Can You Charge Your Electric Car During a Power Outage?

There are more ways to charge an EV in an outage than there are to pump gas.

A Tesla vehicle drives down a California road during a power outage.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

It may sound counter-intuitive that you can charge your electric car during a power outage, but it is possible. But even if you couldn't charge your EV during an outage, that's no reason not to get one. After all, unless a gas station has a backup generator, you can't pump gas during a power outage, either.

What If You Can't Charge Your EV During an Outage?

Don't panic. Unless you have a long daily commute that requires you to charge your vehicle every day, as long as your EV has a decent amount of charge already, your car can probably go a few days without needing to re-charge. It's good to have a backup charging plan, however.

How to Charge an EV During an Outage

There are more ways to charge an EV in an outage than there are ways to fuel a gasoline car. And any of those ways is safer than storing highly flammable gasoline at your residence.

  • Generate your own electricity by putting solar on your roof. In most circumstances, if your power goes out, it's likely that your solar goes out, too, since a solar system that's tied to the electricity grid needs to be turned off to protect the safety of line workers making repairs. But some solar systems come with automatic shutoffs and algorithms so that they can continue sending electricity into your home or your car while disconnecting it from the grid.
  • Find a charging station that hasn't lost power. Some charging stations are powered by solar energy or have battery backup systems, so they may never lose power at all. Obviously, if it's a regional outage, it may not be worth driving a long distance to find an available charging station, only to lose most of the charge on the return home, but this might work in a more localized outage.
  • Bring your charging cables with you and find any available electricity source. You don't necessarily need a charging station to charge your electric vehicle. Any available 110-outlet can give you some electricity.
  • Get a battery backup. Many advanced battery backup systems allow you to program the battery to direct electricity to appliances and devices that need it most. Unless you need to flee to safety, there are probably more important things to keep running during an electricity outage than your car, such as your refrigerator, household heat or air conditioning, basement heat so that water pipes don't freeze. Tying your battery with a residential solar system gives you even more assurance in an outage.
  • Microgrids are small grids with stand-alone (or “islanding”) potential, allowing them to provide electricity during regional power outages. Critical services like hospitals and military bases often rely on microgrids, but increasingly, community microgrids provide energy independence to neighborhoods or small communities.

Should You Use a Gas Generator?

It's not recommended to charge an EV using a gas generator, because the uneven sine wave of the current created by a generator can damage your EV's battery. Unless you're a master electrician and have a sine wave inverter handy to stabilize the current, it's not worth the risk.

Using Your EV Wisely During a Power Outage

When the power went out for days during a deep freeze in Texas in February 2021, more than 200 people died, unable to keep themselves warm. Some died of carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to sleep in their gas-powered cars.

Sleeping in your car is never ideal, but if it's a matter of life and death during a severe cold snap or heatwave, turn on your vehicle, shut off all accessories other than the climate control, and wait out the outage. An electric vehicle produces no emissions at all, so it's safe to sleep in your car anywhere during an outage, even in your garage, as some people did during the Texas freeze.

Tesla vehicles come with “camp mode,” which automatically sets the vehicle to a sleep-friendly climate without drawing much energy from the battery—but any electric vehicle can be manually set to do the same. If you're able to, drive to a charging station, plug in your vehicle, and wait out the outage there. Just be courteous if other people need to charge their vehicles, too.

Also, consider vehicle-to-home charging. An electric vehicle is itself a large battery backup, and recent innovations in EV technology allow you to supply power to your home in an emergency. Tesla vehicles tied to their PowerWall technology can supply electricity to a home, as can Ford's F-150 Lightning and other vehicles. Not every EV is capable of vehicle-to-home charging, however.

Be Prepared

As with any emergency situation, be prepared. Have an emergency supply of food and water stored somewhere in your home. Keep a first-aid kit and blanket in the trunk of your car. And during seasons when severe weather is known to strike, be sure that your EV battery is fully charged.