Skip to main content

Electric vehicle charging etiquette starts to take shape

Is it bad EV etiquette to leave your car plugged in at the airport for a week? Should EVs be able to park at the charger and not be charging?


Imagine yourself an EV owner heading out on a business trip for 2 days. Your new Nissan Leaf EV has a range that can get you to the airport, but not also back on a single charge. This is not that unbelievable. A reader of ours recently wrote on our comments under a recent Tesla story that he has a 100 mile – one way – commute each day. So it is not outside the realm of reality that a Leaf owner might also be 75 miles from an airport.

So, back to our story. Upon arriving at the airport the stalls for charging are all occupied. Bummer. However, as luck would have it a nice young lady walks to her EV, unplugs and pulls out just in time! You slide your electric car into the slot, and notice that there is a Tesla to your right and a Fisker Karma (more rare than a baby pigeon) on the left. The Karma has plates that say “INSTNT.” Cute.

Upon returning, your Leaf is pre-conditioned, toasty warm and fully charged up. Approaching the car you now notice that the INSTNT Karma is still there and thickly coated in that airport jet fuel dust. That makes you wonder how long that car with the range extender is going to take that valuable EV charging spot. Is this bad EV etiquette? Would it matter if the car was a Volt (also an extended range EV) or a Honda Fit EV? Maybe the INSTNT was out of gas and needed the charge. Would that make it OK?

With EVs selling in the 70,000 or so per year range in total in the US fighting for spots at airport or other chargers has not yet progressed very far. In fact, when BWM conducted its i3 study it learned that not many EV owners were using charging stations at all. Maybe because there weren’t many to use. In any case, it resulted in BMW adding an optional range extender to the design and including a loaner program for gas fueled BMWs for i3 owners.

On some forums and blogs we follow charging behavior is starting to become a hot topic for discussion. Here are some other quick scenarios we came up with that deserve a debate:

- Toppers – EV owners that pull into the EV slot at 75% battery strength close to home (let’s say at work) to get the “free” electricity. Should that spot be left in case a another owner shows up and needs it to get home?
- Faux chargers – EV owners that take a charging spot not needing to charge, but because they prefer that space so close to the door of the airport terminal. For this scenario let’s add the very real Boston mid-week situation where parking in the distant overflow lot and taking the shuttle back to the terminal area is the other choice.
- Bonders – How about the owner of the EV who just wants to feel the love and park with their buddies at the charging row close to home? Show of strength, socializing, or just selfish?
- Pretenders – We would not have come up with this on our own, but according to the forums there are people who park EVs at charging spots and don’t even plug in. Did they forget? Are they crazy?

We won’t name names, but on the EV fan forums people are naming names. On one EV fan site a debate started when a photo showing an expensive EV taking a valued charging spot but not plugged in. There were over 25 comments about it. Nobody defended the offender. One commenter, Al said “Unfortunately ignorant people and jerks (or both) are allowed to buy Evs (the specific name of the EV is omitted by author). This kind of thing will never stop. In the case of ignorance a polite note on the car may help. In the case of jerk, nothing but enforcement (towing, monetary fine) will work.” There is much debate as to which type of EV car is the most common culprit parking at an EV charger and not even plugging in. Tell us what you think about EV charging etiquette. Have you ever needed a boost and the spots were all taken with one of the above types of bad behavior chargers? What should be done?

Photo taken by author at Boston’s Logan airport. The cars shown on the chargers were both at those spots when the author left for a family vacation, and were still there upon return a week later. The plate INSTNT is fabricated to make the story flow. No offense intended.


EFusco (not verified)    December 10, 2013 - 11:24AM

It's an interesting conundrum, isn't it...the airport parking thing. I fly out of airports that are near the limit of my Model S range quite often (Kansas City, St.Louis, and Tulsa). So I would need to recharge while parked AND would need to keep the charge completely topped off to have enough range for the drive home. But if I'm away for a week or more, as we often are when traveling, it is rude to take up a spot (note: this is theoretical since only one of those 3 airports even has an EV spot and it is rarely used) the entire time. I'm not keen on leaving my key with a valet, though I would if necessary. What would be ideal, honestly, would be to just have a bunch of 120v outlets in long term parking areas. If I'm gone at least 3 days I can get a full charger from empty in that amount of time and then keep it topped up. They would be incredibly cheap to install and you could have a lot of spaces so even ICE vehicles could park there.

John Goreham    December 10, 2013 - 11:46AM

It is a conundrum. The valet thing is a great idea, but I hate having valets touch my (non Tesla) car. My sister's rental car was damaged by a hotel valet last week in FL and now she is on the hook for the repairs. Currently at Boston's Logan airport on-site parking is closed (full) and it is snowing. The off-site parking is literally miles away and uncovered. Given that choice I would jump at the chance to have a valet take the car. This link will expire, but here are Logan's parking conditions:

Jackie Ferrara (not verified)    December 10, 2013 - 12:01PM

It's an interesting social phenomenon, watching etiquette develop with new technology. I can't understand the idea of a car that can't get you home...

Mark (not verified)    December 10, 2013 - 2:00PM

In reply to by Jackie Ferrara (not verified)

Jackie. Read what you wrote. In your ICE car have you ever stopped at a gas station? Or does it make its own gas? So, you have driven a car, an ICE car at that, when you couldn't get back home or wherever you were going?

Krystyna Lagowski (not verified)    December 10, 2013 - 1:02PM

One more item - what about the ICE that hog EV charging stations just because they need a place to park? In a crowded shopping mall parking lot, they'll just grab that spot because it's available. And what shopping mall owner is going to discourage them? After all, these are customers that are spending money at their mall. They won't take kindly to being ticketed or towed.

Mark (not verified)    December 10, 2013 - 2:12PM

In reply to by Krystyna Lagowski (not verified)

This is a big problem. And I think partly due to peoples general laziness and lack of respect for anyone else nowadays. Most EV drivers wish the spots were in the back of parking lots so this problem could easily be avoided, but the power source is near the business. And it is very expensive to run the power to a charger under and far away from a building. The key is to have good signage, on a pole but on the ground as well. Even then, you will still have the inconsiderate people. These are the same people that will park in a handicap spot because they are only going inside for 3 minutes, not thinking someone could be needing that spot in those 3 minutes.
Businesses need to tow blocked EV spots. And states need to have laws in place for this. I'm guessing a gas station wouldn't take too kindly to myself and other EV owners if we pulled up to a gas station and blocked all of the pumps for no reason.

Mark (not verified)    December 10, 2013 - 2:07PM

For me, the worst offenders are the hybrids that mask themselves as electric volt, karma, panamera hybrid, coming soon ELR, etc... Have seen them pull up to chargers and remain there for hours on end, blocking the charger so others that might actually need a charger can't access them. Do they really need it? Not really? Are they trying to go full electric? Yes many are, but with the gas engine you have an option, whereas others don't. So be considerate.
Read the comments on recargo and plug share and you will read about many I considerate volt drivers. The free charging station in Laguna beach was constantly blocked by a LOCAL resident using it everyday and for extended days.

As far as airport, and some hotels, 120 volt works quite well. And would save the cost of installing few EV chargers. Easy to install 50 120 volt outlets versus 10 EV chargers. And with extended parking, you will have plenty of time to get an adequate charge.

John Goreham    December 10, 2013 - 3:12PM

At one place I shop (Big Y) there is a single charging spot. Closest to the door of the store. I have never seen it occupied by any vehicle ICE or EV. I like the debate above about recourse. Towing away an ICE car would be my vote, but can you imagine the fallout if the car towed was an old lady (or man) who was completely befuddled by the misunderstanding. It would be top local news.
Interestingly, that same store goes nuts with the other special spots and has a bunch of "Expecting Moms" spots that are much farther away. Again, never seen one occupied.
There was a period when my then wife was disabled and could not walk without crutches. The state issued us a handicapped plate (placard). However, in our town the handicapped spots at the commuter rail she needed were all full with able bodied idlers sitting there waiting to drop off spouses. This was winter. I knocked on a few windows and the annoyed A-holes would then drive out of the spot and sit in the isle. So I asked the cops to walk through and they did. Solved the problem.
I'm a car nut. Actually, completely nuts. I park only up-hill at these places with shopping carts and I try to get a curb to one side to protect that side of my car from dings. I once saw a cart roll into the side of my new Civic SI (about 1993) and I am still not over it. Also once parked my Miata next to a Miata of same year. Came out and the other driver had dinged my passenger door with her driver's door. Once burned, twice shy. I'd be fine with the whole front of the store being EV, handicapped, and expectant mother parking. I'm 100 yards away up the hill anyway. Just my 2 cents :)

Brian Keez (not verified)    December 11, 2013 - 3:14AM

I think that the answer is to charge a fee. Free EVSE (charging stations) attract the Volts and Plug-in Prius (basically cars that don't need to charge) and they stay all day. What is it with those people anyway? Even if it's only $.50 the people that don't need a charge won't use the space.