Do Electric Cars Work in Cold Weather? (With 7 Tips to Improve Performance)

If you’re looking forward to having your first electric car, then nothing should stop you from getting it! Not even the weather. Based on a projected sale of up to 44 million vehicles per year by 2030, electric mobility is expanding rapidly, and you definitely don’t want to be left behind.

Yes; electric cars work in cold weather. But, just like petroleum vehicles, their efficiency in winter is reduced compared to during typical weather conditions. 

But the good news is, there are some things you can do to maximize your EV’s performance, as we’ll explain later in this article. This post talks in detail about EVs in cold weather, so read on to know what you should expect when it gets chilly outside.

How Does Cold Weather Affect Electric Cars? 4 Factors Which Affect Range

There are several ways in which the cold weather affects the performance of electric cars, let’s explore them in a little more detail.

It reduces battery performance

Most electric cars are powered with the use of a lithium battery, which uses a chemical reaction to generate power. This chemical reaction is affected by extreme weather conditions. Cold weather slows it down, and as a result, it produces less energy which consequently reduces your vehicle’s range. On the other hand, too much heat speeds up the chemical activity as well as the corrosion, which leads to battery damage – so there are some benefits to your electric car’s health by driving it in the cold weather!

Electric car batteries work best between the temperature of 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 – 15.6 Celsius). Therefore, if the temperature drops below 40 F (4.5 C) or rises above 60 F (15.6 C) temperatures, you should expect some changes in the performance of the vehicle.

Other than the fact that cold batteries are less effective, the heat used to defrost the car windows and keep it warm also contributes to the reduction of your EV’s range. 

It makes you use the heater

There was a study by AAA, where they tested six different EV models to see how the use of the in-car heating system affected the range of an electric car. What did this study show?

Well, the conclusion of the study was that the range of EV is reduced by 41% when the heater is on. That’s a monumental decrease in the range of your car, just for trying to stay warm. This indirect factor greatly impacts the performance of your vehicle.

Thermal battery management

Battery thermal management cools or warms the electric car and its occupants. This process uses power from the cell, reducing its efficacy in the long run.

Eventually, the cell won’t have enough power to move the wheels. Petrol vehicles use waste energy from their engines for thermal management, and that’s why they seem to have power even in cold weather as compared to EVs.

Braking

Freezing weather also limits regenerative braking in your electric car as it’s also linked to your car’s battery. As a result, you should be aware of the changes while braking as you’re more likely to use manual brakes. Regenerative braking generates electrical energy that is useful in the charging system. Therefore, if it’s not applied, you except the cell to have less power, and that reduces your range.

Choosing the best electric car for cold weather

Like mentioned earlier, living in winter affected areas shouldn’t shuttle your dreams of owning an electric vehicle. After all, these types of cars are considered to be more desirable than their conventional counterpart. Other than being economically-friendly and less pollutant, they pack a punch when it comes to acceleration.

Use the double-range rule

Firstly, if you haven’t purchased your model yet, you need to look for a vehicle with a double range to ensure you don’t get stranded in the middle of the street. For example, if you usually drive for about 20 miles to your workplace, then you need to purchase a car which has a range of 80 miles, that is (total mileage covered to and from work, times two) unless you can charge it at your workplace. The capacity of your battery cells determines the range of your vehicle.

Consider charging stations and battery

Another factor you should consider before selecting the range of your electric car is the number of stations in your area. For example, if there are few or no charging stations in between your home and office, then consider buying an EV that has a high capacity battery.

Another important thing that you should look up is the lifespan of its battery. Most car dealers will offer you a warranty for some years to guarantee you of their battery durability.

Why Electric Vehicles Are the Best During Winter

Though we’ve already mentioned that these cars don’t operate at their best in cold climate, there are several reasons why they remain the best option during the nippy weather.

They Save You Money

To start with, no matter how much energy they use during winter, they are still much more economical than fuel combustion cars. For example; it can cost you $40 USD per 1000 miles when using an electric vehicle, and about $100 USD while driving a conventional vehicle.

It sticks better to the road

Electric cars inherently heavier, therefore in icy conditions, they stick to the road better and therefore decrease your chances of getting into an accident.

No nasty fumes

Unlike regular cars which you can’t start before departure due to the nasty fumes (although if you live somewhere in the country this isn’t an issue) and risk of theft, many electric cars have a ‘preheat’ feature which lets you turn the heater on without having to unlock the vehicle – as well as the fact they don’t emit any fumes, so you can do it in your garage. In addition, if you are going to preheat your electric car, then plugging it into the main charger at your home whilst you’re doing this is a good idea as to not reduce the range.

Do electric cars need snow tyres?

It is always a good idea to use winter tyres instead of all-weather wheels during icy weather, no matter the car you’re driving. You can usually buy these at your local vehicle merchant or get it done when you take your EV in for a service.

What are some of the challenges faced by electric car owners?

EVs come with many benefits compared to petroleum-fueled cars. But just like any other great investment, they come with challenges. These include:

  • Charging time – unlike with conventional cars where you only need to wait for less than five minutes to get a full tank at a fuel station, EVs take about 30 minutes to over 12 hours to charge fully. The speed varies depending on the type of battery, speed of your charging point and the model you own.
  • The range – although companies such as Tesla are introducing car models that can have an impressive range of 337 miles or more, most of the predecessors could only do around 100 miles per charge, we’re still a long way off having EVs that match the range of combustion vehicles.
  • Cost – electric cars’ batteries are expensive, and that’s why they are as pricey as they are.

When do you need to replace your electric car’s battery?

We already know that the battery of your EV plays a significant role, especially in cold weather. If you want it to serve you well despite the weather conditions, then you need to give it some love.

Most EV batteries come with about 5-8 years’ warranty, meaning that you don’t have to worry about them; well, at least while your car is still new. However, you should start checking your battery after three years of installation to avoid any surprises. Watch out for slugging when you start your car, this is a good indication that the battery needs to be replaced. 

To maintain your battery, never let it get deficient. Always aim to recharge it as soon as the power gets to a minimum of 20%. You also need to install a charging system at home if you don’t have one yet. Charging your car at home is more convenient and efficient than using public stations. Besides, installing a charger at your place isn’t complicated. You can either do it yourself or hire someone for a small fee.

Replacing your electric car battery is expensive, but you can avoid it by maintaining your current one well. All batteries have manuals that guide you on how to handle them. Therefore, don’t be ignorant about it if you don’t want to spend more on it.

If you are thinking of buying a second-hand electric car, make sure to get an expert to look at its battery before purchasing.

Tips to improve your electric car’s performance in cold weather

Well, now that you know all about electric cars and how cold climate affects them, it’s time to learn how you can curb some of the downsides.

By following the tips below, you can improve your vehicle’s performance and increase its range despite the harsh weather conditions.

1: Pre-condition your EV before departure

Most of the current electric cars come with a preconditioning feature. This helps to warm up your car and also to create the favourable temperature needed for your battery to perform when you start the engine.

It is advisable to precondition your car while it’s charging to use the energy from the main power outlet and not from its battery. When you preheat your car using its battery power, you risk draining it, which means less range.

You can easily pre-condition your car by using either the settings in your EV or, if your model has it, the smartphone app.

2: Check tyre pressure frequently

Checking the tyre pressure of any vehicle at all times is very important. However, during cold seasons you’re advised to check it more regularly. Air becomes denser in cold weather, causing your tyre pressure to drop. Under-inflated tyres cause friction with the road, and this affects your car’s performance negatively.

3: Turn on eco-mode

Eco mode reduces power consumption by minimizing the energy to the drive motor as well as the cabin heater. The energy saved can, in return, increase your mileage.

4: Park your car in a garage

Parking your car somewhere out of the cold is adviseable, if you have one, a heated garage is ideal. This helps in warming up your battery before departure, which increases the range as we learned earlier in this article. If you have to park outside, try to put it somewhere in direct sunlight to warm your cabin, which in turn warms your battery. Cold cells produce less power, which results in reduced performance.

5: Avoid using cabin heaters

Cabin heaters use your battery power and end up draining it. The results will be reduced performance, or the range of your car will also be lowered. So, keep yourself warm by putting on warms clothes as you drive and save your car battery for more range.

6: Drive carefully

Harsh acceleration during winter is not only risky for you and your passengers, but it also minimizes your range. A fast-moving car uses more energy and, therefore, can drain your battery quickly. To maximize your range during extreme weather conditions, drive slowly, and avoid harsh braking as well.

7: Use fast-chargers

A cold battery takes longer to charge than a warmer battery. Therefore, you may need to identify the quicker charger stations along your route or be more patient while your car is charging during winter. It’s always good to charge your battery fully for a longer lifespan.

Some electric car apps, such as Tesla’s, also consume your car’s energy whenever you open them. You should, therefore, avoid opening them frequently if you want to save your battery.

To make it more digestible, there is an infographic below made by us showing 6 tips to improve an electric car’s performance in cold weather.

Winter EV Infographic

Conclusion

Electric cars might have some challenges to overcome, but the benefits outweigh them in my opinion. I have to add here that you don’t need to have two different vehicles for both hot and cold weather, an electric car does work in frosty conditions, you just have to be more mindful about preparing for your journey.

So long as you use the tips above, you will be able to enjoy all the upsides of your EV, even in cold weather.

Besides, electric cars are here to stay, and their future is looking bright. We have witnessed more charging stations coming up along the streets, and higher range vehicles being launched. Scientists are also working on solid-state batteries, which will mean reduced sensitivity to cold weather for electric cars.

So, if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, but are worried about the cold weather, I would say go for it.

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William Hurrell
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