The Superb Tesla Supercharger and How it Works


The Superb Tesla Supercharger and How it Works

So you’ve done your research on Tesla, found out about the 500 thousand mile battery lifespan, and fell in love with the design. Now you’re asking yourself whether or not charging at a Supercharge station or filling up an empty gas tank is worth the wait. Personally, I can’t stop talking about the amazing superchargers, and I’ll tell you why!

What is a Tesla Supercharger? The Supercharger is a 480-volt DC (direct current) powered fast-charging station with over 13,000 individual stalls at almost 1500 locations. Tesla’s Superchargers are by far the most superior and fastest charging stations for electric vehicles they work similarly to any other battery charger by converting the high-voltage raw AC (active current) power into a safe DC power your all-electric vehicle can accept.

It seems simple right? Not exactly, there is a lot of science that goes behind these highly intelligent pieces of hardware, so let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Tesla Supercharger so superb and the details on how it works.

History of the Supercharger

Back in 2008, Tesla launched its first all-electric vehicle, which was its first-generation Roadster. 

It was a fast car that was able to go from 0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds and could travel up to 245 miles without a charge. This was unprecedented for an all-electric production vehicle at the time. In fact, for a company that started in 2003 to have a fully-functional vehicle in a completely new category within 5 years was a shock to the world.

While the company sold less than 1,000 cars form 2008 to 2009, there was a clear trend towards something new and innovative. For the first time ever, a company had designed a sleek, fast, sexy, and smart electric vehicle (EV). While there had been successful attempts before, none looked this great, and none went this far.

Unfortunately, the Roadster was extremely expensive, but because there was proof of concept, Tesla rolled out the Model S in June of 2012. In that same year, the company also launched its initial grid of Superchargers.

Tesla realized that for the EV manufacturer to be successful, it had to embrace that “all American” segment of the population who loved the rev of a gas engine and drove cross country. So they needed to do something for people to be able to travel long distances without having to charge overnight. Thus, the first-generation of Superchargers was born.

As subsequent models, including the Model X and Model 3 rolled out, Tesla expanded its Supercharger network and updated it to the second-generation, and now it is moved into its third update with V-3 chargers.

With thousands of Superchargers all over the world, Tesla has made it simple and fun for EV owners to go on road-trips and travel.

Tesla has also recently started integrating solar-powered Supercharging stations that add shade and reduce the need for grid-based charging, which is more reliable in the long-term. This addition came after Tesla’s acquisition of Solar City.

Different Types of Superchargers

For the most part, almost all Tesla Supercharger Stations are part of the second-generation of chargers. However, Tesla recently introduced the Version 3 or V3 Supercharger. There are a few key differences between the current versions and the new V3, so let’s have a quick look.

I’ll go into the details of how the Superchargers work and how much charge your electric car is getting, but just for reference, second-generation Superchargers are capable of delivering 125 kW (kilowatts), well actually theoretically they can deliver way more but more on that later whereas the V3 could deliver double the amount of energy.

Of course, the amount of charge you get will depend on how many vehicles there are charging with you at the same station. Still, your EV will receive a consistent 75 kW’s of power, which means your average Supercharge will last around 50 min with the current version of chargers. This number is expected to split in half with the V3

Version 3 (V3)

In 2019, Tesla launched its all-new V3 third-generation Superchargers. These rolled out in select locations with the first in Las Vegas.

How Fast Does the V3 Supercharger Charge?

Without sugarcoating it, the V3 Supercharger is amazing. These chargers can give off up to 250 kW of power charging your lithium-ion batteries up to 1000 miles per hour. If you do the math, you can pretty much get 75 miles during a 5-minute charge… Yes, really.

That means you could charge, run to the bathroom, grab a snack, and you would have more than enough for a day or two’s worth of commuting.

Which Models Are Compatible with the V3 Supercharger?

The V3 Tesla Superchargers are compatible with all Model 3’s, but Tesla is coming out with software updates for the Model X and S so they can accept the 250 kW charge as well. The Model Y will be completely compatible when fully-released.

This is great news overall because it means that Tesla will soon produce batteries capable of going up to 1,000 miles in a single charge. We are already seeing numbers like this with the soon to be released new-generation Roadster that has a 620-mile range (and a 250+ miles per hour top speed), needless to say, Tesla is amazing. 

You can pre-order a Roadster for a cool $250k today.

Are V3 Supercharges the Fastest Electic Car Chargers in the World?

Now back to the V3. It’s super imperative to Tesla that they have the fastest Superchargers in the world. In 2016 they faced backlash when they claimed to have the fastest charging Supercharger in the world. However, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in Tesla’s favor. 

While Tesla won that case, in 2018, they were challenged again, this time by Porsche, a company Tesla is visually inspired by.

So with newer EV models and growing demand in the segment, Tesla needs to maintain its seat at the top. The EV manufacturer is by far the leader in the US, and it intends to stay there, with the V3.

The charging cable looks significantly thinner than the current second-generation superchargers. We don’t know much about how this thing works, but from what I can tell, the core technology is similar to the older Superchargers, but it does include liquid-cooled cables, whatever that means, which allow for the increased kW output.

How Do Tesla Superchargers Work?

When you pull up to a charging station for the first time, you’ll see these thin white ports with a red finish.

The inner portion of the Superchargers are hollow, and you have this thin black cable that you simply attach to your car, and it begins charging. No noise, no gas smell, no buttons or options just simple, fast, and effective charging.

Honestly, when you compare it to a traditional petroleum gas station, you would think that an electric charge station would be more elaborate and bulky, but the opposite is true.

Here’s how it works:

  • Tesla Superchargers convert raw, direct current power (DC) into useable alternating current power (AC).
  • For this to happen, there first needs to be a source of raw DC power. This comes from high-voltage transmission grids or the net. These large transmitters power our cities, factories, and now our cars! Grids are usually controlled by single large corporations, at least for defined regions. This creates a bit of a monopoly, but in this instance, it’s better than having multiple competing companies unable to service large regions.
  • Depending on the country you are in, the delivered power varies. In the US, it can go from 230 kilovolts (kV) to 765kV, spanning over 163,000 miles of high-voltage cable.
  • When the direct current gets to the Tesla Supercharging station, it needs to be converted into a safe alternating current ( safe for the car NOT for you).
  • Unfortunately, the charger itself can’t do this, so Tesla has also installed Supercharger Transformation Cabins. You’ll notice these small constructions near every supercharger station. It’s a small building with a few white metallic box-like cabins around it. Do NOT go close to the cabins as they deal with deadly high voltage power than can range up to 15,000 Volts!
  • The transformation cabin reduces the DC to something your car can manage without exploding, don’t worry that would never happen while charging. An accident is always more likely to occur at a traditional gas station that at a Tesla Supercharger.
  • Here is the funny part. Inside the transformation, cabins are 12 small lithium-ion batteries. The same batteries used in the Model S and X. Kind of ironic, right?
  • The 12 batteries are divided into four blocks, so three batteries make a block.

When a car is charged, it is assigned the entire cabin or all four blocks. However, if another car begins to charge, you will split charging with said vehicle. Tesla has made sure that you always maintain a constant 75 kW charge, so don’t worry if there are a lot of vehicles charging at once.

The cabins and Superchargers also have a very sophisticated cooling system as they deal with a great bit of energy and heat. With newer models, there is some more chemistry involved with the liquid-cooled cables, but for the most part, that’s how Tesla Superchargers work.

What’s Inside a Tesla Supercharger?

Thanks to the wonderful invention called the Internet, we pretty much know everything there is to know about cats, grilled cheese, and what’s inside of everything. Thanks to these guys on YouTube, we also know what’s inside a Tesla Supercharger.

I won’t go into too many details because the stuff is pretty technical. However, if you watch the video, you’ll be surprised to see how simple the design actually is.

There are transmission and receiving cables that notify the Supercharger when it has been attached to a Tesla car and thick cables that deliver the electricity to your EV.

The coolest part is that on the light fixture that shines through to illuminate the “TESLA” logo, you will see in big, bold white letters the phrase: “MADE ON EARTH BY HUMANS.”

This is a cool touch by the company and probably a direct order from the founder and CEO Elon Musk. Whether Musk wrote this for our future computer overlords or aliens that discover the last relics of humanity is completely up to you. Maybe in a few years, the caption will read, “Made on Mars by Cyber-humans,” who knows…

Tesla Superchargers: What You Need to Know

Superchargers are undoubtedly really cool, but like everything, they have their drawbacks.

Because the technology is still very new and is constantly being improved, there are a few things you need to consider when charging your Tesla at a Supercharge Station that will help keep your battery healthy and provide for an overall better Tesla driving experience.

Read below to find out what makes the Supercharger so great, as well as a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of the charging experience.

Quick Tips On Supercharging

Let’s go through a few rapid-fire tips on charging your all-electric Tesla at a Supercharge station and why these are important.

Don’t Supercharge Every Day

All of the initial Model S purchases got a lifetime of free Supercharging. So, while charging with Tesla is much cheaper than filling up a full tank of gas, charging for free is always the better option. 

Because of this great benefit, a lot of Tesla owners Supercharge frequently. Hey, why not? It’s free and super fast. Some people I know will literally drive to their nearest mall everyday to Supercharge and walk around for half an hour before heading home.

This may seem like a good idea, but it’s really not. Supercharging frequently will undoubtedly hurt the health of your lithium-ion Tesla battery. Don’t take it from me. This is coming from the big guy. 

The outspoken Musk often tweets about Tesla, and among his many posts, he has claimed that while Supercharging once or twice a week is great any more than that, and you risk damaging the battery.

This may seem convenient for Tesla because of its free lifetime charging on select purchases, but the logic is there. Think about it. You are hyper charging your car and loading the battery very quickly, which not only requires a tremendous amount of energy it also needs to be cooled.

All these efforts to Supercharge add strain onto the lithium-ion battery, and you’ll start to notice that your Tesla can’t charge to 100% anymore or that the battery starts running out much more quickly and isn’t as efficient as it used to be. So stick to once a week supercharging unless you are traveling cross-country.

Don’t Supercharge All the Way

Your Tesla is very cool in the sense that you can control a lot of the functions of your car. Things like where and how the AC blows on the Model 3 and Y, how powerful your regenerative breaking is, and how much you want your car to charge up to.

In general, it’s recommended that you don’t charge over 80% or 90% on a consistent basis. On the opposite end, you also shouldn’t let your charge go down below 10%.

Your Tesla will show you how many more miles you have remaining, but since that is not the most accurate measurement switch over to a percentage showing, much like a computer or smartphone.

Now don’t get me wrong, you bought the car at a certain range, and you are more than welcome to use the full mile-distance. In fact, once or twice a month, you should fill up all the way because that’s actually good for your lithium-ion battery. Fill up to 100% especially if you are going on a road trip or something but avoid this practice for day to day use.

Alter the Charge Limit to Avoid Unnecessary Idle Fees

Supercharging is not free unless you have a lifetime free deal, or you used a reference code from someone who does, which usually gives you 6 months of free supercharging, and on top of the charging cost, you may be charged additional idle fees.

An idle fee charge occurs when your Tesla has finished Supercharging and is now sitting in its station attached to a charging dock and blocking the way for other Teslas that may need to charge. The fee costs owners around $0.40 per minute, and 40 cents ads up real quick.

If you think about it, it’s a smart initiative from Tesla; otherwise, you would always have full charging stations. However, there is a neat little trick you can try out to circumvent the fee and buy some more time.

All you have to do is increase your charging limit from your phone and voila!

Let’s say you are having a nice family meal when all of a sudden, you get a notification from the Tesla app that your car has finished charging, and it warns you that idle fees may apply. Now you start panicking because the restaurant brought out the food too late, and you can’t just pack up your kids and leave quickly.

Instead, you go to the app and manually increase the charging limit from the preset 80% to 100% by dragging the limit line all the way to the right. There you have it! You just bought yourself another 20 minutes or so, which is enough time for you to finish your family meal, get the check, and go unplug your Tesla.

This is also a great trick if you need to rush into the mall or something, but you can’t find parking. There is almost always an empty Tesla Supercharge slot, so just set your limit to 100%, run inside, buy what you need, and get back on the road.

Don’t Force Anything

These are expensive cars, and Tesla has invested a lot of money into charging stations, so you want to be extra cautious and avoid breaking or damaging anything. The hardware is extremely intelligent and has been tested to perfection, so unlike your 1990’s box TV, you don’t need to hit anything for it to work.

  • To open the charging port, either gently click on the tip, the button on the charging cable end, or from your phone/vehicle display.
  • If the charger is giving your trouble and not smoothly connecting with your car, don’t force it in. Make sure you keep your hand steady and match the charge port. If it still doesn’t pop in, just try another Supercharge slot.
  • Finally, once you remove the cable, the charging port should close by itself if it doesn’t use your Tesla app or the inner display. Do NOT force the port door shut otherwise you risk damaging it.

Supercharging During a Road-trip

Tesla has expanded its Supercharger Stations across the country so you and your friends can enjoy a scenic road-trip across the great deserts, mountain ranges, and national forests of North America. Europe is also great for road-trips, but make sure to plan out your ride because not all locations have convenient charging spots.

  • You should always check your route before-hand. Before you go on your road trip, enter your endpoint on the navigation. Tesla will give you the quickest route and guide you through with Superchargers. You can select multiple options, but the default is the quickest route.
  • The estimated miles you have left aren’t completely accurate. In other words, if you are traveling from Colorado to New York and your Tesla says you’ll reach the next charging station and you’ll have 20 miles left on your car, that’s not always true, so its best not to test the limits and stop at a Supercharge station sooner if possible. Try to have at least 50 miles left when you get there.
  • Supercharge stations can be down. Usually, Tesla will notify you if a Supercharger is down for maintenance, but there have been cases where charging stations have been down, and people didn’t know about it until they go there. 

This often happens in Florida especially during hurricane season when power grids go down. The good news is Tesla extended everyone’s mileage limit during the last major hurricane season so everyone could evacuate safely.

  • Charge frequently when on a road trip. Now I know I said you shouldn’t Supercharge all the way frequently, but you definitely need to be at 100% when on a road trip. The last thing you want is for your Tesla to stop in the middle of nowhere with no cell-services or cars around to help.

As a general note, always have enough charge when you get to a Supercharger station for a quick reroute if need be. Don’t think you can skip one and just head for the next one on the road.

Some Supercharge stations are in beautiful scenic areas with gorgeous views and nice restaurants or rest areas. Other times, you aren’t that lucky and might even have to stay in your car. In any case, 50 minutes later, you have a fully charged Tesla and are ready to get back on the road again!

Frequently Asked Questions About Superchargers

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the amazing Tesla Superchargers and their answers:

Where Exactly is the Supercharger Station? Sometimes you will get to the Supercharger, and the navigation will stop, but you have no idea where the charging slots are. Usually, the navigation is fairly accurate, but still, this is a common problem, and unfortunately, you have to drive around and ask people until you find it.

Do Superchargers Work 24/7? Yes, almost all Supercharge stations work all the time, but you’ll have to check for the stores and restaurants nearby.

How Can I Make the Supercharger Work Faster? There is actually a neat little trick here. You want to try and make the transmission cabin work for you completely. So either park away from other Teslas so that you get your own charging cabin (these are noted alphabetically A/B/C etc.) for maximum speed.

Why Do Some Supercharge Stations Charge by the Minute and Other by kW per Hour? This is mostly due to the various laws and regulations in each country or state that make it difficult to charge for electricity. Tesla usually bills by kW per hour, but in the select locations that do so by minute, the service is done in two tiers to account for the dynamic charge rate.

What Do You Do If You Run Out of Battery? You can always call Tesla’s roadside assistance if you’ve depleted the car, but this service is not financially covered. It is much better to plan ahead and be prepared.

There you have it, the superb Tesla Supercharger and the way it works. Tesla is, without a doubt, one of the coolest companies. They have made buying and driving an electric car care-free and fun. The next time you are at a Supercharge stall, consider how it all works and watch the time fly by.

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Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. My daily driver is a Tesla Model 3 Performance. I've learned a ton about Teslas from hands-on experience and this is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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