People are increasingly becoming conscious of the environmental impact of their vehicles. This has prompted auto manufacturers across the globe to commit to developing cleaner forms of automotive technology in the last two decades. Today, we continue to see a growing number of electric and hybrid versions of America’s best-selling nameplates on the road—there is no doubt that going electric is the way of the future.
While the pros and cons of switching to electric is a complicated debate for another time, there are other things that vehicle owners must consider as we move away from internal combustion engines. One major concern for people deciding to make the switch to an EV is its reputation for poor performance in cold weather.
To understand why electric cars are bad winter vehicles for some people, let’s do a quick recap of how they work.
How do electric cars work?
Electric vehicles are battery-powered automobiles that rely on an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. Popularly known as EVs, they are considered “green” vehicles because they do not rely on refined fuels and do not emit harmful exhaust gases.
Most electric vehicles have lithium-ion batteries that rely on chemical reactions to produce an electric current. They are most efficient at warmer temperatures of around 70 degrees F. Extreme heat can shorten the lifespan of batteries while cold weather can cause internal components of lithium-ion batteries to become more resistant to the flow of energy.
Reduced Electric Car Range in Cold Weather
In tests conducted by the American Automobile Association (AAA), it was discovered that electric vehicles lost over 40 percent of their range in cold climates. The loss in range was also observed to be significantly larger compared to the loss when a vehicle cools the cabin during warmer temperatures.
A loss in driving range has consistently been observed in EVs as temperatures dip below 20 degrees F. In a test done by Consumer Reports, a fully-charged Nissan Leaf that had an estimated 151-mile range was only able to push out half of its expected range. After a 64-mile drive, there were only 10 predicted miles left on its battery. This can have a huge impact on your daily driving plans.
How long does it take to charge an electric car at low temperatures? In the summer, a 30-minute quick charge at a DC Fast Charger (DCFC) can give you an 80 percent boost in battery power. You can expect a 50 percent boost or less for the same duration of charging time during the winter.
How to make your EV a better winter vehicle
Don’t give up your electric vehicle for a gas guzzler just yet. While we wait for automakers to improve upon the existing battery systems, there are steps you can take to maximize the efficiency of your EV in the cold months ahead.
1. Plan your stops.
Driving in the extreme cold, especially in an electric vehicle with limited range, requires a bit of planning on your part. Keep in mind that the reduced range may require you to make shorter trips or more stops to top up your batteries. It’s also a good idea to look up the location of charging stations on your route in advance.
2. Remove snow and ice from your car.
Keep in mind that EVs don’t have a hot engine that can melt ice and slush off the hood of your vehicle. Snow and other kinds of road debris can weigh on your vehicle and negatively affect its aerodynamics.
Be sure to clear ice and slush off your car and check if your charging port is frozen. You may thaw your charging cord by pouring a little lukewarm water on it or by using a hairdryer.
3. Precondition your vehicle before departing.
One of the main reasons why your EV requires more energy in cold weather is because more features must be activated to ensure ride comfort and safety. You’ll need your cabin heater, seat warmers, and defoggers to be fully operational, which means you’re using more battery power than you would in the summer.
A good way to get around this loss of power is to warm up your vehicle while it is still plugged in. Remember that going from low temperature to high requires more power than maintaining it. Most systems draw power to heat the cabin from the charging station instead of the battery as long as the vehicle is still plugged in. This can help you maximize your charge before going on a drive.
4. Turn on your seat and steering wheel heaters.
Run your heater at a low level and raise the fan speed as needed. Save on battery power by bundling up and wearing warm clothes inside the vehicle. Turning on the steering wheel and seat heaters will make you and your passengers feel comfortable quickly, even if the cabin heating isn’t cranked all the way up.
5. Activate the economy mode setting.
Most electric vehicles come with an economy mode that controls vehicle performance to maximize efficiency. Activating this setting will help you to get more juice out of every charge.
6. Drive at 65 mph or less.
Your vehicle’s efficiency decreases at a much faster rate at high speeds. Observing the speed limit reduces the amount of work your batteries need to do to maintain highway speeds. Driving at 65mph or less minimizes the energy your EV needs to counteract aerodynamic drag and slows down the intake of cold air that can further cool down your batteries.
7. Cycle your window defrosters.
Keeping your windows clear is critical to road safety, especially during the winter. Turning your defrosters to their maximum setting and switching them off as soon as the windshield is clear will minimize their impact on your battery capacity. You can switch them back on as needed.
8. Park in the sun.
Getting an EV to the right temperature with a stone-cold battery requires more power and takes significantly longer than starting up with a warm one. Where you park your EV makes a huge difference, especially if it’ll be left outside for most of the day. If parking in a heated garage is not possible, park your vehicle in a spot where it can take advantage of the sunlight. This will help warm up both your interiors and batteries.
9. Take advantage of regenerative braking.
Avoid hard braking as it uses conventional friction brakes that do not recover energy. Instead, allow the regenerative braking system to convert your vehicle’s forward motion into additional electricity for your battery.