As the electric car transition starts a gradual and belated ramp up in Australia, conversations around the dinner table abound and questions are many. One example came from a family member this week who was under the (only partly true) impression that Tesla electric cars can charge for free.
It’s a simple assumption, but the reality is a little complex: Yes, once upon a time, Tesla EVs did get free charging – and still do, sometimes, and in some places. And yes, at some EV chargers, other electric cars can also charge for free – but you have to know which ones.
If that sounds vague and confusing to you, you’re not alone! Therefore the topic is deserving of a more detailed explanation; if we’ve missed anything please shout out and let us know.
In a bid to attract early adopters to buy cars from the fledgling company, Tesla gave customers lifetime free charging at its network of Superchargers. It even introduced a short-lived scheme to encourage viral purchasing by allowing Tesla owners to grant free Supercharging to a friend in 2018.
Until 2017, the perk was tied to the Tesla owner’s account rather than the car so it could be transferred. When the Model 3 was introduced customers received non-transferrable free Supercharging, however as the company grew and worked towards maintaining profitable quarters, the company cut the perk in May 2020.
Along with the above mentioned free lifetime Supercharging perk, it also once offered free 1,500km Supercharging for every purchase that was made via another owner’s referral link. It’s a strategy that many would argue has been highly successful, given the EV maker is the top-ranking seller in many countries including Australia.
However, this scheme was also ditched in September 2021, with the EV maker stating that “we are not offering Referral awards until further notice.”
Tesla owners can also charge for free at certain destinations, such as hotels and motels that have installed a Tesla destination charger and have indicated it is for free.
Usually this service is free as long as you are a patron of the establishment, but some locations will be happy to allow you to use the charger if you are not a customer but offer to pay for the electricity. Note, it’s extremely bad form to not check and offer to pay if you aren’t a customer.
Both the Plugshare smartphone app and website are good resources for finding these locations and checking on their status. Some are also unlocked for other electric vehicles; again, just check with site management.
There are also a number of free-to-use public charging networks such as those installed by road motorist associations such as the NRMA in NSW and RACV in Victoria, or by city and shire councils. The large, DC fast chargers that can top you EV up in less than an hour (sometime as quickly as 15 minutes!) have both CCS2 and CHAdeMo plugs, so all EVs can charge there.
Smaller AC “slow” chargers (that take a few hours) generally have only CCS2 plugs so might require an adaptor for Nissan Leafs and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs, but they will work for all other EVs.
Some operators of these free networks may implement fees for use in the future, so again it’s always good to check with Plugshare. And check in! It helps other EVs know when you’ll be done and reduces range anxiety stress.
Some other makers of electric cars have cut deals with certain charging networks to give new owners free charging for up to the first six years of ownership. For example, the Jaguar I-Pace gets five years free at Chargefox DC fast-chargers, and the Audi e=tron gets six years free charging at the same network.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.
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