Electric Tech Explored

Is The Tesla Charging Station Free? (When Does it Charge?)

by Emily Nicholls | Published: June 27th, 2022
Supercharger Flachau

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I can see why there is confusion over how much it costs to charge your Tesla with different ways the costs are calculated, Supercharger stations and then Destination Stations. Add into that picture that some people are eligible for free Supercharging but only certain people, and it is easy to see why people struggle to get a straight answer. 

Most people, apart from people who qualified for some form of free Supercharging, will pay for charging their vehicles at a Tesla Supercharger station, which is usually charged by the kW. Tesla car owners can also make use of Destination Chargers, which are often free but take longer to charge. 

One of the biggest hesitations for buying an electric vehicle is charging, but probably the most confusing aspect of Tesla’s charging is cost. This is partly due to lots of different scenarios coming into play and there is a lot of conflicting information out there. However, I am confident I can clear up some of the confusion over the costs of charging your Tesla.

What Are Tesla Charging Stations?

charging tesla

Tesla charging stations comprise a network of over 30,000 Superchargers around the world. They are situated on popular travel routes, usually near amenities like restaurants and shops. Each Supercharger site has multiple Superchargers so you shouldn’t have to wait too long.

Most Supercharger stations are open 24/7, but in the case where one has limited hours, this will be displayed on the vehicle’s touchscreen. 

Although you may have the facilities at home to charge your electric vehicle, this is not always convenient if you are going on a long-distance trip or if your charge is getting low. By having Supercharger stations, owners can plan their charging just as if they were filling up with gas. 

How Long Will It Take To Charge My Tesla Vehicle With A Supercharger?


Charging speeds vary a little depending on the model. For instance, the Model S can charge up to 200 miles of range in 15 miles while the Model Y only charges 162 miles in the same amount of time. Both the Model 3 and Model X can get up to 175 miles of charge in just 15 minutes. It is important to note that Roadsters do not have Supercharging capabilities currently. 

Many often wonder how much they should charge their vehicle up to but actually, your vehicle will recommend the needed level of charge in order to get to the next Supercharge on your route.

To tackle congestion at high-use Superchargers, the vehicle’s charge limit could be automatically adjusted to 80%, but otherwise, you can usually charge to 100%. It is also possible to manually increase the charge limit once the vehicle is plugged in by using the touchscreen in the vehicle or the Tesla app. 

How Do I Locate A Supercharger?

Supercharger Flachau
Photo by Jakob Härter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

To find an available Supercharger site, you can go to the Trip Planner in your vehicle. To enable Trip Planner to go to your vehicle’s touchscreen, touch ‘Settings’, then ‘Navigation’, and then ‘Trip Planner’. When you have selected a site, your vehicle will use its navigation system to automatically create the route to the nearest entrance to the property.

You will then be able to zoom in on the map in order to find the exact location of the station. If you find you need additional information like the gate code or details on the parking level, you can touch the station’s red pin icon on the vehicle’s touchscreen.  

How Much Does Supercharging Cost?

Red Model Y
Photo by Dru Kelly licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Pricing for each Supercharger site can be found on the selected pin’s pop-up on the vehicle’s touchscreen. When you have finished charging, an estimate of charges will be shown on the touchscreen and final invoices will be available to view on your Tesla Account.

The charging rate is worked out by the plug-in time; however, some Supercharger stations have on-peak and off-peak rates. This information is displayed in the navigation application of the touchscreen. 

Generally speaking, owners are billed in kWh (kilowatts per hour); however, in areas where this is not possible owners will be billed per minute.

If you are being billed by the minute, there are four different pricing tiers they are used. Tier 1 is charging at or below 60kW, the Tier 2 category is charging above 60kW to below 100kW, Tier 3 goes from charging above 100kW to below 180kW, and finally, the highest price per minute is Tier 4 which is for charging above 180kW. 

What Are Idle Fees?

Since Superchargers are meant to be a fast charging solution for Tesla vehicles, they are not meant to be used for parking. So, if owners park at a Supercharger after it has reached full charge, they will start to be charged idle fees.

The idle fees are however waived if the vehicle is moved in the five minutes after the vehicle has reached full charge. 

How Come Some People Get Free Supercharging Miles?

Red Tesla Driving
Photo by SoulRider.222 at licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

So, this is definitely where some of the confusion comes in since some people are eligible for free Supercharging miles. This is usually for owners that have participated in a previous Tesla Referral Program. 

Owners can check if they have any free Supercharging miles and the expiration date via the Tesla app. If you sign in to your Tesla account and go to the vehicle linked to your account, select ‘Manage’ and then ‘View Details.’

Here you will be able to see your Supercharging status, which will be Free Unlimited, Pay-Per-Use, or Timebound Supercharging. Once owners have run out of free Supercharging miles, they will be charged standard Supercharger fees after. 

Why Have Some People Qualified For Unlimited Supercharging?

Some people did qualify for unlimited supercharging, initially after the debut of the Model S back in 2012. However, this is no longer offered with new purchases.

Similar perks were initially offered with the Model X. From what we understand, Tesla still offers a select group of these free Supercharging perks; however, Tesla has shared that it will be revamping its referral program so whether or not these perks will continue is not certain. 

It is important to note that fully transferrable, free unlimited Supercharging has not been offered since 2017. However, we know that some vehicles may still have some form of free unlimited Supercharging. For instance, if you bought your Model Y in December 2020, you could possibly be eligible.

The Model 3 might also be eligible provided it is the performance trim and still with the original owner, and was purchased between 2018 and 2019. The Model X from 2016-2020 and Model S from 2012-2020 may also be eligible but it is best to confirm with Tesla. 

What Is The Difference Between Superchargers and Destination Chargers?

Charging Black Tesla
Photo by Jakob Härter licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Superchargers are Tesla’s primary network of charging stations, utilizing ultra-powerful 480-volt charging stations. They are designed to charge up the car for around an hour.

However, Destination Chargers are installed by Tesla’s Charging Partners, which are usually business or land owners who install a Tesla Wall Connector onto their property for the public to use.

These are generally free provided you are a customer of the destination although parking fees may still apply. Destination Chargers do not charge as quickly as Tesla’s Superchargers and can take between one and 12 hours to reach full charge. 

It is easy to see why there is confusion over the costs of charging your vehicle at Tesla charging stations. From different rate calculations to different times it takes to charge, I hope I have cleared up some of the confusion.

When in doubt, go to the vehicle’s touchscreen for further information on charging and for clarification on whether you are eligible for free Supercharging then it’s best to reach out to Tesla directly.