How To Prepare Your Garage for an Electric Vehicle

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Switching to an all-electric vehicle involves more than new driving practices. Here's what you need to know.

Electric vehicles (EVs), with their improved fuel economy and reduced emissions, are becoming a realistic economic alternative to their internal combustion engine (ICE) fossil fuel-burning cousins. While not entirely maintenance-free, EVs are less costly and much less complicated to maintain. Read about all types of EV costs here. Buying a brand-new electric vehicle isn’t the only option. With an e-bike conversion kit, you can turn your existing peddler into a motorized workhorse.

However, if you go the EV route, you’ll have to make specific modifications to your garage to care for and charge the battery.

Make Space

You’ll need easy access to the charging port door on an ICE vehicle and plenty of space to keep the charging cable from kinking. That means organizing and cleaning your garage if it’s full of clutter. Keep the area around the charging outlet clean and free of dirt and debris.

Set Up Charging Station

No more filling your tank at the local gas station. You’ll now pull into the garage to recharge your EV.

Level 1 chargers

Except for Tesla, your EV should come with a Level 1, 120V battery charger. Level 1 chargers offer little more than a trickle of electricity that provides three to five miles per charging hour. Most Level 1 chargers are portable, come with a 20- to 25-ft. cable and plug into a standard household 120V outlet (20 amps preferred). (Read all about EV charger types here.)

You can easily mount a Level 1 charger on the wall yourself. Install a heavy-duty plastic hook or shelf to keep the cable safely off the floor and secured in the outlet. If your garage lacks electrical outlets, you can run a line yourself or hire a licensed electrician to do it.

Don’t use household extension cords to connect a Level 1 charger to the outlet, except in an emergency.

Back up charger

If you want to keep a Level 1 charger in the car, purchase a second charger ($125 to $300) for the garage. Check your owner’s manual to be sure the new charger has the proper charging port adapter.

Level 2 chargers

Level 2 EV chargers operate on 240V and recharge an EV in about three hours, much faster than a Level 1 charger. This speed comes at a price — $500 to $2,000, plus professional installation. You’ll need a dedicated 240V, 40 to 50 amp circuit to power it.

While some Level 2 chargers are hard-wired, others require a special outlet, the most common being a NEMA 6-50 outlet. You may need a 200-amp service upgrade or a sub-panel, which aren’t DIY undertakings. Consult a licensed electrician to determine your options.

Whatever level of charger you purchase, check with your dealer to be sure it’s compatible with your year, make and model EV.

Keep It Warm And Dry

Colder weather decreases the mileage you get from a charge. Insulating your garage or adding a garage heater will help protect the battery and maintain a consistent, longer lasting charge.

As we know, water and electricity are a bad mix. However, according to Jonathon Ratliff, Nissan North America’s senior manager for zero emission technology development, it’s safe to charge an EV in nearly any weather condition. EVs are engineered to withstand rain, water intrusion and dust particles that may damage sensitive electric/electronic systems.

Still, it’s smart to weatherproof your garage and install a high-quality threshold seal to keep the garage floor dry. It may even prevent wire-eating critters from gaining entry.

Secure Your Garage

Protect your expensive vehicle, charger, tools and other items against theft and vandalism. Check and repair damaged garage doors or windows, and secure it all with a good quality padlock.

Get These Tools

Here is a list of the tools and other items you should have handy:

  • Insulated tool kit: EVs use extremely high-voltage circuits, so buy tools with the official 1,000-volt rating symbol and the year they were manufactured. These markings indicate the tool will protect up to 1,000 volts.
  • Digital volt ohm meter (DVOM): EVs have many high-resistance circuits. A DVOM rated at 10 million ohms (Ω) is the only tool to troubleshoot electrical systems and sensitive car electronics. You can quickly damage an EV’s electronics with a test light, analogy meter or other non-digital tools when measuring voltage, ohms (resistance) or amperes.
  • Charging port adapter: Depending on your year, make and model, have the correct adaptor for use at a Level 3 commercial charging station.
  • Gloves: No, not the $250 Class 0 1,000 volt personal protective equipment (PPE) insulating gloves the pros must wear when working on EV batteries. Buy a good quality pair simply to keep your hands warm when driving in cold weather. An EV’s electric motor doesn’t generate its own heat, so running the passenger compartment heater, defroster or heated steering wheel will quickly drain the battery.

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Bob Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning ASE and General Motors auto technician, educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics. His work has been featured in The Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine. He has been a career and technical educator for 25 years teaching automotive technology, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants. He also helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into career and technical education.