The Lowdown on Electric Cars and Cold Weather

As we’ve mentioned before, chilly temperatures don’t exactly do electric vehicles any favors. In fact, a study by AAA Automotive Research Center has shown that cold weather can reduce the range of an electric vehicle by a whopping 57 percent.

The reasons for this are twofold: first, any kind of battery is simply going to be less efficient in the cold. Second (and most importantly) it takes a lot of power to heat the inside of a vehicle to a comfortable temperature. (This is the same reason the fuel efficiency of a vehicle powered by internal combustion is also reduced in cold weather, though to a lesser extent.)

For electric vehicle drivers, this means when the temperature drops, trips need to be kept shorter to avoid running out of battery. But how does it actually play out in practice?

Not as badly as you might think.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 68 percent of U.S. commuters have a commute that totals less than 30 miles — well within the range of a vehicle affected by even the coldest temperatures.

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian commute is about 18.6 miles. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even when temperatures dipped below -13 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Canada this winter, electric cars could still handle that drive.

A test of a 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5 by Green Car Reports suggested it too was more than capable of taking on frigid weather, even at high speeds.

Still, reduced range in the cold certainly something to keep in mind if you’re considering an electric vehicle.

Range-extending tips

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make things a little more efficient.

  • First, try to keep your electric vehicle as warm as possible when it’s not in use by parking it in a garage if possible. This will reduce the amount of energy required to heat the cabin.
  • If you’re going to preheat the vehicle before you get in, do it while it’s plugged into the charger.
  • Finally, try to avoid blasting the heat while you’re driving.