Some manufacturers won’t tell you this, but electric car range can drop by as much as 30% in the winter. Here are some cold weather driving tips for EV owners that may save you from being stuck by the side of the road some cold day in January.
All batteries have a range of temperatures where they work best. If they get too hot or too cold, performance suffers. A battery that has been outside all night in sub-zero weather is just not going to have the same electrical power as one that is heated to a comfy 80 degrees. If the company who sold you your EV forgot to tell you that, shame on it.
All EVs have a system to cool and heat the battery pack as required. For cars like the Tesla and BMW i cars, it is best to set them to warm themselves up starting several hours before they will be called upon to do any actual driving. That way, electricity from the grid can handle the warmup chores. Otherwise, power in the battery will be needed to get the battery and passenger compartment up to temperature, which can reduce range significantly.
Tom Moloughney is a BMW i3 owner and frequent blogger on the BMW i3 blogspot. He has learned from experience that using a Level 1 charger won’t provide enough current to warm the battery and charge it fully at the same time. He recommends EV owners use at least a 240 volt Level 2 charger in the winter. He also has lots of other suggestions to maximize range in the winter.
Make sure your tires are inflated properly to reduce friction. Use the car’s seat heater rather than the cabin heater. Even advanced heat pump systems can suck a lot of energy out of the battery and reduce range. Wear warm clothing. Hats, gloves, and scarfs are recommended, as is driving a few miles per hour slower on the highway to conserve battery charge. Careful planning may be required to avoid running out of range on trips. That charging station you can reach easily in the summer may be too far away when it’s cold outside.
If it sounds as if driving an electric car in winter requires some sacrifices, you’re right. Moloughey says Tesla owners he has met tell him their range drops to as little as 185 in really cold weather, but the impact is much greater on someone whose electric car only has 80 miles of range to start with. He thinks carmakers should be much more open about the loss of range customers can expect in winter driving. But if you are aware of the problem and take sensible precautions, you should be able to fully enjoy electric driving in winter until the swallows come back to Capistrano once again.