The Tesla charging network is really annoying if you happen to own any electric car that isn’t a Tesla. I mean think about it, at least with Apple’s Lightning cable, the charging brick remains the same. With Tesla-specific charging stations, proprietary cables are hardwired to a box, meaning that you can’t just plug in the cable that came with your electric car. Hell, it’s simply not possible for a regular electric car with a CCS or CHAdeMO connector to hook up to a Tesla Supercharger Level 3 fast charging station. But that doesn’t mean that Tesla-specific Level 2 chargers are truly off-limits.
Now, Level 2 chargers aren’t exactly the handiest things on the world when you’re on the road. They’re great for overnight charging, or if you’re spending a few hours at a location, or if you just need a few miles of range to make it to a fast charger, but they won’t do for a quick and proper recharge. However, there are more than 3,000 of these Level 2 Tesla chargers showing on Tesla’s map, destinations like hotels may have Tesla-specific Level 2 charging, and for around $150 to $250, just about any PHEV or EV can use them. All it takes is an extra little dongle.
See, the fastest DC fast chargers require liquid-cooled cables, while Level 2 chargers are decidedly lower-tech. Generally, they only need a couple of connections. Take the J1772 plug, generally considered the North American standard for most EVs and PHEVs. It can’t supply a ton of juice, but it does the trick for 240-volt AC power. Looking at the pins, you have one for the first phase of 120-volt AC power, one for the second phase of 120-volt AC power, one that functions as a ground pin, one as a control pilot for vehicle communication, and one proximity pin for contact testing.
Looking at a Level 2 Tesla plug, you’ll see two big pins for power, one medium-sided pin for ground, and two pins for communication purposes. Hey, I’ve seen this one before. Yep, it turns out that Tesla’s Level 2 connector is not too dissimilar to a J1772 plug. Well, once someone figured that out, they realized it was possible to make an adapter to plug a car equipped with a J1772 charging port into a Tesla Level 2 charger. Now, there are a ton of companies that take one female Tesla-style port, wire it to a male J1772 connector, then sheath the wiring nicely to prevent abrasion.
Before buying one of these adapters, you first have to consider amperage. It’s not uncommon for houses to have 30-amp service, but commercial properties are often equipped with 50-amp service, plus 50-amp service is starting to be commonplace in homes. While Level 2 chargers certainly allow for the use of a 40 amp adapter, an adapter that supports more current theoretically allows for faster charging. Also, it’s worth looking up forum experiences to see if your vehicle is supported by a particular adapter. I’ve used TeslaTap’s 50-amp adapter on Hyundai and Kia EVs, a Volkswagen ID.4, a Toyota Prius Prime, and a Volvo XC90 Recharge, but that doesn’t mean it’ll work on all models.
It’s also worth mentioning form factor. Some adapters are quite compact, integrating the Tesla socket and J1772 connector into one solid form, while some feature flexible cable between the two connectors. Personally, I’m a fan of the latter style – not only are they often cheaper than integrated units, a little extra cable length is rarely a bad thing. The downside is that this style of adapter requires more in-vehicle storage space. Not a huge problem if you drive an F-150 Lightning, but not ideal if your electric chariot is a Smart Fortwo ED.
Honestly, a Tesla to J1772 connector should be part of every keen EV owner’s trunk kit. You never know when it can come in handy, be it for overnight destination charging or for the sake of emergency use. It’s nice having a little extra choice should you find yourself just far enough away from a Level 3 charging station that you can’t juice up. Looking at a variety of online sources like TeslaTap and EVSE Adapters, it seems like a 40-amp adapter typically retails for between $140 and $150, while an 80-amp adapter typically retails for between $240 and $250. Not exactly cheap, but mitigation of range anxiety rarely is. Until the charging network improves in both scale and reliability, having one of these adapters can open up new places for road trips, new places to stay, and potentially streamlined route planning. A bit more freedom can be a really beautiful thing.
Lead photo credit: Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.