Cold winter weather can be draining for humans and vehicles alike. Whether fueled by gas, electricity or both, all cars experience mild to moderate losses in performance during times of extreme weather, such as winter or summer. These losses are easy enough to counteract and minimize.

 Internal Combustion Engines and ambient temperature

In moderate to hot temperatures, an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) generates a tremendous amount of waste heat. As much as 70% of the fossil fuel burned in an ICE vehicle is lost to waste heat. Only 30% of the fossil fuel burned is used to turn the wheels. ICE vehicles remove this heat through the radiator system and the tailpipe.

In cold temperatures, this waste heat is used to heat up the cabin. It is well known that ICE vehicles can have difficulty starting in the winter which is why gas stations switch over to a Winter Blend of gasoline which evaporates more easily making it easier for ICE vehicles to start in cold temperatures.

In extremely cold temperatures, ICE vehicles can make use of an electric block heater to warm up the vehicle’s engine and motor oil to make it easier to start the engine and reduce engine wear. It also allows for the interior to heat faster, making for a more comfortable ride.

Electric Vehicles and ambient temperature

EV batteries are temperature sensitive. Battery cells need to maintain an optimum, more middle-ground temperature between 60°F and 75°F, to ensure maximum range, battery efficiency, and fast charging speeds. Unlike ICE vehicles, EVs have very limited sources of excess heat to utilize to condition the battery. Because of this most EV’s use a battery management system (BMS) which pumps coolant that surrounds the battery cells to maintain optimal temperature.

In moderate temperatures, the BMS may not have to work at all to maintain optimal temperature. As a result, EV range is highest and charging speeds are higher in moderate temperatures.

In hot temperatures the BMS pumps coolant to draw heat from the battery pack to maintain an optimal temperature – much like a radiator works for an ICE vehicle.

In cold temperatures the BMS pumps warm coolant to warm up the battery pack and maintain temperature.

How can I maintain and improve my EVs performance in winter?

While EV owners can’t control the weather, there are a few things they can do to try and get ahead of it and keep their EVs performing at the highest possible level.

Here’s how to get the best out of your EV in the winter months.

    • Keep the vehicle plugged in as much as possible when not in use, any outlet will help (even L1 120v wall outlet)
    • Keep the vehicle garaged, if possible, when not in use.
    • Precondition the vehicle while plugged in before you leave (this uses Utility Grid energy instead of your battery energy to not only warm the battery, but also warm the cabin. Most if not all modern EVs have this as an available setting)
    • Some EV’s will precondition the battery while you are navigating to a charging station. This will greatly improve the charging speed. Refer to your user manual to see if your EV has this capability and to learn how to use it.
    • Keep the cabin temp and fan speed down to not use as much energy (Some heaters can pull up to 9-10kw max. When the cabin temperature is set to low, the EV pulls around 1-3kw or even less with a heat pump)
    • Use the heated seats and heated steering wheel if equipped (to keep the cabin temperature lower)
    • Make sure tire pressures are at manufacturers spec
    • Clear any snow or ice off vehicle. It’s the law. Unlike an ICE vehicle, the hood of an EV does not warm up to melt the snow off.
    • Slow down, decreasing speeds will not only be safer but also help increase your range
    • Don’t let the battery charge get too low. (below 20%)
    • Park in direct sunlight if possible.
    • Do not let the vehicle sit unplugged overnight in extreme cold. If it is plugged in, the BMS will automatically maintain battery temperature without draining the battery.
    • Plan on less overall range in winter as with any vehicle

Following these steps can help you and your EV excel through winter and relieve your fear of cold snaps. While it can take a bit more planning than driving an ICE, you can easily drive worry free in the winter with your EV.  This is especially true as more manufacturers join the marketplace, bringing EVs with larger driving ranges to market, further reducing winter range anxiety.

As we always like to say, simply keep up with your ABCs – Always Be Charging – especially when the mercury drops below freezing, and you’ll always be good to go!

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