Just a few years ago, electric cars weren’t as prevalent as they are now. As they’re becoming more popular, car makers are jumping on the trend, and EVs are now found in everyday circumstances. EV cold-weather driving makes winter electric car maintenance an all new realm for the DIY car guy. Being a first time electric vehicle owner facing down your first real cold front can leave a lot of questions. How do electric cars work in cold weather? Do electric cars lose range in cold weather? Do electric cars lose charge in cold weather? What’s involved in running your electric car in cold weather? Here’s a quick look at electric cars in cold weather along with what to be mindful off all winter long.
The biggest difference between an ordinary gas-powered vehicle and an electric-powered one is in their batteries. Because batteries are more sensitive to temperature, they need to be treated similarly to how you’d keep your body warm in the cold. Many cars come with thermal management systems that help keep them from freezing, but either way, keeping the car in the garage or at least insulating the batteries will help them last longer and take a better charge. You can help extend electric car battery life in winter by letting it warm up while attached to the power grid via the charger. Many electric cars have a departure mode that allows the driver to set an exact time which they want the vehicle ready to leave. This mode will heat the cabin, warm the batteries, and even defrost the windows all while using power from the grid, thus preserving battery range.
More Power Than Grip
When comparing a gas engine to an electric motor, a big difference is in the immediate delivery of torque from an electric power plant. This instant burst of power can get your E-car rolling right away. Driving electric cars in winter on snow or ice, however, this instant power translates to complete wheel spin. Many cars feature torque limiting “power-save” modes that can limit wheel slip, but adding a set of snow tires and keeping your tire pressure lower than usual can help increase cold-weather traction. Tire manufacturers have even begun targeting the electric vehicle market with specific snow tires designed to meet both the low rolling resistance and cold road grip needs of EV drivers.
Brakes Are A Little Different
One unique difference to driving electric cars in the winter is braking. Due to how regenerative braking works after letting off the accelerator the vehicle will immediately try to recoup energy by slowing down the wheel. But it that wheel is on a slippery patch of road it could lead to sketchy handling. If the roads are slippery dial back the regenerative braking to off or minimal. By not using as much regenerative braking though you will need to rely on the standard hydraulic braking system, so make sure to have it inspected and cleaned regularly. Hydraulic brakes are fairly robust and brake pads typically last a long time on an electric vehicle, but the brake calipers should be cleaned and lubricated to make sure they function correctly.
Electric car range in winter can be reduced from that you are used to in warm weather. Cold weather can affect the chemical reactivity inside the battery bank, resulting in lower charging and output levels. Even if you charge your car in a garage or shelter—out of the elements—the batteries can become cold while driving, making insulation even more important. Thankfully leaps in technology have brought many electric vehicles with ranges of over 300 miles to the roads making range anxiety a lesser worry. But owners of older electric vehicles with normal weather ranges of under 100 miles still need to be aware of how cold weather can affect them.
If you have a 110v portable charger keep it with your winter emergency kit. A slow charge is always better than no charge at all. If you run out of power while you’re out on the road, remember towing an electric-powered car often requires a flatbed tow since the motor won’t disengage like it does in a gas-powered vehicle.
The biggest hurdles in cold-weather electric-car operation are power and battery output but pay attention to the other components as well. Your electric car maintenance should include an inspection before cold weather hits. For example, your windshield washer fluid might need additional winter-appropriate mixture. Windshield wipers should be a heavy-duty winter design made to handle snow and ice. Add a good ice scraper to your equipment to help clear that icy windshield rather than running the defroster (and using more electricity).
Driving an electric-powered car can be a rewarding and economical means of transportation thanks to a lower electric car maintenance cost. However, considering the differences from fuel-powered vehicles, they do have a unique set of requirements for driving electric cars in winter conditions. As time and technology move on some of these differences will become less and less noticeable. Just like how fuel injection made gas powered cars easier to drive in the cold, so too will new battery technology help shake off the winter EV range blues. But for now just be aware of the slight differences and adjust your driving accordingly.
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Erich Reichert has been an editor and on-air personality in the radio control car hobby for 12 years. A certified car nut since birth, he has written for internationally published titles such as RC Car Action, RC Driver and Xtreme RC Cars, as well as Stuff Magazine, Road and Track and Super Street. He's covered everything from product reviews and tech articles to high-profile lifestyle pieces and celebrity interviews. Erich found his passion for writing after a successful career as an art director, working with brands such as Pepsico, NASCAR, MTV, Nintendo, WWE, Cannondale Bicycles and HBO. He's also a father, an avid hockey fan and an FIA race license holder who enjoys hiking, playing drums and movies.