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What is wireless charging?

  • How does wireless charging work?
  • Can you wirelessly charge an electric car
  • Parkers explains wireless charging technology

Written by Cat Dow Published: 2 January 2023 Updated: 2 January 2023

Wireless charging uses copper coils to charge a device or electric vehicle (EV) without a cable. While wireless smartphone charging has been available for a few years for consumers, EV charging isn’t especially common. It has been used in the FIA Formula E racing series since inception, for safety cars at least, and is, arguably, the utopia of EV charging many in the industry are working towards.

Wireless charging renders cords and cables irrelevant, providing a simple and functional solution for devices – especially those that endure heavy battery use. We look at both wireless smart device charging and wireless electric car charging in this explainer.

Man's hand placing smart device on in-car phone holder with wireless charging feature
Man's hand placing smart device on in-car phone holder with wireless charging feature

How do I charge my phone wirelessly?

The most common application currently is charging mobile phones inside vehicles. It can only be used on compatible phones, i.e. those built with the prerequisite electromagnetic coil in the back of the phone.

Some phones can charge wirelessly, fitted with a specific phone case. For example, Audi offers a case with built-in wireless charging for the iPhone 6 and 6S. There are also a number of aftermarket devices, if your car doesn’t have the wireless charger intuitively designed into the cabin space.

If the phone and the charger are present, then the next step is simple. Place one on the other.

Charging can begin when the two components meet in close proximity to each other, meaning it can be activated by simply placing the device (such as the phone) on top of the fitted charging pad. The display screen will usually confirm when charging has started. Your phone screen will usually indicate charging has started too.

Why wireless charging?

This feature means that users can simply charge their device in the background and keep the battery topped up. This is especially useful when functions such as Bluetooth streaming from a phone can drain a discernible amount of battery life.

Does my phone support wireless charging?

If you see the name ‘Qi’ being mentioned, this is simply the name of the global standard that most smartphones adhere to for this technology.

Various Audi, Skoda, Lexus, Jeep and Toyota models feature wireless charging. Although you have to specify it as an optional cost extra on many, fitment into vehicles is increasing.

The charging pad is typically found with the USB and Aux-in connections either in the front centre armrest, at the base of the dashboard or along the centre console, so look out for the symbols (above) if you are curious with your own purchase.

Is wireless charging possible for EV?

Using the same technology but on a bigger scale, wireless charging is a consideration for electric vehicles. The coil is stored under the battery pack and the expectation is that for taxi ranks, buses and lorries that need to be parked for a specific period to meet regulation, wireless charging could offer greater convenience.

There’s even a suggestion that roads could be laid with wirelessly charging tarmac, turning the road network into a life-sized Scalextric. That dynamic charging technology is probably a few decades off yet, but the static version is giving rise to automated parking technology, which will ideally line up the charging pad and the car’s coil to maximise the charge received.

What are the main drawbacks of wireless EV charging?

The main drawback to wireless EV charging is the power delivery. Cabled delivery is reaching heady heights of 350kW charging and this isn’t something that can be matched wirelessly since heat has to be managed.

Wireless charging lane in Europe
Wireless charging lane in Europe

Reducing the time spent dealing with charging cables is no bad thing, but aligning the pad and coil is crucial for a good charge, too. Wireless charging also works only over short distances.

Which is faster wired or wireless charging?

Whether charging a phone or electric car, there is no denying that wired charging is always faster.

Looking for more jargon-busting motoring meanings? Head over to our Parkers Car Glossary page and take a look at our other definitions