12.04.2013 - by Mary Kathryn Campbell
Cold Weather EV Driving Tips

The calendar reads December which means the holidays are now upon us. However for electric vehicle drivers, particularly those in the Northern states, that also means the cold weather is here and our range is shrinking like the mercury in a thermometer. It’s an unavoidable fact; the batteries used in today’s electric cars simply aren’t capable of producing the same range in an EV at 30 degrees as they can at 70 degrees. Knowing this and preparing for the reduction in range, along with following some basic tips can make winter EV driving less problematic.

Getting Ready:

This is my fifth winter driving electric in Northern NJ and I’ve driven in temperatures as low as 5 degrees below zero, in light slow dustings and in major all-out blizzards and I’ve never been stranded or failed to make my destination in the winter because I ran out of charge. However this can happen if you don’t recognize your car has less range than it did when in the summer, and take the necessary precautions to avoid trouble.

The first thing I always do around this time of year is to get my EV ready in the event the worst happens. I put 200 feet of 12 gauge outdoor extension cords in the trunk along with gloves and a wool knit hat. This is my care package should I actually need to find a 120v outlet somewhere along my route just to make it home. I also identify a few places near my home that have outdoor receptacles just in case I am in need of a little juice one day. It’s not hard to find them. Places like convenience stores and even gas stations may have an outdoor receptacle that could be used in the event of an emergency. If you are going to run short one day it will likely be only a few miles from your destination, like your home, so it pays to know ahead of time the location of possible outlets that are close to places you frequently visit. I don’t recommend charging from anyone’s outlet without having permission, but if you do in an emergency, you should ask first if the business is open. If not, return when they are open, explain what you did and offer to pay for the electric you used.

MINI-E after a snow storm

Tips to Maximize Range:

The single biggest friend of driving electric in the winter is preconditioning. Just about every modern electric vehicle has the ability to precondition the battery and cabin. This is a very useful tool, so use it whenever possible. By warming up the battery before you begin a journey you’ll help to offset the effects the cold weather has and by warming up the cabin, you’ll save the energy you would have otherwise drawn from the pack to do so. Most EV’s allow you to set a weekly schedule for preconditioning so you can set it precondition a half hour of so before you leave for work every morning and you’ll leave for work 100% charged with a warm pack and cabin.

Try to find an available 120v outlet at work. This may be a challenge, and chances are you’ve already asked about it, but if you didn’t now is the time to do so. The round trip to work may have been no problem in warmer weather, but with the cold weather you may find you’re cutting it close. Talk to your employer and see if there is any way they can dedicate an outlet for you to use. Besides the extra energy you’ll get while charging, the charging process will also keep the batteries warm. Make sure to offer to pay for the electricity so it doesn’t cause problems with coworkers.

Use the seat heater as much as possible. Most EV’s have heated seats as either standard equipment or available as an option. If you live in a cold weather region, it’s definitely a wise decision to get heated seats since they use much less energy than the cabin heater. If I’m trying to stretch my range a bit, I’ll use the seat heater continuously and then turn on the cabin heater for a while to warm things up a bit and then turn it off for a while. This method has really worked well for me. Some cabin heaters are more efficient than others, but they all seem to use a fair amount of energy to keep the cabin warm. Dress appropriately and use cabin heating only enough to get the cabin comfortable if you need to stretch the range.

If you park outside for an extended period, like while you work, you should find a spot that will be in the sunlight as much as possible. By parking in direct sunlight you’ll have a warmer cabin and battery when you return to your car later. This won’t make a huge difference, but sometimes every mile counts. Of course if you can find a heated garage to park in, definitely do so.

Drive a little slower. Regardless of the outside temperature, slowing down a bit will help your range. There is a saying about electric cars: You can go fast or you can go far, but you can’t do both. By simply driving 60 – 65 mph instead of 75 mph you may add 5 or 10 miles to your range. Those extra miles mean more in the winter when your range is less to begin with.

BMW ActiveE in the snow

Don’t Slip Up!

One last thing. We all love the instant torque our EV’s have. While this usually makes for a great driving experience, it can be problematic on icy or snow covered roads. Under these conditions I always switch to Eco mode which will limit the power the car has a bit and will reduce the chance of wheel spin when accelerating. Another positive side effect is the car should also get better range in Eco mode.

Posted by Tom Moloughney

9 comments on “Cold Weather EV Driving Tips”
  1. Anonymous says:

    The owner’s manual for my 2014 Chevy Volt says extension cords should not be used. Is this an abundance of caution? You mention that you carry extension cords. Thanks!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The owner’s manual for my 2014 Chevy Volt says extension cords should not be used. Is this an abundance of caution? You mention that you carry extension cords. Thanks!

  3. Zachery Lewis says:

    You can take that before applying for the practical driving test. Your instructor needs to know when you get a date for the test and will help you to relax before you face the examination. If you remember everything you have been told by your instructor you will have an excellent chance of passing because your instructor will have assessed your ability and be of the opinion you are ready. Tips written by: Zachery Lewis.

  4. RobertBoston says:

    Be sure to clear all snow and ice from your vehicle before getting underway. Not only is this courteous to other drivers (who won’t have to deal with flying snow from your car), but it improves your range in two ways:

    1. Lower weight: carrying around extra weight takes more power
    2. Better aerodynamics: the smaller, smoother profile of your car’s body has lower drag than a snow/ice-covered car.

  5. Great post and a few things to add.

    check your tire pressures and inflate to 1-2 PSI below the maximum pressure on the sidewall and do it during the coldest part of the day.

    rule of thumb; a 10ºF drop in temp you will lose one PSI. if you have not already figured it out; a properly inflated tire during Summer weather can easily see its pressure dropping into the 20’s in Winter.

    as far as speed goes? if I am on a multi lane road, i drive 50-55. for one thing; winter driving conditions are more hazardous so slowing it down a bit more has 2 benefits; safety and range. now most will think that 55 is too slow and I used to think that as well but I was very surprised to find out how many others are driving the same speed.

    1. tommoloughney says:

      Good tip about the tire pressure. I have also found that I’m not “holding up traffic” on the times that I needed to slow down a bit to extend my range. There is usually other people driving in the slow lane at 60 mph to keep my company!

  6. Richard says:

    With the cold weather season upon us, this is a timely post, Tom. Great suggestions. Love the photos (and your Mini-E license plate too 😉

    1. tommoloughney says:

      Thanks Richard. It’s a problem here in the North East every year when the new EV drivers experience the effects the cold has on their range for the first time. The range drops quickly once it’s under 50 degrees and sometimes people don’t realize it fast enough and then when we get the first really cold spell in the 20’s some have difficulty. Knowing what to expect is half the battle, and with the proper preparation you should have no problem.

      1. david says:

        One more thing to keep in mind with winter driving of EV’s. It is a good idea to set your re-gen braking to it’s lowest level, as the higher settings can have the same effect as slamming on your brakes on snow and ice, which we all know is not a good idea!!

        Drive Safe!!


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