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How to Drive Electric Cars in Winter

tesla supercharger winter snow

One of the biggest downsides to driving an EV is winter range. Some vehicles have reported up to 40% loss of range in extreme cold. But while there can be some range loss, there are certain things you can do to improve electric vehicle range and charging in winter. There are also many upsides to driving performance and the safety of electric vehicles in winter conditions.

Electric Vehicle Range in Winter

Electric vehicles are not the only vehicles that see decreased performance in the cold. Traditional fossil fuel powered cars also see decreased fuel economy in winter for a variety of reasons. According to FuelEconomy.gov, gasoline powered car’s fuel economy can drop as much as 22%. And hybrids can be up to 34% worse. So fossil fuel powered cars have no advantage over electric vehicles in winter. They are in fact at a disadvantage due to safety and performance.

snowy winter driving road
Snowy Winter Driving Road Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz

So what effects electric vehicle range in winter? Aside from the heater draining the juice form the battery, the cold affects the battery’s internal resistance and it takes longer to charge than at the same rate it would normally. Which means the same is true for the rate at which the battery gets discharged and uses energy, it uses up more. This is why you may notice in driving a short distance where you would normally use 3-5 kilometers (1.8-3 miles) of range… it can use up as much as 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) of range in the same trip simply because its colder outside.

But with some EVs, there’s a trick that can optimize both charging and range when driving in the cold if the car is equipped with it. Battery Conditioning. In some electric vehicles they come equipped with a battery conditioning feature that warms the battery up to an optimal temperature making charging much easier in winter. It also helps keep the battery at an optimal temperature during use so that range remains stable. If you have the option to charge and/or store your electric car in a covered garage with temperature control, do it. It can save you up to 40% range and a lot of time if you travel frequently in winter.

At the moment, Solid State Batteries are not quite ready for deployment in EVs yet. And since the battery chemistry doesn’t contain any fluids or materials that are as sensitive to colder temperatures, it makes winter less of a factor.

Charging Electric Vehicles in Winter

When batteries are cold, this affects how power is delivered to the battery’s cells. Warm batteries accept electricity they way that they were designed to. Once temperatures reach freezing (0 Celsius/32 Fahrenheit), researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory found that EV batteries charge between 22%-36% less with the same charge rates compared to warmer conditions. Meaning that you would get, on average

29% less charge during freezing temperatures.

So to get the same amount of charge you would normally during warmer temperatures, it would take a lot longer at the DC Charger. The study by the Idaho National Laboratory “Electric Vehicle Fast Charging under Cold Temperatures” should serve as a basis for why colder climates like Canada, Northern United States and Northern Europe should have more DC fast chargers at every location. If EV drivers have to wait a considerably longer amount of time to get a full charge, the charging infrastructure has to expand in order to stay efficient in these areas.

How to Optimize Heating of Electric Cars in Cold Climates

When having the heater on higher than usual in winter to stay warm, this drains some of the battery range out of your electric car. Its actually the 2nd most draining process of EV battery drainage behind propelling the car. But there’s an interesting hack that you can do if your up for it. Using your seat heaters. If you have the heat on in the car for the first 5-10 minutes to heat the cabin, you can then have the seat heaters on along with the heated steering wheel. This will keep your body and hands warm while saving range and you won’t have to keep the air heater on during your trip. It’s an interesting hack that works out fairly well. Give it a shot and let us know in the comments below how it worked for you.

Performance and Handling of EVs in Winter

Many people are under the impression that electric cars don’t handle well in the snow and ice. The exact opposite is actually true. Due to the low center of gravity and heavier weight of the electric vehicle (mostly from the batteries) they are much more stable than their fossil fuel powered counterparts. They have better grip/traction because of the weight and better performance because of less body roll when taking corners. Both of these help prevent sliding. With All Wheel Drive, some snow tires and a long battery range like the Tesla Model 3 and you have yourself a great winter EV.

Best Electric Vehicle for Winter 2020

One of the best electric vehicles in winter climates (for capability, range and price) is the Tesla Model 3. While its not the least expensive electric vehicle, its the only EV at the moment that gives you All Wheel Drive in combination with great range. The Tesla Model 3 performance in winter driving was exceptional given its range and AWD capability.

Tesla Model 3 Winter Charging Photo by Dario

In the future it will be interesting to see how electric trucks perform in the winter like the trucks from Rivian, Ford and the new Tesla Cybertruck compared to EVs we have today. EV trucks with Solid State Batteries may be the perfect combination for winter climates.


Jacob Haust

With a passion for design, electric vehicles, engineering and the environment, Jacob is combining his interests to help make the world a more sustainable place for generations to come. He went to University for Industrial Design where he understood materials, processes and manufacturing. This is a key part as a designer in order to understand what can and can't be done when manufacturing with certain materials and what materials to choose when designing for specific applications. So he has a fairly deep understanding of materials used in everyday products and the processes used to make them. As a kid he also lived in Iceland for years where he toured geothermal power plants and gained an appreciation for the engineering and sustainability of this energy source.

jacob haust


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