When winter rolls in and temperatures drop, electric vehicle (EV) sales continue to climb. Cold weather has consistently been a focus of EV performance for both researchers and consumers. While any vehicle is affected by lower temperatures and slippery conditions, EV drivers want to know how their vehicles will hold up if confronted with colder weather.
How Weather Affects Electric Cars
For an EV, everything from the charge time and operating range to vehicle handling is affected by the weather. But that should not be cause for panic, as gas-powered vehicles experience the same or similar effects. Additionally, both hot and cold weather can affect the performance of EVs.
While this article primarily focuses on cold weather, it is important to note that higher temperatures also alter the demands on an EV. The primary change that EV drivers will notice is the additional battery drain caused by running the cabin-cooling system, as warmer temperatures have less effect on the battery and drivetrain than colder temperatures. However, extreme heat can also affect battery chemistry.
Lower temperatures can be slightly more pernicious for drivers, but with proper steps, there is no reason to shy away from an EV. In cold weather, like in warm weather, cabin climate control adds to battery draw, which can affect EV range. But cold weather also affects battery chemistry, which can decrease efficiency and increase charge time — not to mention that road conditions are much more volatile in colder months.
How Cold Weather Affects EV Charging
Just like gas-powered vehicles (though on a narrower scale), EVs experience decreased efficiency in cold weather due to changing fluid viscosity. In lower temperatures, the electrolyte fluid found in lithium-ion EV batteries moves more slowly, decreasing both the power output and the ability to charge quickly. The good news for EV drivers is that, similar to gas-powered vehicles, once the battery warms up, its efficiency increases in both regards. As a rule of thumb, it helps to charge your vehicle while the battery is warmed up, whether that be from driving the vehicle or parking in a garage.
Cold Weather EV Range
Because both cabin climate and battery efficiency are affected by cold weather, some studies have suggested that EVs can lose up to around 40% of their driving range at 20 degrees versus 77 degrees. A more recent study conducted in Norway, however, showed that the average cold weather range loss for 20 popular EVs was only about 18.5%. This figure is far closer to the EPA-estimated 15% efficiency loss of gas-powered cars.
While that is already great news for EV drivers, it only gets better. EV battery-management systems (BMSs) are constantly improved to ensure that EVs exceed driver expectations. And while one knock against EVs is that they do not have the residual heat from combustion to help warm the cabin, gas-powered vehicles lose so much energy during combustion that EVs will always be more efficient, no matter the weather.
How the EV BMS Helps
As EV battery-management systems have become more complex, they have continued to address cold-weather concerns. An EV BMS can use a few different moves to preserve an operating temperature. First, it can limit regenerative braking to maintain temperature. It can also limit fast charging to protect the battery life span in lower temperatures. Some vehicles might also display a range that is slightly lower than the battery’s actual capacity, so there remains some battery reserve. Researchers are consistently pushing the envelope, suggesting improvements to maximize cold-weather range. One such goal is a solid-state battery, which, without fluid to gel in cold weather, would be far hardier in low temperatures.
Driving an EV on Winter Roads
Electric cars experience the same potential dangers on winter roads that gas-powered vehicles do. Because EVs are offered in rear-wheel drive, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, consumers can purchase the vehicle that best suits their needs. In general, all-wheel drive provides the best traction, especially when paired with an EV’s dynamic power distribution to the wheels. Additionally, EVs are typically heavier, with a lower center of gravity (due to the battery weight) than gas-powered cars, which gives them an advantage on snowy roads. Many EVs also have an “eco” mode which lowers power output; this mimics the “snow and ice” mode of some gas-powered cars, which typically use lower gears to provide increased traction.
4 EV Winter Driving Tips
While EVs are consistently improving with regard to cold weather, there are a few steps you can take to maximize EV driving range, charge time and safety:
1. ) Warm Up Your Battery
Whether you are charging or operating your EV, it will be most efficient if the battery is at an appropriate operating temperature. Parking in a warm garage while charging will certainly help. If you are using public fast charging, running your vehicle before plugging in will enable a safer, more effective charge.
2.) Precondition Your Vehicle
To maximize your driving range, allow your EV to reach an optimal cabin climate while still plugged into a charging station. It draws on the battery-less to maintain a warm cabin than it does to create one. Many modern EVs even allow you to control your cabin remotely via an app.
3.) Buy for Your Cold-Weather Needs
As with any vehicle, considering your individual needs will ensure that you select the appropriate EV. If you drive in a snowy climate, consider an all-wheel-drive EV. All-wheel drive paired with snow tires makes for a very capable cold-weather EV. Additionally, if you consistently drive in very cold temperatures, experts suggest purchasing an EV with a range that far exceeds your daily needs.
4.) Slow Down
Driving slower isn’t just the safest way to go in inclement weather, it is also more efficient for your EV. In contrast to gas-powered vehicles, EVs fare better in city driving, as they use very little energy to idle. If operating on the highway, driving your EV at slower speeds will help increase your range.
EV Cold Weather Performance
With the consistent improvements made to EVs, their cold-weather performance is no longer any cause for concern. They remain reliable, efficient and safe vehicles year-round, and any consumer can find the perfect EV to fit their cold-weather driving needs.
US Department of Energy (DOE) – Fuel Economy in Cold Weather
Consumer Reports – Buying an Electric Car for a Cold Climate? Double Down on Range.
Norwegian Automobile Federation – 20 popular EVs tested in Norwegian winter conditions