Life owning an electric vehicle (EV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) can be pretty awesome. You get all the benefits of a conventional vehicle in a quiet, efficient package, all while saving a lot of money in the process. Yet seasoned EV nuts fear one season more than any other: winter.
What is in many other respects the season of giving is far from a charitable event for EV drivers. The cold truth of the matter is that electric batteries don’t function at their best in the icy cold. Drivers in Southern California and the Bay Area, coincidentally the two most thriving EV markets in the nation, might not feel Winter’s icy fingers stealing their electric range, but in Southern Oregon, we’re starting to.
So why does cold weather affect EVs, and what can you do as a driver to help minimize the effects of winter temperatures on your car? There’s no changing the weather, but a few quick fixes can put your car in a position to get the most out of its battery.
Generally speaking, EV and PHEV range suffers in the winter for two reasons: the battery and the driver. Batteries simply don’t work as well in extreme temperatures. Internal combustion engines also suffer in very cold weather, but not to the same extent as their electric counterparts. Even though designers work to insulate batteries as well as possible, when the thermometer dips below freezing drivers will notice a drop in range.
The second factor in winter range depletion is the driver, or, more specifically, the driver’s desire to not freeze on the way home. Conventional vehicles generate a lot of excess heat when running, and some of that heat can be used to warm the cabin and defrost the windows. EVS and PHEVs use their batteries to heat the cabin, and as a result use precious electrons that could have been spent powering the motor.
So what’s a winter EV driver to do? Well, you could wear warmer clothes when driving to cut down on using the heater, but there are other, less cumbersome solutions. If you can, start your car while it’s still plugged in and preheat and defrost before you unplug. It’s also a good idea to cut back on the heater and make use of the seat-warmer, as heating air takes a great deal more energy than heating a seat. Finally, check your tire pressure and keep all 4 tires at the right PSI; cars get worse mileage when their tires are underinflated, and cold weather lowers tire pressure.
No technology is perfect, but hopefully these tips can help you to stay warm, safe, and happy in your eco-friendly vehicle of choice!