EV tips for winter weather
02.14.2019 - by John U’Ren
EV tips for winter weather

The polar vortex is in full swing and drivers everywhere are finding out their cars don’t love the frigid temperatures. All cars, both gas and electric, use more energy in cold weather, which yields reduced gas mileage and shorter electric range. For most electric vehicle drivers, this isn’t necessarily a big deal, especially if your electric range is more than twice your daily commute. Nonetheless, this extreme weather has brought with it some unique hurdles for EV owners. Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to mitigate these challenges. Here are some electric vehicle tips for winter weather.

Charging

If you have an enclosed garage at home where you can charge your EV, definitely do so. By charging your car indoors, you can prevent ice build up on the vehicle and keep the battery warmer. EV batteries are like humans—they are most comfortable at 70 degrees and a warmer battery will garner more driving miles.

Preconditioning

You can do one better by preconditioning the cabin before you begin your trip. Most EVs allow you to schedule this in advance and it has two benefits. One, you get to climb into a warm car on a cold day! No waiting for the heater to warm up or the seat heaters to kick in. Two, your battery warms up to its optimal operating temperature. You get to drive farther more comfortably—what’s not to love? By preconditioning while plugged in at home, you’ll leave for work 100% charged with a warm pack and cabin.

If you can’t precondition your cabin, use the seat warmers over the cabin heat if range is an issue. The seat warmers generally use less energy than the cabin heater and can be felt immediately.

Planning

Of course, Murphy’s Law can strike at any time. In order to prevent a serious emergency, there are a few basic steps you can take to ensure a safe trip.

Make sure your vehicle has its standard level-one charging cord on board in case you need to stop for an emergency charge. This is one area where EVs have a clear advantage; you can recharge your car from any standard wall outlet in a pinch. And be sure to carry warm clothing,  a bit of food, and a phone in case your car becomes immobilized–just as you should in a gas car during extreme weather.

Driving

Lastly, reducing your speed in hazardous driving conditions not only makes for safer driving, it also increases your EV’s range. In addition, EVs have the benefit of being able to carefully control torque from a standing start, compared to gas cars that have zero torque at zero RPM and have to be revved up to start moving. With slick, icy roads, it’s much easier to avoid spinning out from a standing start in an EV and easier to slowly climb a hill. If you try going slowly up a hill in a gas car, you’re likely to stall the engine.

Tip for Gas Car Owners

Unfortunately, gas car owners can’t refuel their vehicles from the comfort of their garages. With the cold weather sapping their gas mileage, they’ll make more frequent visits to the gas station in the frigid cold. Gas cars also run into the issues of both the thickening of oil and ice in the fuel line, either of which can be complete show stoppers. Below -20 degrees, oil is too thick for the oil pump to effectively circulate; likewise, any moisture present in the fuel lines or fuel tank can freeze, blocking the line and clogging the fuel pickup. The freezing cold can also cause the 12-volt lead acid battery to fail, requiring the vehicle to be jump started. The only way to avoid these issues is to get an EV.

Photo credit: Kirk Martakis

10 comments on “EV tips for winter weather”
  1. Darlin McDaniel says:

    Thanks. That’s what I thought too when I read their piece about 12 v batteries. I didn’t know you could jumpstart an EV’s 12 v battery. I don’t even know where it is, and I’ve had my X since May, 2016. Guess it goes to show how much one has to mess with it. 🙂

  2. Roger says:

    The mileage impact on EVs is 3 to 4 times more severe on EVs than ICEs. EV range can drop 40% Don’t sugarcoat it.

  3. Ted says:

    As temps drop, tire pressures drop as well creating higher rolling resistance. You’d be surprised how much range you “get back” by just checking and pumping your tires up to their recommended specs.

  4. Martin Hobbs says:

    If you have a Chevy Volt, run the climate on “comfort” and the ICE won’t “run due to temperature” after the initial cycle. It sucks down the battery faster, but for shorter trips it’s better than the ICE constantly turning on and off.

    For a Pacifica Hybrid, if you turn off the climate (no fan blowing) the ICE most likely won’t turn on. As mentioned in the article, turn on the heated seats for warmth instead.

  5. Kris Flaig says:

    So many fallacies in this article!
    Whether you are in an EV or gas vehicle, you should use cabin heat to maintain a defrosted windshield. If it causes your mpg to decrease, so what! You are safer using cabin heat to defrost your windshield. (repeated for emphasis)
    Gas vehicles need not be revved-up from 0 rpm to street speed, nor should they be. Anyone who has actually routinely driven in cold/frigid weather, understands the need to exercise proper control of one’s vehicle. And, even EVs can spin out!
    If you have slick, slippery roads, whether you have an EV or gas vehicle, then you cannot slowly climb a hill – you would simply slip to the side of the road (away from the crown of the road). In stead, you should gain some speed and keep your tires in the snow at the edge of the road (or between the lanes) to maintain traction. If this doesn’t work for you, then wisely find another route or get a cup of hot coffee.
    If you are in cold enough weather for a 12v lead-acid battery in a gas vehicle to “freeze-up” (not sufficient amps to start), then you typically have a host of other means to ensure a start. These days, even if not new, a battery will typically start the car in frigid weather. While it may take a few moments to warm up the oil on a -20F or -20C day, the gas engine (to date) will vastly out-perform an EV on such a cold day in every way so far documented. Even an EV may be sluggish on one of these days!
    I look forward to the day when an EV can be used to drive cross-country, reliably and comfortably. We may be on the way, but we’re not there yet.

  6. tom houlden says:

    Speed is by FAR the biggest range factor, so slowing down just a few mph when cold can give you normal range.

    The main battery will also be warmed if you just time the charging to finish shortly before driving.

    Try to be warm yourself when you leave, bundle up in nice warm clothes, bring a thermos of really hot beverage, & if you do use cabin heat, make sure to use recirculate.

    Tip for that in 500e, unplug the false-positive-prone humidity sensor just right of the rearview, or it will keep switching to fresh freezing air that takes much more energy to heat. Use a round toothpick to flex open the plug’s latch.

  7. Mark Laity-Snyder says:

    Love my Tesla that has a 310 mile range! Even in cold weather it gets a good 160 miles or more. Plenty of range for 95% of trips.

  8. Jerry Cecere says:

    Our first leased EV was a FIAT 500e which could create range anxiety so it was returned at lease end. Our current EV car is a 2017 Chevy VOLT with zero range anxiety. At the end of its lease we will probably purchase it for the residual value.

  9. Will Thomson says:

    The issue with a cold 12V battery isn’t exclusive to gas vehicles. EVs have 12V batteries to run the lights and other electronics too. I know this from experience this winter and having to get my EV jumped just to get it started. Even after it was running, the power brakes wouldn’t work properly until the battery was at the proper voltage.

  10. Peter Blackford says:

    One salient point which has not been mentioned in several articles on the subject of cold-weather EV operation is the source of the heat in ICE-powered vehiches: It’s WASTE HEAT from the internal combustion process. Since it’s wasted during ALL operation of those vehicles, it’s not ‘noticed’ in the winter. EVs, on the other hand, DON’T waste anywhere near as much energy so what is needed to heat the cabin must be taken from the batteries at the time of need. Personally, I use the seat heaters as they’re much faster, and vastly more efficient at keeping the driver’s blood warm!

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