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Are electric cars good in cold weather?

Cold weather can wreak havoc on an electric car’s range, but these models do the best in frigid temperatures

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The Tesla Model Y electric SUV.

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  • Electric cars can lose lots of driving range in freezing temperatures.
  • Recurrent, a startup that tracks battery health, studied how 13 electric models perform in the cold.
  • EVs can’t drive as far in cold weather because heating their cabins consumes electricity.

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Drivers have always had to grapple with extra problems in colder months like icy roads, snowed-in cars, and dead batteries. Owners of electric vehicles face an extra challenge when temperatures drop: less driving range.

But some electric cars fare better in frigid conditions than others, according to a new study from Recurrent, a startup that tracks battery health in some 10,000 participating EVs.

The firm analyzed data from thousands of electric cars and determined the drop in range owners can expect between an optimal 70-degree day and a day when temperatures are between 20-30 degrees. For some models, it was able to provide a «verified winter range» based on real-world driving in different environments. For others, it came up with an estimated figure.

All the models Recurrent studied experienced some range loss in cold temperatures. That’s mainly because an electric car relies on its battery pack to heat its cabin and passengers, using up energy that could go toward driving. Gas engines, on the other hand, create lots of heat as a byproduct. The chemical processes inside a battery also slow down in cold weather.

But not all cars performed equally well. The Tesla Model Y and Model X SUVs, for instance, experienced only a 15% verified drop in range. For the Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4, it was 30%.

Previous studies have come to similar conclusions about the impact of cold weather on EV range. In an analysis of 20 models, the Norwegian Automobile Association found that cold temperatures dealt an 18.5% blow to range on average and stunted charging speeds.

There are a few ways to make living with an EV a little easier during the winter months, Recurrent says. Owners can use the preconditioning feature in their cars to warm up the cabin and battery before driving and while plugged in. Seat and wheel heaters can keep passengers warm without wasting excess energy heating the rest of a car’s interior.

Electric Vehicles in Winter

car driving in the snow

Canadian consumers are curious to know if electric vehicles can handle our harsh winters. The country, which accounts for 1.5% of all global vehicle sales sold less than one percent of all EV sales. In comparison, between January and June, 56 percent of global sales were made in China, 28 percent in Europe and 11 percent in the United States, according to Global News. Although electric vehicles are common in other cold countries, Canadians are concerned about how well even some of the best electric vehicles can do in the cold. If you currently own an EV or are planning to make the switch in the next couple of years, here is what you can expect for driving an electric vehicle in winter. Don’t forget to pick up a new set of snow tires to lower your electric car insurance for the season!

Are electric cars good for winter?

Like all vehicles that have to face winter driving, harsh road conditions and frigid temperatures electric cars are no different. It’s worth considering that electric trucks are available, and consumers are gaining more confidence in the ability of EVs to get drivers through winter outside of city regions.

Is it safe to drive an electric vehicle in freezing conditions?

Yes, it is safe to drive an electric vehicle even in freezing conditions. There is no risk of damaging the batteries from harsh weather. Batteries are designed to use less power compared to fuel vehicles because there are no liquid components.

Do electric cars get affected by the cold?

Similar to gas cars, lower temperatures affect how fast the battery can heat up. The issue is how EVs perform in the winter, but the impact the cold has on the battery. Winter weather impacts EVs because the battery can produce less current – if it is not charged fully it can become depleted faster. When the weather is cold, you also have the heat on which can reduce the battery range. According to AAA, the EV range in the winter can drop by around 40%. It’s important to note that the battery decrease is from the added power demands, not how the car operates in the winter.

Why does cold weather affect electric vehicle range?

Cold weather can slow down a battery’s chemical and physical reaction, which can lead to a slower charge. As we mentioned above, the fact range lowers in cold weather is because the car relies on the battery for heating systems. Consumer Reports found that, “EV batteries lose range not because of how the cold weather affects the physical battery but because of the added power demands that come from operating the car in cold weather.”

How do I maximize my EV range in the winter?

  • Proper charging : Plan ahead to ensure your car has a full charge – this may mean charging overnight at a low setting or planning your route so your car has time to charge.
  • Adapt your driving : When driving in the winter, aim to accelerate less quickly and drive slowly.
  • Warm up : In the morning while your car is still plugged in, turn on the heat for 15-30 minutes. This can not only warm up the cabin and defrost the windshield, but also warm up the battery which can maximize the driving range.
  • Use Eco Mode : Eco mode can help boost mileage with reduced energy supply to the motor and cabin heater. Most vehicles will drive slower with eco mode, which is ideal for snowy roads.
  • Check tires : Always ensure all four winter tires are properly inflated – the colder it gets the lower your PSI can get.
  • Use seat heaters : By using your seat and steering wheel heaters, you can maintain an efficient battery and consume less electricity.
  • Park in a garage : If possible, park your EV in a garage for the winter. This can help keep the battery charged longer since it’s in a warmer location.

Tips to get your electric vehicle ready for winter

To ensure your EV is ready for winter, you can prepare by following a few steps. Aside from ensuring your vehicle has proper wiper blades and seasonal car maintenance, you can winterize an EV by following these tips.

  • Giving the vehicle a proper charge : Charge your vehicle indoors when possible or set the charging to slow charge overnight. This will ensure your battery is pre-conditioned and ready to go whenever you need it.
  • Snow tires : Snow tires are a must for electric vehicles. They will improve traction and braking time – overall safety and road performance can be improved with four wheels of snow tires. Check them weekly to ensure the PSI meets the manufacturer’s required amount.
  • Washer fluid : EVs still require washer fluid rated for the lowest temperature you will be driving in – always have an extra jug in the car and fill up before you hit the road.
  • Bundle up : Since your electric vehicle uses battery power to heat up the cabin, ensure you are bundled up for the road.
  • Lubrication : Ensure the transmissions and wheel bearings are lubricated with winter appropriate synthetic oil to keep things moving slowly.

Winter safety items to keep inside your electric vehicle

You’ll always want to ensure you have a few key items in the truck of your car in case of an emergency. Here is a list of items to keep in your EV over winter :

  • Ice scraper and de-icer.
  • Consider installing a charger inside your garage.
  • Torch and spare batteries.
  • A fully charged mobile phone.
  • A portable power bank.
  • First aid kit.
  • An extra set of warm clothes and a blanket.
  • Non-perishable snacks.
  • A portable snow shovel.

It is also worth looking into CAA Roadside Assistance just in case anything happens on the road.

Benefits of a winter proof EV charger

Canadians see extremes of good and bad weather. If you have an electrical vehicle, it is highly recommended to select a charger that is engineered for low temperatures. Chargers should be weather resistant and withstand temperatures under 0°.

Outdoor installations should be a hardwired 240V station. You’ll want one that is enclosed and provides protection from the elements. Hardwired options provide better weather protection for the power connection.

Smart charges can allow you to schedule charging from the comfort of your home. You can also charge the vehicle outside peak electricity hours to save money, and choose a slower charge which is ideal for the battery in cold weather.

Electric vehicles in winter FAQs

Are hybrid cars good for Canadian winters?

Canadians can drive hybrid vehicles in the winter – batteries can perform well in low temperatures. Note that fuel economy can decrease by 20-35% in winter, and batteries can drop their range by 40% in the winter. All it takes is some planning ahead and proper winter maintenance and you’ll conquer anything winter throws your way, even with a hybrid.

Do electric cars need to warm up before driving?

It is highly recommended to warm up electric cars before driving because it can help improve the range. You can either turn on the heat while it’s charging, or simply keep it plugged in before you begin your commute in Canada.

Does an EV need a garage in winter?

When possible, you should park your electric car in a garage for the winter. By keeping the vehicle warmer, you’ll spend less time (and battery power) warming it up before you hit the road.

Electric vehicles can survive Canadian winters

Your EV will make it through a harsh winter season with proper preparation, vehicle charging, and maintenance. Make sure your car insurance is up to date and you are taking advantage of any discounts.

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