Chilly Charging: 5 Cold Weather Tips for EVs
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Brrrrrrrrr! In winter, it’s usually cold outside. Maybe not so much in California, where a lot of electric vehicle (EV) drivers live, but people in other states drive EVs, too, and many are dealing with truly freezing temperatures. In fact, a few weeks ago in Richmond, VA, drivers on I-95 were stranded for 21 hours in below freezing conditions. An article from Kelley Blue Book wondered, what if those stranded cars were EVs? If you’re looking to buy or lease an EV, you might also be wondering how is owning an EV different than owning an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle in cold weather?
The short answer: it’s a little different, but not by much.
Zooming out, it’s important to know that EV batteries are a lot like people. We don’t like to be way too hot or freezing cold — and neither do batteries. Batteries have an ideal temperature range of around 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit, and if they get too far outside of that range, they’ll be less efficient — but not in a worrisome way.
An EV battery performs best within a certain temperature range because its power is generated by a chemical reaction that functions best within that range. In extremely cold conditions, EVs lose about 20% of range on average. By comparison, ICE vehicles lose about 15-20% of MPG. Your EV loses range in cold weather because your battery expends extra energy to keep itself warm. One important thing to know: exposure to extremely cold temperatures will not degrade your EV’s battery in the long term. Once the temperatures warm up, your EV range will return to normal.
All that said, by following a few simple tips, you can maximize your EV’s range in cold temperatures.
Five Cold Weather Tips for EVs:
Try using your seat and steering wheel warmers instead of the heater.
Seat & steering wheel warmers use less energy than heating your whole car. In general, both EVs and ICE vehicles lose power due to heat loss, but internal combustion engines generate more heat, which is used to warm up the car itself. EV drivers don’t experience that same benefit. However, some EV automakers are now warming cabins with something called a "heat pump,” which transfers thermal energy from the electric motor and battery to the cabin.
Warm up your car before you get in with your EV’s app.
Most EVs come with an integrated app. Within this app, you can heat your EV’s cabin before you leave. It’s a win-win situation: you get a cozier cabin, and you can warm up your battery to a more efficient temperature. (Ideally, you can heat up your EV while it’s still plugged in to keep your battery as full as possible.)
Be aware that charging may take more time in cold temperatures. Plan accordingly.
Your EV has something called a Battery Management System (BMS), which regulates your charging speed. The BMS is sort of like your battery’s brain — it’s looking out for your battery’s safety. When it’s cold outside, your thermal management system (within the battery) may limit your charging speeds to keep the battery safe. As your battery’s temperature warms up to the ideal range for its chemistry, your BMS will loosen its charging limits.
Park in a garage (if you can).
At home, you may not have access to a garage. But when you’re out and about, maybe shopping or dining, and you have a choice to park inside a parking structure or outside in the elements, choose the parking structure where it’s a little warmer for your battery.
Keep your battery’s State of Charge (SoC) above 20%.*
When it’s cold outside, your BMS keeps a percentage of your battery’s power in reserve to warm itself up. That percentage varies per vehicle, so it’s always best to refer to your car’s manual, but a good rule of thumb is to try and keep your battery SoC above 20%.
*Refer to your EV Owner’s Manual for more specifics on best practices for your model.
Check your tire pressure to make sure your tires are fully inflated, use ECO mode (or Chill Mode if you’re a Tesla driver), and stash gloves and a hat in your car just in case!If you live in a wintry climate and still worry about how your EV will perform in cold temperatures, rest assured: even in Norway (an often chilly country), EVs continue to make up 65% of all car sales — and in a 2020 study, the Norway Automobile Federation found that EVs give plenty of forewarning about lower mileage and being low on power. During the I-95 storm in Richmond, VA, one Tesla driver who was stuck in her car for 16 hours started with a battery at 74% and got home with a battery at 61%.