fully charged car. The difficulty is determining if the car is indeed fully charged.

Placing notes on cars who ICE an electric car charging space: Electric car owners sometimes get irate when a charging station is ICED. We sometimes wish to turn into the Incredible Hulk and start smashing things. An angry note left on a car might give a momentary rush of power, but will that nastygram help with relationships between gasoline and electric car owners? No.


What do you do if you’ve found a car violating the etiquette guidelines? Why, leave them a nice note with charging station etiquette education, that’s what. (www.zazzle.com) This notice is available as a pack of Post-it notes through Zazzle. Carry one in your glovebox, and you’ll always be able to dash off a quick note to anyone who needs it.
What do you do if all the charging stations are full, you need to charge, but cannot stick around? You leave a note for other drivers to give assistance. This notepad lets you describe your car and to give your phone number. (www.zazzle.com) It’s available from Zazzle as a pack of Post-it notes.


"Take Charge and Go" has designed charging cord hangers, and a set of stickers and notes, useful for communicating charging requests and etiquette to others. See (www.takechargeandgo.com) http://www.takechargeandgo.com/2015/02/14/hangers/

(evrules.com) EVRules.com - A whole website dedicated to charging station etiquette

Plug In America has developed an "EV Card" to help communicate your needs to other drivers - (www.pluginamerica.org) http://www.pluginamerica.org/evcard

The EV Charger News placard is another take on a card with which to communicate with other drivers: (www.evchargernews.com) http://www.evchargernews.com/chargeprotocolcard.pdf

Discussion groups about EV Charging etiquette

Etiquette posts from around the web

Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

Charging station etiquette - effectively sharing limited resources

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