Driving an Electric Car in Cold Weather
We all know that cold weather can reduce the range of an electric vehicle. In fact, low temperatures and bad weather actually reduce the range of every car. Carving through snow, starting and running in cold temperatures, and more time spent idling in slow-moving traffic, reduces the range of gasoline vehicles as well – often by up to 30% – but we don’t pay as much attention in-between fuel stops.
In frigid temperatures, gasoline-powered vehicles use the heat from the engine in part to heat the interior of the car. While electric vehicles are inherently more efficient, we often forget that it takes electrical energy to heat up the car and its occupants. Accessories such as the heater are powered by electricity and draw power when they’re running. Turn up the temperature, and you’ll actually notice your EV’s estimated range will drop.
Five EV Winter Driving Tips
Here are five tips to increase your electric vehicle’s range, and to make winter driving more convenient.
#1 Think About Your Tires
Tires are an important component of how you drive all year, but they are doubly important in the winter. For improved traction in colder climates, or areas that get a lot of snow, winter tires will give you extra traction and control at the expense of some range due to their softer rubber compounds and the additional friction they generate. So it’s more important to check to see that your tires are at the correct pressures during the winter.
#2 Use the “Eco” Setting on Your Vehicle’s HVAC System
Outside of powering the car itself, the climate control system is the biggest draw on your battery. Using the “Eco” setting, if one is available, will activate a program to reduce the electrical draw, typically shutting off the HVAC while you’re sitting stopped, and re-activating it once you’re in motion.
#3 Pre-Heat the Car While It’s Plugged in
Almost every electric vehicle on the market lets you program the heater and other accessories to operate while the vehicle is plugged in so the cabin is comfortable before you drive off. Using this feature means you don’t use extra electricity during your first few miles to heat the car. Some cars even let you program regular departure times so your vehicle is pre-heated to the right temperature every morning. Pre-heating also warms up the battery, which means it’s at its ideal operating temperature when you set off, further improving range.
#4 Use Seat and Steering Wheel Heaters
Heaters on the seats, steering wheel, and on some vehicles, even the arm rests, are in much closer contact with your body than heated air. Such creature comforts provide warmth more efficiently, warm you up faster, and save on range.
#5 Use the Navigation System: Plan Your Charging Stops
When you do need charging, batteries work best if they have been “pre-conditioned,” which means brought up to temperature to allow them to suck in electrons at the highest possible speeds. Many EVs offer a manual preconditioning function through a button or a menu on the touchscreen; the more sophisticated ones will pre-condition the battery automatically when you’ve programmed a charging station as your destination in the navigation system. Especially if you’re on a long road trip, pre-conditioning the battery will significantly reduce your charging times, letting you get on the road faster.
Not all of these winter driving tips apply to every car or every climate. Try them out one by one to see the impact they have on your range, and find the techniques that are most convenient for you. And if you have any other great winter driving tips, please share them with us here at GreenCars!