8 tips for driving electric vehicles in cold climates
Check out our top tips for driving electric cars in winter
As another winter rolls around, some electric vehicle (EV) owners and potential buyers worry that the cold weather will negatively affect the range of their car. The good news is that, with the new breed of EVs, you’ll still be able to get wherever you need to go, even when the mercury drops below freezing point — especially if you follow our 8 simple tips!
Why does the cold weather affect EVs?
EVs get their power from a lithium-ion battery, and batteries work at their best between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperature falls below around 40 degrees, the chemical reactions that generate electrons to supply the current of the battery slow down, resulting in the battery producing less current.
Most cars counter this issue by using a battery thermal management system to warm the battery up, but unlike an internal combustion engine which generates its own heat, an EV has to take energy from the battery itself to create that heat. This means there’s less power available to get the wheels turning.
How much could the cold weather reduce the mileage range of my EV?
The automobile club, AAA, tested a wide range of EVs which all have average ranges of over 100 miles per charge. The cars were tested in a climate-controlled dynamometer (a treadmill for cars) at a cold 20 degrees Fahrenheit and then again at a warmer temperature of 75 degrees.
The study found that at the colder temperature, average range fell by 12 percent when no heater was used in the vehicles. When cabin heaters were turned on, driving range dropped by an average of 41 percent.
A point worth bearing in mind however, is that cold weather also affects the fuel efficiency of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. A study by FleetCarma found that on average, ICE vehicles had a 19 percent decrease in range at 0°F.
And a really interesting takeaway from that FleetCarma study was that electric vehicle payback actually improves at lower temperatures! This is because gasoline costs per mile increase more than the electricity cost per mile as the temperature falls, making electricity savings 14.8c per mile on average at 0°F, as opposed to 13.9c per mile at 32°F.
Will an EV be able to do the job in winter?
Many of the latest models of EVs have estimated mileage ranges of between 200 and 300 miles. So, working off the basis that winter temperatures reduce your range by around 12%, and following our tips, you can expect to get between 170 and 260 miles out of your EV, which is more than sufficient for most daily usage!
For more anecdotal evidence, last year saw the first EVs to be driven through a Yukon Canadian winter, and the car owners were positively surprised by their performance, even in -39°F temperatures. The owner of the first Tesla Model 3 to be registered in the Yukon said his car started and ran in all temperatures, and that his mileage range fell by only about a third.
Which EVs handle wintery road conditions the best?
Moving on from the battery for a moment, if you need your EV to cope with true winter conditions, then it will also be important to consider how it’ll handle.
The EV Association of Norway conducted a real world test of five EVs, taking them out on a serious Scandinavian winter circuit; a 700-kilometer loop (approximately 434 miles) from Oslo to Hemsedal, a popular ski resort 3,000 meters above sea level, and back. All vehicles were equipped with winter tires to ensure a fair test.
The test results showed that the Nissan LEAF and Volkswagen e-Golf stood out from the crowd for their safe and steady handling in cold, slippery winter conditions.
Overall, electric motors and their digital controls give all EVs great traction and control, making for safe handling in winter conditions.
Top tips for driving electric cars in winter
1. Check your tire pressure
Tire pressure drops as the ambient temperature falls, leading to greater rolling resistance and reduced mileage range. It’s really good practice to check your tire pressure every month, but particularly as the outside temperatures change considerably with the seasons. You could save yourself as much as 13% of your average range by doing so!
2. Make the most of pre-timed heating systems
Many EVs come fitted with a pre-timed heating system that can be programmed to come on while the battery is still charging, just before you start your journey. This will warm the battery for optimal performance (known as preconditioning), and make the cab nice and toasty so that you don’t need to blast out the heating while driving. Preconditioning prior to departure can give you 10-15% more range.
Some EVs, like Teslas, and the new Jaguar I-Pace electric, will even let you manage the pre-timed heaters remotely via an app.
Just make sure that the car is plugged into a 240V level 2 power source while you precondition, because this process will pull more power than a 120V level 1 charger can provide.
3. Use indoor parking facilities where possible
A super-chilled battery won’t perform as well, or take as much charge as a warmer one, so if you drive your EV in seriously cold climates, it will help performance to keep your car parked in a garage. If you can’t do that, then try to park in a spot that will be in direct sunlight during the day. You’ll have a warmer battery and cabin when you get back in your car later – for free!
4. Minimize the use of cabin heating
Using the HVAC system is the number one battery drainer in winter, according to a study by AAA. HVAC use decreased range by as much as 30%. So, preheat your cabin, get yourself some comfy driving gloves and keep your jacket on.
It will also pay to use heated seating and steering wheels, rather than cabin heaters to keep you warm while you drive, as these pull significantly less power from the battery.
5. Drive conservatively
No matter the weather, one factor that always affects your mileage range is how you drive your EV. Excessive acceleration and braking, and driving at high speeds all drain battery life. And that’s not just better for your mileage range, it’ll also keep you and your passengers safer on those wintery roads.
By anticipating the need to brake and avoiding harsh braking, you will allow your EVs regenerative braking system to work, recovering energy and storing it back into the battery. The only thing to bear in mind is that in extreme cold, the regenerative braking system will be less effective because cold batteries can’t accept as much energy as warm batteries can.
6. Use the eco mode
Every EV has a slightly different function to their eco mode, but generally they all work to reduce power consumption and increase mileage by reducing the energy supply to the drive motor and high energy consumption features such as cabin heaters.
Eco modes can actually make your car safer to drive in winter too. By reducing the power to the motor, the car accelerates slower, which reduces the possibility of wheel spin on ice- or snow-covered roads.
7. Know where your fast chargers are
Cold batteries have a greater resistance to charging, meaning that EVs charge slower in low temperatures. Make sure you have a 240V level 2 fast charger available for your main charge – whether that’s overnight, or while you’re at work. And if you’re planning a long winter road trip in your EV then it’ll pay to map out where the fast charging stations are.
8. And don’t forget to winterize your vehicle
Check out this article to learn how to make your car totally winter-proof. Although it might not increase the efficiency of your EV, it’s sure to make driving safer.
If you found this article interesting, you can learn more about EV fleet management at geotab.com/ev
See also: Telematics RFP checklist for EV support
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Geotab's blog posts are intended to provide information and encourage discussion on topics of interest to the telematics community at large. Geotab is not providing technical, professional or legal advice through these blog posts. While every effort has been made to ensure the information in this blog post is timely and accurate, errors and omissions may occur, and the information presented here may become out-of-date with the passage of time.
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