This is How Electric Cars Perform in Cold Weather


Vehicles tend to behave differently in cold weather than in warm weather, and electric cars are no exception. In the article below, you’ll learn precisely how electric cars perform in winter weather and how their performance can be further improved in these conditions.

Electric vehicles experience reductions in battery range during cold weather. This is primarily due to excess heating demands and the fact that it takes the cars longer to be charged in cold weather. Winter conditions can also make handling much more difficult, thanks to slippery surfaces.

The good news is that there are some ways in which EVs are an improvement over their gasoline predecessors in winter conditions. In the sections below, you’ll find tips on tackling the battery range problem and improving your electric car’s performance during cold weather.

How Well Do Electric Cars Perform in Cold Weather?

Both electric cars and gasoline-powered cars experience decreases in performance during cold weather. The main concern here is regarding battery range and how much it can be reduced during freezing temperatures. There are several other positives and negatives that EV owners experience during winter, as is discussed in further detail below.

Longer Charge Times In Cold Temperatures

A 2018 study by Idaho National Laboratory found that EV vehicles may take longer to charge in cold weather. Low temperatures impact electrochemical reactions within battery cells, leading onboard battery management systems to automatically limit the charging rate to prevent damage from occurring.

For reference, the study occurred in New York during wintertime. The vehicles studied were the fleet of Nissan Leaf vehicles used for New York City Taxi services.

  • When charged at 77 degrees F, the batteries reached 80% charge capacity in approximately 30 minutes.
  • When charged at 32 degrees F, the batteries only reached approximately 44% charge capacity in 30 minutes.

Fuel economy issues are well-documented in gasoline-powered vehicles in cold weather as well. You could also easily circumvent the charging problem by housing the car in a protected garage area, where temperatures are less likely to reach freezing levels.

Regenerative Braking Reduced

Cold weather does have the consequence of limiting the regenerative braking system. In regenerative braking, the battery is charged when the kinetic energy from the braking system is converted into electricity. This contributes to reduced battery range, especially in a day and age in which regenerative braking systems are becoming progressively more efficient.

Reduced Battery Range

The battery range of EVs can be cut by as much as 40% in cold weather.

The good news is that several proven management practices can extend battery range in the winter:

  • Heat your car while it is still hooked up to the power supply. This way, you will be drawing power from the grid to heat the vehicle initially, rather than the battery.
  • Don’t put the heat on blast; use heated accessories instead. Many electric vehicles come with heated accessories, such as seat warmers or a heated steering wheel, that use less energy than the air heater.
  • Maintain constant speeds and limit your dependency on the brakes.

Greater Energy Expenditure For Heating The Interior

At the moment, EV vehicles do not hold up as well as gasoline vehicles when it comes to heating the car’s interior. The energy expenditure is more significant because lithium-ion batteries do not have as much “juice” for running heating systems.

In gasoline-powered cars, excess heat from the engine is used to heat the cabin. This is not the case in electric vehicles, where climate control is powered solely by the battery. According to Car and Driver, a 15-gallon gas tank holds the equivalent of 505.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy, which can be six times greater than the maximum energy capacity of a Tesla Model 3.

Based on the above, you can see how vitally important it is to heat your vehicle efficiently. Otherwise, your battery range will be reduced significantly. Tips on how to heat electric cars more efficiently are included in the sections below.

EVs May Be Safer In Winter

Simply because EVs tend to weigh more than their gasoline-powered counterparts, they tend to be safer when driven in winter conditions.

  • Insurance claim data shows that EV drivers are less likely to suffer from injuries than drivers in similarly-sized gasoline vehicles.
  • The added weight makes the vehicle less likely to spin around on slippery surfaces.
  • The air space in the front trunk provides an additional cushion during collisions.

Improved Center Of Gravity

Another feature that improves traction in EVs is the fact that most of the motor components and battery are located at the center of the vehicle, under the floor, or near the tires. At the front and rear of the vehicle is empty trunk space.

The weight of the motor and battery are thus more evenly distributed than what you would see in a traditional vehicle. In the case of dual-engine vehicles, such as the Tesla Model Y, you even have a motor at each axle.

Still, it is not the weight distribution that makes these vehicles safer in slippery conditions. Instead, it is the low center of gravity that is beneficial, as this makes EVs more stable and less likely to roll over.

EVs Have Enhanced Driver-Assistance Features

EVs are typically outfitted with the most advanced driver assistance features on the market today. Driving through winter can be hazardous due to slick surfaces and reduced visibility. The advanced equipment in EVs can make winter driving much less of a chore, as you’ll see below.

There has been a push for autopilot/self-driving modes in modern vehicles, particularly in fully electric cars. Tesla has equipped its fleet with special camera sensors, which provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at a maximum distance of up to 250 meters.

In the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Co-Pilot360 software allows users a chance to drive hands-free on over 100,000 miles divided into all 50 states. Lane assist technology sounds the alert when the car is beginning to drift out of its lane. Further adding to your peace of mind is advanced blind spot detection and pre-collision assist.

Does Autopilot Work In The Snow?

Perhaps one of the most pressing concerns is whether the autopilot/self-driving modes will work in winter weather. They theoretically should work, but manufacturers warn users that it is critical to remove all ice and snow from the sensors before driving.

EVs Have Fewer Parts To Fix

Winter can have a major impact on the longevity of different parts of the car. Some of this damage may result from corrosive road salt breaking down the chassis of the vehicle. Transmission fluids and power steering fluids can be thickened in subzero temperatures, and some parts of the engine block may even freeze.

With electric vehicles, the likelihood of costly damage to hard-to-find engine parts is less likely, because EVs have several hundred fewer parts than traditional vehicles. If there are any issues, it should be relatively simple to identify the root of the problem.

How Does Cold Weather Impact The Longevity of an EV?

The good news is that it does not appear that the life expectancy for the battery is reduced in a cold climate. It’s worth noting, however, that the consequences of living in a cold climate could indirectly cause owners to engage in practices that can be harmful to battery life. These harmful practices are further discussed in the section below.

The Danger of Fast Charging Stations

Due to the reduced battery range in cold weather, owners may feel the need to frequent fast-charging stations. An example of these can be seen with Tesla’s Supercharger network, which advertises the ability to charge to full capacity in as little as 30 minutes. Other EV manufacturers have developed their fast-charging systems as well.

While these speedy stations are great for charging your car in a jiffy, they may damage the battery if they are used too often. Increased resistance within the battery can result in heat damage. As such, the best approach is to make sure that you do not forget to keep the battery hooked up whenever you can so that you do not run out of battery range.

Reduced Range Encourages Overcharging

Manufacturers, such as Tesla, generally recommend that you do not allow a battery to reach a charge level over 80% or lower than 20%. Batteries in EVs are technically not capable of being fully charged or fully dissolved. Keeping the charge level within the manufacturer’s recommended range will help ensure that depletion does not occur at a more rapid rate than expected.

Lightweight Materials Respond To Corrosive Road Salt

Modern vehicle engineering calls for the use of lightweight materials to improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. The use of lightweight materials is particularly prevalent in electric vehicles since there is a need to counteract the weight of the battery pack, even though there are fewer engine parts in an EV.

Cast iron and traditional steel components are being replaced with high-strength steel, magnesium alloys, aluminum alloys, carbon fibers, and polymer composites. Some of these materials, such as aluminum, can experience oxidation damage when exposed to road salt.

One downside of owning EVs is the length of time it may take to repair body damage resulting from road salt (at least until manufacturers expand their body shop network). In 2019, SFGate reported that some Tesla owners claimed to be waiting several months for simple repairs.

This is an aspect of EV ownership to consider if you live in an area where road salt is used in large quantities for road safety reasons. You can help prevent corrosion damage by waxing your car before the winter season and taking advantage of periodic bursts of mild weather to wash off your car.

How Do Electric Cars Do In Cold Climates?

If you are an EV buyer in a cold climate, you are encouraged to purchase a high battery range model. In many cases, this will mean shelling out more money for a long-range edition over a lower trim level. The improved battery range will pay for itself when you don’t have to call for help because your battery died mid-trip. There are a host of other features you should seek out, included below.

Air Suspension

The air suspension system in the Tesla Model X is capable of raising the car’s ground clearance from 7 to 9 inches. This could make a big difference in your ability to trudge through unplowed sections of the road. The onboard computer in the Model X and similar vehicles can automatically detect times when adjustments need to be made to the suspension.

All-Wheel Drive

Many EVs feature AWD (all-wheel drive) as their drivetrain. This is a feature that allows the vehicle to handle better in ice and snow. All-wheel drive vehicles have twice the amount of grip as rear-wheel-drive cars. This is because all four wheels are used to develop forward momentum.

Many EVs on the market have front-wheel drive, which is preferable to rear-wheel drive for winter driving. In any case, you can improve the vehicle’s handling in ice and snow by equipping your vehicle with winter tires.

Some examples of EVs with AWD include:

Heat Pumps

Manufacturers have found a potential solution to the heating problem: heat pump cabin heaters. A heat pump system is more efficient than a conventional heater, thanks to advanced heat capture technology.

Here’s how it works:

  1. A natural heating effect is produced from the difference between the temperature of a refrigerant and the outside air.
  2. An external capacitor absorbs heat from the atmosphere and compresses it into high-temperature heat.
  3. After heat is decompressed to a low temperature, it is released from the car.

Some examples of EVs with Heat pumps include:

Heated Elements

You can cut back on battery usage by relying more so on heated elements within the car to keep things toasty rather than keeping the heat on full blast. This includes features such as heated seats and heated steering wheels.

Phone Apps To Monitor Charge Level

If you have no choice but to charge your car outdoors, then it’ll be nice to be able to remotely monitor the charge level. This will prevent you from having to trek through harsh winter conditions, only to find out that you need to wait a little longer before you’re good to go.

Many of the leading EV manufacturers provide apps that allow owners to remotely monitor their vehicles’ condition. The services provided don’t stop there, for many of these apps also allow users to remotely start their car so that everything is nice and toasty by the time they are ready to go.

Smart Summon

Imagine being able to retrieve your vehicle from across the parking lot, from the convenience of your office doorway. This dream has become a reality, thanks to Tesla’s Smart Summon feature, which can be purchase as part of its fully-self driving package. This attribute is being replicated by other EV manufacturers, such as Ford.

The maximum distance you can summon the Tesla from is 200 feet away, as long as the vehicle is still within sight. This can undoubtedly be beneficial in circumstances where ice has made a parking lot impassable.

Look For Cars with An Eco Mode Feature

EVs are typically equipped with some version of an Eco Mode which is not unlike the low battery mode setting for your cell phone. Putting your car in this mode automatically reduces the use of features that use up a significant amount of power, such as cabin heaters.

Eco-mode can help increase the battery range while not sacrificing driving power. If you are planning a long trip in your EV, then you are highly encouraged to look into this settings option if you haven’t done so before.

Seat Covers/Trunk Liners

In recent years, Tesla began making the transition to 100% vegan leather interiors, thereby creating a need for owners to protect their upholstery from the damaging effects of road salt. EV manufacturers, in general, tend to emphasize the use of sustainable and/or premium materials for upholstery.

These materials can be more expensive to replace than basic cloth interiors. As such, you are encouraged to invest in seat protectors, trunk liners, and quality floor mats if these haven’t already been included at the time of vehicle purchase.

Here are some popular seat covers for EVs:

How To Improve EV Performance In Cold Weather

You can engage in several practices that will help you maintain EV performance in cold weather. As mentioned earlier, the reduced range is the primary concern with EVs during wintertime. You are invited to continue below to learn about preventing battery range loss during winter and improving EV performance.

Preconditioning

Electric cars come with the option to set up preconditioning in the car. The software can heat the interior to your desired temperature before you go to disconnect from the charger. This eliminates the immediate battery drain that occurs when you wait until you’re on the road to get the heat pumping.

For example, in Tesla vehicles, owners can go to a setting where they set up a departure time for each day. This directs the vehicle to warm up every day while the car is still attached to the charger. This is one step further from a classic remote start, where you still have to push a button to get things rolling.

Clean Snow And Ice Off Before Driving

Not only does heating the interior draw a lot of battery juice, but so does the defrosting system and windshield wipers. You can reduce battery power expenditures by taking the time to remove as much ice and snow from your vehicle as possible.

Preconditioning should take care of a significant chunk of the ice and snow, but you may still need to add a little elbow grease to the formula. The Mallory 583-EP Snow Brush extends up to 52″ so that you may reach the entire vehicle without putting excessive strain on your upper body and back.

Keep The Car Indoors

The best-case scenario is to store the car in a garage, provided that you have space that allows for this. This will ensure that the battery is charged at a consistent rate, and it will prevent the buildup of snow and ice during the wintertime.

Can You Charge An Electric Car In Rain & Snow?

New owners may be concerned that charging a car in rain and snow could be dangerous. However, there is no need to worry since the charge cables that come with the vehicle are rated for outdoor use, rain or shine. Things start to get dicey once you add extension cords to the mix since these may not be rated for outdoor use.

Tires And Snow Chains: Fuel Efficiency?

Take a look at the tires that your EV is equipped with, as this will impact the expected battery range of your vehicle. The truth of the matter is that winter tires and tire chains harm fuel efficiency.

Despite this, safety comes first. If you invest in snow tires for your vehicle, then you’ll notice improved traction, better cornering, and enhanced performance as well. Life is full of trade-offs, but it’s safe to say that traction matters more than battery range during dangerous road conditions.

Tire chains are a more affordable alternative to snow tires. If you live in an area that receives a few major snow/ice events per year, this may be a wise investment, given that EVs do not typically have 4-wheel drive. When the snow and ice melt away, you can simply remove the tire chains and stow them away for the next time you need them.

Check Tire Pressure Performance

For maximum performance and safety, you must keep making sure that proper tire pressure is maintained. As the temperature drops, so will the tire pressure. This results in greater rolling resistance and decreased battery range.

The good news is that modern vehicles have instrument panels where tire pressure readings are continuously updated, and alarms go off when tire pressure drops dangerously low. If you have winter tires on, you will likely need to check these manually, however, since the tire pressure gauge on the car will not give you an accurate reading.

For Exterior Maintenance: Apply Wax before Winter

One of the chief concerns with EVs has been small bumps and scratches that can take months to repair for some makes and models due to the limited extent of body repair shops dedicated to specialized vehicles. You can prevent body wear from occurring during rough winter weather by applying a layer of wax while it’s still warm out.

Car wax should be applied to the car when the outdoor temperature is 60-80 degrees F. You will need to make sure that the car’s surface is completely clean before the wax is applied. One of the most popular products on the market is Shine Armor Fortify Quick Coat. This is a spray that is compatible with a wide variety of surfaces.

Do Electric Cars Start In Cold Weather?

Cars are notorious for having trouble starting in cold weather. You’ve probably experienced it a time or two in your life: you insert the key but the car’s engine struggles to turn over. This is why you may be surprised at the answer to the question of whether electric cars struggle to start in cold weather.

Electric cars tend to be easier to start in cold weather versus gasoline cars. This is the case as long as you have the car plugged in while it is parked. The action of charging the battery can keep the car warm while it’s sitting.

With traditional vehicles, you have no choice but to leave the car sitting in the cold for extended periods. If you are lucky enough to have a car with remote start functionality, then at least you can warm the car up without stepping outside, but this may require you to wait several more minutes before your car is ready to be driven.

Final Thoughts

Battery range can be reduced significantly in cold weather. This is due both to increased energy expenditure for heating and less-efficient charging due to electrochemical reactions within the battery cells. EVs, like all other cars, are also more challenging to handle in slippery road conditions.

There are plenty of workarounds concerning the battery issue. For one thing, you can make sure that the car is warmed while it is still connected to the charger. You can also invest in an EV with a heat pump system, which is a much more efficient way to heat and cool a car. More tips like this are included in the article above.

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