How to Use the PlugShare EV Charging Station Tool

By · September 03, 2014

> See all Guides

PlugShare map

The Power of Messages

Once you're logged in, use the "Messages" function to get in contact other EV drivers. It's a great way to find out when a station currently in use will become available.

PlugShare is a powerful mobile application and online tool that allows electric car owners to locate and optimize the use of EV charging stations.

First of all, it’s the most comprehensive and up-to-date database of electric vehicle charging stations in North America, Europe, and Asia. The database automatically pulls down information from the country’s biggest EV charging networks—updating station info every few minutes. But the real power of PlugShare comes from its community of passionate electric car drivers.

PlugShare gives EV owners the ability to add, review, and edit station information, and to safely share their own private residential charging station with other electric car drivers. It’s EV infrastructure backed by the power of crowdsourcing. Whether you become an active contributor to the community, or simply use it to find a charge when you’re low on juice, PlugShare is an indispensable tool for every EV owner.

Getting Started

Launch the PlugShare mobile app (available for free for Android and iOS devices) or visit PlugShare.com. Now zoom into your own neighborhood or type an address into the search field. The number of charging stations you see depends on your specific location and your zoom level.

You’ll immediately notice a color scheme:

  • Public charging stations
    Level 2 stations, 240-volt outlets, or standard 120-volt outlets
  • Public Quick Chargers
    Also called DC Fast Chargers
  • Private residential charging stations
    Charging stations or outlets that have been shared by PlugShare users
  • In-use stations
    Any public station that is currently in use, or that has some type of restricted access

Simply knowing where charging stations exist near your house is interesting. But if you charge at home, you probably won’t ever need to use stations so close to where you live.

Nonetheless, it’s good to know about your local EV landscape. Besides, you might discover a residential station that’s being shared by a fellow EV driver in your neighborhood. (If you’re logged in, you could always say hello. More about the messaging function later.)

PlugShare: map, search, and station filters

The PlugShare map (left); search by location with an address (center); and filter (right) based on type of station and other parameters.

Planning a Charging Session

Today’s electric cars commonly have a range of 80 to 100 miles. That means if you’re traveling to a destination about 40 or more miles away from home, you’ll want to plan a charging session at that location—before you ever leave the comfort of your own home.

Zoom the PlugShare map to your travel destination. Hopefully, you’ll discover a set of colored icons, designating different types of charging stations close to where you’re going.

Now, it’s time to filter those locations. In the PlugShare app, tap the gear icon (iOS) or the “Filters” button (Android) to access the filtering options. Select which types of stations you’d like to see on the map. You can filter based on station category (such as fast versus regular stations), plug or outlet type, and charging network. The map will update to display all applicable charging locations.

The same filtering functionality is available on PlugShare.com via the set of checkboxes in the top right legend. The “More Options” bar below the legend allows for more detailed filtering. These options are also available by clicking on the gear icon next to the search box.

If you are logged in, add your vehicle to your profile and the filters can be automatically updated to show only appropriate stations.

Choosing a Station

With your screen zoomed into your destination, and the stations filtered to the type of outlet that works with your car, you can now investigate which station is your best choice.

Select one of the stations you are considering. Next to the name of the station is a PlugScore, a rating of the charging experience from 0 to 10 based on user reviews. The station profile also includes a description, the types of plugs offered, a map, and a link to directions—as well as reviews, photos, and check-ins contributed by PlugShare users.

You can also discover:

  • Charging fees that may apply (if it’s not free)
  • If the station accepts Pay with PlugShare for quick in-app payment via credit card
  • If somebody else is currently checked-in at that station
PlugShare: map with station selected, public station profile, and residential station profile

Select a specific station (left); to get more information and functions for public (center) or private residential (right) charging stations.

Using a Residential Station

If you select one of the blue icons, indicating a residential charging station, you will be prompted to log in using your PlugShare account. (Signing up for an account is easy and free.)

After logging in, you will gain access to notes left by the PlugShare user who has graciously shared his/her residential charging station. EV drivers who share the use of a residential station establish the terms by which they are contacted and how their station will be used.

Follow their guidance by calling, texting, emailing, or sending an in-app message to make all the necessary arrangements.

Electric fuel is cheap, but it’s not free. It’s good PlugShare etiquette to profusely thank those who share their plug—and bringing a small token of appreciation (e.g. a bottle of wine) is even better.

Why Checking In is Important

When you arrive at a station, check in when you begin to charge. You don’t need to be logged into PlugShare in order to do a “check in.” Checking in is meant to be as easy as possible because it’s a very valuable tool for the EV community. (Also don’t forget to check out once you leave.)

Many charging stations have built-in wireless network connectivity. When an EV driver starts a charge using one of these stations, the icon on the PlugShare map turns gray. That’s a signal to you that the station is in use, and you should think twice before counting on immediate access to a plug. (Charging sessions commonly take at least an hour, and often several hours.)

But many charging stations do not have wireless connectivity. In this case, the only way to know that the station is in use is if you check in. Essentially, by checking in, PlugShare users are turning these locations into networked stations. The check-in button is available on the station profile screen.

In addition, if you check in, you can specify about how long you expect to charge. If you left your lights on or your charge is nearing completion, your fellow EV driver can select your name in the “Here Now” section of the station profile screen and send you a message. Once you’re in touch, the other driver might get your permission to charge his or her car after your battery is full. That could save you from rushing to move your car after your charging session is over.

Planning versus Ad Hoc Searching

It’s always good to have a game plan ahead of time when taking a long-distance EV trip. Fortunately, PlugShare.com has a tool to help. Logically, it’s called “Trip Planner,” and you’ll find it on the top bar next to the search box.

Trip Planner works like most online maps, whereby a user sets a starting and ending point of a trip. After inputting that information, a line is drawn on the map to show the route.

PlugShare’s innovation comes by virtue of a slider allowing you to designate the search radius for finding an EV charging station near your route. It defaults to six miles, meaning that the PlugShare map will show all stations that can be reached by traveling six miles or fewer off your path. Move the slider to increase or decrease the distance you’re willing to travel to get a charge. The other filters—fast versus regular, for example—can also be used.

Once you locate a charging station that makes sense for your trip, click on it. Then, click on “Add to Route.” Now, the charging station becomes part of your route, with turn-by-turn directions and distances.

PlugShare Trip Planner

The PlugShare Trip Planner helps you find charging stations along your route. A slider lets you specify how far off the route you are willing to travel to get a charge.

Despite the best planning, there are times when you’re on the road and simply need to find the closest charging location—pronto. You might be running low on juice, or you have the opportunity to top up because you are already planning to shop or eat along your route.

In this situation, it’s more likely that you’ll use the PlugShare mobile app than the PlugShare.com website. The app’s map defaults to your current location, where you’ll see the stations in the surrounding area. Zoom in and out based on your needs.

Again, once you locate a suitable charging station, tap on it to discover details about the station—its availability, plug types, fees, and a log of recent check-ins.

On the road, Tesla Model S drivers can use either the PlugShare app on their mobile device or take advantage of the vehicle's large in-dash display and web browser. PlugShare offers a custom version of the web-based tool, available at tesla.plugshare.com, that is optimized for the Model S screen.

It features large-format buttons and menus, a custom station profile layout, and clustering of charging station icons on the map. This clustering helps overcome the lack of a pinch-to-zoom feature in the car's web browser. Tapping a clustered station icon (the same PlugShare icons but with a number representing how many stations are in the vicinity) zooms and re-centers the map so you can check out each individual location. When you select a station, a large overlay appears at the bottom of the screen to present the station information, reviews, and photos. The whole experience is designed for viewing from several feet away and brings PlugShare right to your Tesla dashboard.

PlugShare for Tesla Model S

PlugShare offers a version of the web-based tool specifically designed for the large Tesla Model S screen.

Share Your Plug

The number of public electric car stations is growing fast. Yet, the build-out of EV infrastructure can be greatly supported and enhanced in the peer-to-peer era. By allowing other electric car owners to access your home charging station, EVs become even more practical—especially for trips to residential areas that are less likely to have public stations.

Sharing your residential station is easy. In the PlugShare app, select the option to share your home station from the main app menu. Access the main menu by tapping the menu icon (three horizontal lines) in the top left. If you’re using the website, click on “Contribute” to begin the process.

From there, you will be prompted for your name, address (optional), phone number (optional), type of outlet(s), and any other notes you would like to include. When you share your plug, you set the terms and control how and when access will be made available.

Other Ways to Contribute

In addition to adding your own charging station, you can contribute to the PlugShare community as you go about driving and charging your EV.

PlugShare: review a station, add a photo, and edit station information

Checking in (left) is an easy and valuable way to contribute to the EV community. You can also add photos (center) or edit details (right) to make sure charging station data is correct.

If you have a great experience using a station—or a miserable time—leave a review. By letting the rest of the community know what you encounter, you can save a lot of time for the next person. If you find a killer coffee shop nearby, be sure to include that in your review.

Adding photos is also easy. A picture can be worth a thousand words—especially if it helps a stranded EV driver quickly find the exact location of the charging station. Sometimes an address isn’t enough: the description needs a photo and a few words to say “turn right here, turn left there, and look over by the thingy-ma-bob, and you’ll see the station.”

You can also use “Add Public Station” to submit a station that is not currently included in the PlugShare database. You might also find incorrect or outdated info about a station. That’s when you should click on the “Edit” button and update the information. If you find a major problem, like a station that does not exist, you can select “Report Inaccuracy” from the edit screen and submit a message describing the issue.

PlugShare: add a public station

EV infrastructure is growing every day. If you encounter a public station not in the database, it's easy to add it.

Become a Hero

A good deed deserves recognition, so the PlugShare app features a Leaderboard, with rankings in three categories.

  • Explorers: Users ranked by the number of check-ins during the last 30 days
  • Heroes: Users ranked by the number of check-ins at their shared residential charging station
  • Scouts: Users ranked by the number of stations added

Even if you don’t make it on the Leaderboard, using PlugShare will help you find stations when you need to charge away from home. When each individual driver contributes to the PlugShare community—by checking in when charging, posting station photos and reviews, updating station information, or even sharing your home station—the entire EV community benefits. And we all accelerate the transition from our outdated internal combustion culture to a much brighter and cleaner electric car future.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.