It’s no secret; most cars don’t perform well in the winter. Many factors, including cold temperatures, icy roads, and snow, all affect how well your vehicle will drive during the season. Electric cars generally handle and perform just as well, or even better than gas-powered cars during the winter. Plus -you’ll never need to worry about freezing your butt off at the gas station every week!
Still, even for electric vehicles (EVs), cold temperatures and harsh conditions present a few challenges.
Whether you currently own an EV or are considering alternative options like a car subscription to drive them, you must understand how to maximize your EVs overall performance during the cold season. We created this guide and are sharing with you some of the best tips and techniques to follow when driving your electric car this winter. We’ll cover the following: Precondition, Braking, Control, Traction, and Tires.
Before we give you the pro-tips, let’s breakdown the actual challenges electric cars face during the winter.
Ultimately it all circles back to one thing, the battery. Battery performance is the biggest hurdle for EVs to overcome in the winter because power and range depletion is simply unavoidable during cold winters for electric cars. EV batteries will get fewer miles and operate less efficiently when it is cold. You will see anywhere between a 10-20% decrease in total range when temperatures drop. In a test study done by AAA, the Chevy Bolt, an EV that usually offers 238 miles per charge, significantly dropped its overall range and only gave 209 miles in cold temperatures. Lower temperatures also really slow down your EVs ability to fully charge. Of course, all of this will vary depending on the EV you’re driving and the exact weather conditions. Another factor to take into consideration is the use of the heater in your EV. Since the ability to control the temperature inside your electric car is entirely dependent on battery power, using your heater for an extended period while driving can significantly drain it. Other challenges to consider when driving your electric car in the winter include handling, traction, driving habits, etc.
Now let’s see how we can solve these challenges…
A great feature most EVs have today is preconditioning. The feature allows you to conserve energy and heat for both the interior and the battery with a scheduled “start” time from the car’s control/charging setting if you are plugged in. Preconditioning is good practice and beneficial for a few reasons. First, you will operate more efficiently, which means you’ll get back some of those miles. Also, nobody likes getting into their car during those cold winter mornings. So when you precondition your EV, you won’t have to heat the vehicle using your battery’s reserves, and it will be warm and ready whenever you decide to leave on your trip. In some situations, you don’t have the option to plug-in your EV and precondition, so it’s essential to check the total range before leaving and leave extra cushion for your trips.
The regenerative braking – that feeling of instantly slowing down when you remove your foot from the accelerator – is excellent for control and efficiency in EVs. However, during the winter, the cold battery limits this feature. Here is another reason preconditioning and warming up your battery is vital. Until the car is warm and the battery can better capture the excess energy created from braking friction, regenerative braking will feel less intense. Some EVs, like the Tesla Model S, don’t even use regenerative braking until the battery is warm. If you’re driving a short distance and your battery never gets warm, you’ll notice that feeling of instant slowdown when you remove your foot from the accelerator is much less than what you’re used to. If it’s a long trip, you’ll feel regen (regenerative braking) operate as usual once the battery warms up. In some EVs, like the Teslas and the Chevy Bolt, even the Nissan LEAF and BMW i3 to a lesser extent, the regen feature is really powerful that it offers many EV drivers the one-pedal driving experience. In this experience, EV drivers drive by only using the accelerator to speed up and slow down without ever touching the brake pedal.
Control, Traction, and Tires
EVs do far better in the snow than traditional cars, mainly because of design and architecture. For all vehicles, the center of gravity is vital for control and handling. With this in mind, EV manufacturers design these cars by placing the heavy EV battery lower to the ground, which gives electric cars a lower-center of gravity. This design contributes significantly to the EVs traction and ability to handle in snowy conditions. Specific EV systems like stability control and anti-braking can further help your handling and traction by monitoring your speed, activating your brakes, reducing power, and preventing your wheels from over-spinning. It’s also essential to continually monitor your tire pressure, and in some cases, it may be necessary to invest in winter tires for your EV, but of course, this entirely depends on where you live. In cities like Washington, D.C. or NYC, where moderate winter weather and snow conditions exist, winter tires won’t be necessary.
Other Tips & Techniques
Here are some more tips & techniques to consider when driving your EV during the winter:
- Eco-mode is an excellent feature that reduces power output in electric cars, and it’s hugely beneficial during the winter. It’ll help you maintain lower speeds, extend your battery range, and save you money.
- Try always to keep your electric vehicle garaged or in an enclosed parking space to ensure your battery doesn’t get even colder than it needs to be.
- It might be beneficial to download and use an app to know where charging stations are located before hopping in the car. This is a general rule of thumb for EV drivers any time of year, but extra important in the winter. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in freezing weather and run out of range with no charging station in sight.
- As mentioned earlier, the use of the heater while driving can drain your battery significantly, so set temperatures appropriately and use some of the unique EV features like the heated steering wheel and seats to compensate.
- Finally, drive conservatively. Avoid sudden acceleration and braking, and don’t drive at excessive speeds. All these factors affect the range of your EV, but more importantly, this is just good practice when driving any car in inclement weather. Moderate driving will keep you and others safe on the road.