GreenCars 101

Understanding Different EV Charging Connectors

Chad Yee
Apr 2024
It can sometimes feel like EV charging is more complex than refueling a gas-powered vehicle. Not only are there different charging levels, but there are different types of connector, as well. This guide will help you become more familiar with charging plugs. And with standardization in North America underway, it will be easier than ever to charge your electric car.
electric vehicle charging station

What are the Different Kinds of EV Chargers?

When it comes to electric vehicle (EV) charging, there are many factors to consider. Compared to refueling a gas-powered vehicle at a gas station and selecting different gasoline grades, charging an EV involves:

  • Three different levels of charging
  • Convenience of charging at home
  • Public charging with different charging levels
  • Four different charging connectors

Understanding the different charging connectors can be a bit confusing if you’re new to EVs. Which connector do you use? What’s the difference between the connectors? Which connector should you look for when buying an EV?

In North America, EV charging is beginning to move towards a standardized plug connector. Here’s a guide to the different connectors that you’ll come across when charging your EV today and in the near future.

Charging Levels: A Primer

Let’s first talk about the three different levels of charging.

Level 1 and 2 EV charging are often the most convenient and readily accessible, especially if you have the ability to charge at home. Level 1 uses a standard 120V AC outlet commonly used around your home and takes the most time to charge your EV. Level 2 charging uses a 240V AC outlet or circuit, similar to what is used for an electric stove or dryer. There are only two types of connectors for Level 1 and Level 2 charging:

  • J1772 connector
  • Tesla connector (also known as NACS or J3400)

Level 3 (also referred to as DC Fast Charging) is the quickest charging option that is only available through public charging networks. Level 2 charging can typically recharge an empty battery overnight, whereas Level 3 charging usually can take about an hour or less to charge up to 80%, depending on the vehicle and charger. Level 3 chargers are more often used for longer road trips or when you need to charge your EV quickly. You’ll find three different Level 3 connectors:

  • CHAdeMo connector
  • CCS connector
  • Tesla connector (also known as NACS or J3400)

EV Charging Capabilities

It’s important to note that not all electrified vehicles support all three levels of charging. Conventional hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) do not require external charging, since their small batteries are sufficiently charged by the onboard gas engine. All plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) can be charged through Level 1 and 2 charging. However, only a couple of plug-in hybrids offer Level 3 charging in North America – the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Range Rover PHEV. All battery-electric vehicles (BEV) can be charged using all three levels of charging.

CHAdeMo Plug

The CHAdeMo connector, which stands for “CHArge de Move” (charge for moving), was the first Level 3 connector developed in 2010 along with some of the early battery-electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi iMiEV, and Kia Soul EV.

Today you’ll still find the CHAdeMo connectors on many Level 3 public chargers and are often identified by their large circular design. Many of the remaining CHAdeMo chargers can deliver between 50 to 100kW of energy, which is more than sufficient for the vehicles that support this connector.

Currently, only two vehicles in North America are equipped with CHAdeMo ports – the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Although CHAdeMo remains popular in Japan, it’s essentially disappearing in North America from charging stations and new EVs in favor of the CCS and Tesla connectors.

close up of EV charger

CCS Plug

The more common CCS connector, which stands for “Combined Charging System” was developed in Europe in 2012. Where the CHAdeMo connector is entirely separate from a Level 2 J1772 connector, the CCS connector combines the J1772 connector with two additional DC fast charging pins.

Virtually all non-Tesla Level 3 charging stations in North America are equipped with CCS connectors. In fact, many of the CHAdeMo connectors have been replaced by CCS connectors. CCS equipped Level 3 chargers can deliver 50 to 350kW of energy, which is sufficient for many CCS compatible EVs.

Outside of the Nissan Leaf and Tesla models, all battery-electric vehicles in North America today are currently equipped with CCS charging ports. In contrast to the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV that’s equipped with a CHAdeMo port, the Range Rover PHEV is equipped with a CCS charging port for Level 3 charging.

One of the key advantages of CCS is its ability to support charging speeds of up to 350kW as well as supporting higher voltage battery-electric vehicles like the Kia EV6, Genesis GV60, Hyundai IONIQ 5, and Porsche Taycan, which all use an 800V design for faster charging.

close up of CCS plug

Tesla Plug, or the NACS Plug

The Tesla connector, also referred to as the NACS or J3400 connector, was first launched as Tesla’s proprietary connector that supported the Model S battery-electric sedan in 2012, as well as all other Tesla models that followed.

Currently, only Tesla Level 2 home chargers, destination chargers, and Level 3 Superchargers in North America are equipped with the Tesla connector. Compared to the CHAdeMo and CCS Level 3 connectors, the Tesla connector is significantly smaller, lighter, and can be used for Level 1, 2, and 3 charging levels.

In late 2022, Tesla opened up their connector for other auto makers and referred to it as the North American Charging Standard (NACS). In early 2023, Tesla began installing a “Magic Dock” at limited locations, which allowed non-Tesla CCS equipped EVs to charge at Tesla superchargers through a Tesla-to-CCS adapter. Since 2023, most automakers announced that they would adopt the Tesla connector starting in 2025, with vehicles being equipped with the Tesla charge port. The Tesla connector became standardized by SAE International and is now called the J3400 connector. Tesla also began to open up its superchargers to non-Tesla brands, starting with Ford and Rivian.

Do EV Charging Adaptors Work?

With the various connectors that are currently available, EV owners can benefit from adapters. As the auto and EV industries move towards the Tesla/NACS/J3400 connector, some owners of older and current EV models will also need to use adapters.

If you have an EV with a CHAdeMo port, unfortunately there are currently no approved adapters available for Tesla-to-CHAdeMo or CCS-to-CHAdeMo connections. However, it’s anticipated that some adapters may be available once CHAdeMo connectors have been completely phased out from North American chargers.

For Tesla owners, there are more adapters available. If charging a Tesla vehicle at a CCS Level 3 charger, a CCS-to-Tesla adapter can be used. There’s also a CHAdeMo-to Tesla adapter available.

For non-Tesla owners, with vehicles equipped with a CCS port, looking to charge at Tesla Superchargers, adapters are now becoming available. As automakers announce the ability to use Tesla charging stations with a non-Tesla vehicle, current EV owners can use a Tesla-to-CCS adapter and use at approved Tesla charging stations.

With the high amount of electrical current passing through the connections safety is paramount. When buying an adapter, look for one that is approved by the auto manufacturer and has a UL certification.

Charging EVs: The Future

In North America, the good news is that the various connectors are starting to converge to a single standard connector. With the automotive and EV industries moving towards a standard Tesla/J3400 connector, both EVs and all charging networks will be able to support a single charging standard in the next few years for all three levels of charging.

It’s important to note that the transition won’t take place overnight. If you’re buying a new EV after 2025, you’ll likely have the Tesla/J3400 port built within your vehicle and will only have to worry about one connector for all three levels of charging. However, if you currently own a CCS equipped vehicle, buying a used EV, or looking to purchase an EV before 2025, it will come equipped with a CCS port. You’ll have two connectors available to you (J1772 and CCS), but will have the ability to use an adapter for different charging scenarios.

If you own Nissan Leaf or early battery-electric with a CHAdeMo port, it may be difficult to charge your EV with a Level 3 charger. It’s unclear at this point how companies like Nissan and Mitsubishi will support their CHAdeMo equipped vehicles. The lack of adapters also makes it difficult to utilize a Level 3 charger.

At first, EV charging can appear to be more complex than refueling a gas-powered vehicle. In addition to the different charging levels and various chargers, the array of connectors can add to the confusion. In reality, once you become familiar with EV charging it no longer becomes confusing. With the charging standardization in North America underway, it will be easier than ever to charge your EV.

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