Are EVs less efficient in the cold?

By Product Expert | Posted in FAQs, Fuel Efficiency, Seasonal, Technology on Saturday, October 31st, 2020 at 5:08 pm

How Cold Weather Affects Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are getting an awful lot of hype these days, and it’s true that they provide many benefits over combustion engines. Most importantly, it’s past time for humanity to start taking climate change seriously, and EVs promise the possibility of maintaining the ease of mobility that developed countries have become used to while not totally obliterating this beautiful hunk of planet we call home.

However, EVs still have some challenges. One issue you may have heard of is that electric vehicles perform worse in cold weather. Is this true?

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Close-up Image of Winter Car Tire on the Snowy Road

Yes, cold temperatures can negatively affect electric vehicle range and charge time. Current batteries rely on electrolyte fluid inside, and this fluid becomes sluggish as temperatures drop. In the future, we can look forward to solid state batteries (which scientists are currently working on) that don’t have liquid inside and thus won’t be so temperature-sensitive.

On the bright side, electric vehicles can be great for driving in winter conditions such as snow and ice. This is because electric motors and digital controls tend to provide great traction and handling. Of course, snow tires may still be the biggest help for winter-control.

How can EV drivers deal with the drawbacks of low temperatures?

Luckily for drivers (and the quickly blossoming electric vehicle industry), there are workarounds to these issues. Drivers shouldn’t let the battery get too low. It’s recommended that one try to keep at least a 20% charge or so. This is because powering up in subzero temperatures may require that reserve power in order to warm up the battery (see below).

When you have access to an outlet, take advantage of that power supply to precondition the car. Before zooming off into the elements, warm both the interior and the battery while you’re plugged in. Some of the latest EVs are allowing users to do this via an app before stepping into the vehicle.

How do electric vehicles heat their battery?

Batteries prefer the same sort of temperature range that people do. To keep batteries comfortable, modern cars have a thermal management system that warms or cools the battery. Unlike combustion vehicles, however, EVs can’t use heat from the engine for this task.

Typically, EVs have to run a heater, which takes energy in itself, thus leaving less power for movement. Sapping energy for the heater means regenerative braking won’t be enough to keep to EV charged in winter. Drivers can’t rely as heavily on one-pedal driving.

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