Electric car owners and prospective owners are often worried about how cold weather affects the charge on these vehicles. Since internal combustion engine vehicles don’t fare too well around this time, the electric variants are also bound to underperform, right?
Electric cars lose charge in cold weather. The lithium-ion batteries that power these vehicles are highly sensitive to extreme temperature swings. In cold weather below 40°F (4°C), the batteries will fail to deliver peak performance as they use up more energy due to added power demands.
The rest of the article will cover all you need to know about how cold weather affects electric cars. You’ll also learn how to get the best possible performance from your battery.
- How Cold Weather Affects Electric Cars
- How Much Range Deduction Does Cold Weather Cause for EVs?
- Will Electric Vehicle Batteries Die Abruptly in Cold Weather?
- What Are the Best Electric Vehicles for Cold Weather?
- Are EVs a Good Bargain for People Living in Colder Climates?
- How Scientists Are Solving the Problem
- Tips To Maintain Your Electric Car’s Efficiency in Cold Weather
- Final Thoughts
How Cold Weather Affects Electric Cars
To understand how cold weather affects electric cars (EVs), you need to first look at how it affects internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. In the winter, ICE cars can suffer significant issues, including frozen fluids, black ice slides, and dead batteries.
Most people accept these problems as normal and never really think about them in detail because it’s what they’ve known all their lives. Additionally, most ICE car owners are well-equipped with how to handle these concerns.
However, commercial EV technology is relatively new and is only about two decades old. This means that, unlike with ICE cars, few people know what to do when the winter blues hit their EVs.
EV batteries lose charge quicker when the temperature is colder than 40°F (4°C). The electrolyte fluid in the battery cells starts to congeal under that temperature range, which means that the battery doesn’t have as much power to discharge.
To understand this reaction better, you need to understand what happens when you charge a lithium-ion battery. While charging, the positively-charged lithium ions swing from the cathode over to the anode via the electrolyte fluid.
When it’s discharging, the reverse scenario occurs. With a sluggish electrolyte fluid caused by cold weather, there’d be fewer electrons transported in the first place. Combined with the increased demand for the battery to power the car’s systems, the battery will lose its charge faster.
How Much Range Deduction Does Cold Weather Cause for EVs?
Cold weather causes between 20% and 50% decline in range for electric vehicles. The severity of the mileage reduction varies across car models and may be influenced by specific charging practices.
Many relevant bodies have conducted experiments that helped us to come up with the range above. In 2019, a Wired report stated that an EV would drive 20% fewer miles on average in cold weather compared to warm weather. A similar study by the AAA placed this percentage at 41%, while another one from Consumer Reports placed it at 50%.
A Norwegian report in which the researchers drove 20 different EV models in real-life conditions arrived at an average of 20% range deduction. This report is among the more widely regarded because Norway is a leader in EV adoption rates.
More than 42% of cars sold in the country in 2019 were completely electric, so they have conducted more comprehensive tests on EVs than most countries.
The studies from AAA and Consumer Reports led to some pretty unfounded doom and gloom headlines that failed to consider the depth of the research conducted by both bodies. The AAA research was conducted in a lab, while the Consumer Reports test only featured two models. The Norwegian report featured 20 vehicles in outdoor winter conditions.
So, the right answer will likely be somewhere in the middle – as long as you’re driving your car within the recommended cold weather limit placed by the manufacturer. Most manufacturers make their cars usable even at temperatures as cold as -22°F (-30°C).
Keep in mind that EV batteries lose range due to inefficiency in the battery’s electrolyte transportation and the increased power demands from the vehicle. ICE cars can produce heat to warm the car in cold weather. The battery in an EV must use some of the juice to power the heating systems, which reduces the range.
Will Electric Vehicle Batteries Die Abruptly in Cold Weather?
Electric vehicle batteries won’t die abruptly in cold weather. Most models are designed to give you plenty of warning long before your batteries are anywhere close to dying.
These warnings will typically tell you how many more miles you can expect to get out of the vehicle before it shuts down. If you act on time and recharge your car, you won’t have to worry about being stranded with a dead battery.
What Are the Best Electric Vehicles for Cold Weather?
The best electric vehicles for cold weather are the Hyundai Kona, Tesla Model S, Tesla Model 3, and the Audi e-Tron. These vehicles have a high mileage range and witness less than 15% mileage reduction in cold weather.
They also charge without inhibition at lower temperatures. The above vehicles were highlighted as the best models in the Norwegian report referenced earlier. The Nissan Leaf was the best-performing vehicle in cold weather in the AAA report.
|Vehicle Model||WLTP Range (Miles)||Real-World Winter Range (Miles)|
|Tesla Model S||379 (609.94 km)||292 (469.93 km)|
|Tesla Model 3||347 (558.44 km)||251 (403.95 km)|
|Tesla Model X||315 (506.94 km)||260 (418.43 km)|
|Hyundai Kona Electric||278 (447.4 km)||251 (403.95 km)|
|Mercedes Benz EQ-C||251 (403.95 km)||190 (305.78 km)|
|Audi e-Tron 55 Quattro||247 (397.51 km)||211 (339.56 km)|
|Nissan Leaf (62 kwt)||239 (384.63 km)||185 (297.73 km)|
|Nissan Leaf (40 kwt)||167 (268.76 km)||130 (209.22 km)|
|BMWi3 (120Ah)||192 (308.99 km)||152 (244.62 km)|
|Renault Zoe||236 (379.81 km)||136 (218.87 km)|
The table above uses data from The Norwegian Automobile Federation (NAF). Here is a YouTube video discussing these findings in further detail:
Are EVs a Good Bargain for People Living in Colder Climates?
Electric vehicles are still a good bargain for people living in colder climates. A good tip is to buy one with the longest range possible that still fits your budget. The approach will limit the impact of mileage reduction due to cold weather on your daily commute.
Modern EV manufacturers are also adding tech solutions that make their products more impervious to the elements. For example, the Hyundai Kona comes with proprietary heat pump technology, which uses recycled waste heat.
Others like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Hummer EV, and Rivian’s R1 vehicles are tested in subzero environments to ensure they are ready to face the elements right from the production line.
Just as AAA mentioned in their report, there’s no reason to be discouraged from buying an EV if you live in a cold climate. You just need to do some extra planning, and you’re sure to be able to get around easily. Additionally, this extra planning is nowhere near as challenging as lugging around battery jump starters, flashlights, and ice scrapers, which you’ll have to do with a conventional ICE car.
How Scientists Are Solving the Problem
As mentioned above, scientists worldwide are working on smart solutions to ensure electric vehicles can cope better with cold weather. Future EVs may be able to warm up the battery automatically after the car is programmed to head to a fast charger.
Such technology will loosen up electrolytes and ensure they are in the optimum state to accept a charge. A recent paper also suggests that some EV batteries may be designed to discharge energy once it gets cold to stay warm.
Scientists are also currently working on solid-state batteries for the future. These batteries won’t have any liquids inside, and thus, they won’t be so sensitive to extreme weather fluctuations. The idea is still in its infancy, so it could take another decade before such batteries become commercially available.
While new batteries are under development, EV car owners can still enjoy their vehicles in icy weather. High mileage vehicles will barely be affected by cold weather, and if you own the mid-range models, there are a few solutions available that will help you keep your car efficient.
Tips To Maintain Your Electric Car’s Efficiency in Cold Weather
Here are some tips to keep in mind to maintain your car’s efficiency in cold weather:
Preheat the Vehicle With a Wall Charger
If you can charge your electric car in your garage at home, you should consider preheating the vehicle with a wall charger instead of using the car battery for it. This approach ensures your car is warmed up while it’s plugged in, so you won’t lose any range by using the battery before you’ve driven out of the gate.
Most EV models allow you to preheat or precondition your car remotely, so you don’t have to come out until the car is warm enough. With some models, you can set up a regular departure time, so your car will start to heat up as soon as you prepare to drive out.
Keep Your Battery Warm
As we’ve seen above, the electrolytes in your EV battery become more sluggish as the battery gets colder. You can avoid this problem by taking steps to keep your battery warm.
Plugging it in as frequently as possible is a sure method. If you can’t plug the battery in, you can take steps to keep snow and ice off the vehicle. Parking in the sun and regularly cleaning off the ice are two relatively easy-to-implement options you can consider.
Reduce Reliance on Your Car’s Heating
If you don’t have to use too much of your EV’s heating, you can preserve some battery. For example, instead of cranking up the heater to the maximum setting, you can dress in more layers and reduce the heating by half. You can also keep a flask filled with hot tea, coffee, or water to help keep your body warm.
Drive at Moderate Speeds
Driving at higher speeds forces the car’s battery to work harder, reducing the overall mileage. Ideally, you should keep your speed below 65 miles (104.61 km) per hour to ensure maximum efficiency.
Additionally, driving fast during the winter is also a safety hazard due to the treacherous conditions. The roads are slippery, and visibility is negatively affected by fog, snow, and rain. So, maintaining moderate speed keeps you safe and also helps your battery last longer.
Install Winter Tires
All-season tires work well enough in most conditions, but designated winter tires provide a significant advantage in the peak of winter. They ensure better safety and efficiency overall and also make driving on winter roads less demanding on your car.
Electric cars are generally heavier in comparison to their ICE counterparts. Therefore, they’re harder to control on slippery surfaces. If you don’t have tires made for such surfaces, you’ll put more strain on the car’s battery as it powers your efforts to keep the car stable during your drive.
With winter tires, you can enjoy better grip when driving on snow-covered roads, reducing the burden on your batteries overall.
Install a Heat Pump
Heat pumps in EVs use less power compared to conventional air conditioning systems. It makes them more beneficial in the winter overall. This technology was first introduced in Nissan’s EVs in 2013.
Since then, more brands have included heat pumps as part of their design. Others offer them as add-ons.
Heat pumps are effective because they absorb heat from the atmosphere and compress it using a refrigerant circuit. The interaction increases the heat in the cabin, ensuring that warm air is blown into the car.
Your car will stay warm overall without using energy from the battery, thereby giving you more driving range.
Know Where To Charge
When you’re out and about in cold weather, it’s important to keep an eye on your battery warnings to know when you should get a quick charge. You’ll need to know where the public charging stations are located around your commute route.
Fast-charging stations can charge your battery back up to 80% in less than 45 minutes, even if you’re in freezing temperatures.
The lost charge is rarely a big problem for most EV car owners. Manufacturers have worked hard to incorporate technologies and systems that ensure a fully-charged EV battery can complete the average daily commute.
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