Electric Vehicles and Cold Weather
If you’re looking for a new/used car, no matter what kind you’re considering, you should consider local temperature and weather conditions – and future weather extremes — in your decision. Cold weather is hard on all vehicles and electric vehicles are no exception.
While EVs may experience as much as a 20 percent decline in charging capacity, and therefore range, in cold temperatures, guess what, combustion engines lose a similar amount of efficiency! Plus, California has a special fast charging network called the ARC (Advanced Recharging Cooridor) between the Bay Area and Tahoe. So for those who enjoy winter sports, do your homework (below), and go forth emissions-free!
News flash: The USPS will sharply increase the number of electric-powered delivery trucks — and will go all-electric for new purchases starting in 2026. Super exciting! NPR Story
Cold weather is hard on all vehicles. Drivers of both EVs and gas and diesel vehicles have to deal with complications caused by cold weather. Gas and diesel vehicle owners in cold climates face reduced mileage, frozen fluid lines, dead batteries, and long warm-up periods. In Department of Energy fuel economy tests, in short-trip city driving, a conventional gasoline car’s gas mileage is about 12 percent lower at 20 degrees Fahrenheit than it would be at 77 degrees Fahrenheit and can drop as much as 22 percent for very short trips of around 3 to 4 miles.
For EV drivers, cold temperatures slow down the chemical reactions in battery cells, and because they don’t have heat-producing engines, EVs must use additional battery power to warm their cabins (although these can be pre-heated in plugged-in EVs). The decrease in EV range varies greatly depending on the vehicle and environmental conditions, but considering the range of today’s EVs is typically over 200 miles on a full charge, even a decrease of 20 percent still gives that EV more than 160 miles of driving range in chilly conditions.
An article on EVConnect stated that “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. (https://www.evconnect.com/blog/electric-cars-in-cold-weather)
EVs offer many benefits when it comes to cold weather driving. They include the ability to charge and warm up a vehicle at home; sophisticated controls that allow drivers to optimize everything from battery performance to traction and steering control in icy conditions. EVs also have a low center of gravity – since most of their weight is in the battery pack beneath the car rather than in a gas-powered engine in front of the car. This weight distribution gives EVs better performance in slippery, cold conditions compared to gas cars.
Warming up an EV can be done safely and quickly indoors. EVs are emission free and can be started and heated remotely and indoors. While this increases efficiency for EVs (it takes less energy to maintain a warm temperature if the vehicle is preheated), preheating a gas vehicle has the opposite effect (idling means getting zero miles per gallon, can waste up to half a gallon of fuel per hour, and increases engine wear and tear). Also, gas vehicles must be started and preheated outdoors due to health risks from the exhaust, and gas vehicle emissions contribute to air pollution.
Electric vehicles are popular in cold climates. Two of the largest EV markets in the world are Norway and Iceland. In Norway, EVs account for more than 90 percent of car sales.
- In a study of range and charge times in cold weather, the Norwegian Automobile Federation found a 20% average decrease in range when EVs were tested in a course of city driving, highways, country roads, and one mountain pass at speeds from 60 kmh (37 mph) to 110 kmh (68 mph) during winter conditions, with some vehicles particularly well suited to the cold-weather conditions.
- Another study, by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power, found that “current generation EVs typically perform well in cold weather, with similar or better handling compared to morphologically similar internal combustion engine vehicles.”
- A study of city fleet EV deployment in cold weather in Des Moines, Iowa, found “a largely positive experience reported by all drivers. Initial concerns were put to rest by the vehicles’ actual performance in daily service. The drivers gave the cars high ratings for acceleration, regenerative braking, and no vehicle downtime due to regular maintenance.”
Some EVs can share electricity between each other, helping EV drivers prevent being stranded and providing a mobile source of power during blackouts. Newer EVs like the Ford F-150 Lightning offer bi-directional charging, which can be used to charge stranded EVs or serve as backup generators for homes/RVs.
EVs have distinct advantages over gas-powered vehicles in cold temperatures
- Charging is much cheaper than gas. Even in colder months when driving consumes more energy, driving an electric car for 1,000 miles will cost less than $40. Driving a traditional 25-MPG car for the same 1,000 miles would cost well over $100.
- An EV can be started and warmed up in a garage, even in sub-zero temperatures, as there are no harmful emissions, and this feature is often available and can be scheduled by smartphone app.
- EV owners tend to charge their vehicles daily when not in use (in a garage or parking space), and are therefore more likely to be fully charged than their gas vehicle-owning counterparts are to have their tanks topped off.
- EVs feature sophisticated battery-monitoring technology that is calibrated to outside temperature, which allows the driver to track and respond to battery life in real time.
- EVs have maximum torque from standstill and can distribute power to each wheel or axle to enhance efficiency and handling in a number of adverse conditions. The heavy batteries also help with traction on icy roads.
- Some EVs now come with heat pumps that allow for more efficient cabin heating in cold temperatures. Others might have insulated/heated batteries that can help with charging times.
- Newer EVs have larger battery capacities, allowing for longer ranges and protecting against performance losses.
- Plug-in hybrids can mitigate cold weather concerns as they are also gas-powered for extended range. This may be an important feature for drivers in rural areas who routinely drive long distances.
EVs employ a range of sophisticated technologies that give drivers a lot of control over performance in cold and snow
- Adjusting certain heat functions (using only the steering wheel and seat warmers vs. interior climate control) can conserve battery power
- Changing driving behavior can extend battery life in real time
- Regenerative braking allows drivers to offset some performance losses
- Advanced traction control makes EVs more efficient and improves handling in adverse conditions
Finally, electric vehicle manufacturers are aware of this decrease in performance and are actively seeking ways to address it. EV technology is constantly improving and EV manufacturers are bringing engineering ingenuity to making EVs perform even better in cold weather.
Sources and more reading
Some text and sources for this article were derived from a document prepared for EVGridX by Resource Media in March 2022