One of the most basic things about plugging in an EV is, in fact, the plug, and there are many different kinds. There are the everyday two- and three-prong plug you have in your house, the "dryer plug" and the plug used to connect recreational vehicles (RVs) to the electrical supply at campsites. There are also several different plugs specifically for vehicles. You may be thinking, "What's the big deal? Why can't I pull out a cord like I do on my Electrolux and plug it in to an ordinary wall outlet." For some vehicles, especially those with limited energy storage capacity such as motorcycles and home-converted cars with lead-acid batteries, that may indeed be the case. However, as those usually supply 110 volts at about 15 amps, vehicles with bigger batteries would take a long time to fill using such a cord and so something a bit more stout is generally preferred.
When the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had required auto manufacturers to offer models in California with zero emissions back in 1990, the plug used by most electric cars wasn't even a plug. Instead of using a connector with exposed metal prongs, plastic paddles using inductive charging (like in your cordless toothbrush) were preferred. Although a little less efficient than a direct connection, the chance of electrocution was pretty much eliminated and plugging in was super easy. When the zero emissions requirement in California was dropped however, so were the new electric car models along with their paddles. The next generation of EVs to emerge are going in a different direction, though paddle charging is still used by owners of RAV4EV and electric Ford Rangers from that not-so-distant era. Check out the promotional video below showing how the EV1 from GM could theoretically be charged underwater. The next video features Darell "the EV Nut" demonstrating the everyday practicality of the system with his Toyota RAV4 EV.
More recently, the Tesla Roadster has grabbed the electric car spotlight and it has its own special connector. Of course, if you need to charge up somewhere other than home, you will likely need some sort of adapter. Luckily the company has a full array of connectors you can use to plug your car into Grandma's dryer outlet or at an RV park. As part of a video series introducing new owners to virtually every aspect of their 2010 Roadster, Tesla has an episode (featuring some particularly enthusiastic guys) that covers charging specifically and is worth spending a few minutes with.
By now you may be thinking, "Wouldn't it be a good idea to have one standard connector?" Why, yes it would, and it is coming very soon in the form of the SAE J1772. It will be used for practically every electric car sold in the U.S. including the Chevy Volt and the Tesla range. The new standard will not only allow EVs to charge relatively quickly with the ability to handle up to 70 amps of current at 240 volts but will also allow for two-way communication. This feature will be increasingly important as the electric grid becomes smarter and will allow cars to charge when rates are cheaper and may perhaps allow auto owners to sell back some of their stored energy if they elect to.
Finally, we have a pair of videos from EVTV featuring Jack Rickard discussing his own homemade charging solution. He's taken a replica gas pump and installed cords and monitoring equipment inside. As he explains how his unique power pump was built, he also provides us with a Greenlings-style primer to charging and connector issues the home-converter may encounter. Enjoy, and happy charging!