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Optimizing Electric Vehicles for Cold Weather Driving

Authored by ZETA
Authored by ZETA

Authored by ZETA
January 11, 2023

Driving in cold weather is more energy-intensive for both internal combustion engine vehicles and electric vehicles (EVs). In colder temperatures, it takes more energy to power both the vehicle and warm the cabin; using these functions together lowers the driving ranges for both types of vehicles. However, a little extra planning during winter months will limit the impact on an individual’s EV driving experience.

Best Practices for Low-Temperature Driving in an EV

  • To increase your range, it is recommended to plug the vehicle in and run the heating system for 20-30 minutes before taking it for a drive. Doing this ensures that the battery is warm and can run more efficiently, and reduces the loss of power to warm up the vehicle cabin. 
  • Drivers should plan to charge more frequently during colder weather—with the goal of staying between 20%-80% charging range for maximum efficiency.
  • When planning your route, allow for 20% variance in your available range to remain on the safe side and be judicious with your choice of the cabin temperature. Drivers may want to consider only using seat heaters (if available) as this is a more efficient way of keeping passengers warm.

Best Practices for Ice, Snow, and Everything In-Between

  • Drivers should remove excess snow from the vehicle prior to driving to minimize the impact on your vehicle’s handling and to protect other drivers.
  • Depending on your weather conditions, consider snow tires, chains, or other methods to increase grip.
  • Driving in winter weather can actually be safer in an EV due to the vehicle’s lower center of gravity and the enhanced grip of EV-specific tires. Just like driving a gas-powered car, however, it is important to be light on the accelerator and brake. That said, if you anticipate driving in harsh weather, consider disabling your vehicle’s regenerative braking function. Doing so can prevent unexpected loss of grip on the road.

Cold Weather and Traffic Jams

  • Unfortunately, winter conditions can result in backups and drivers getting stranded on the roads. In fact, an EV driver wrote about his experience during a major backup on I-95 in Virginia in January 2022
  • While gas-powered vehicles must keep the engine running (and burn precious fuel) to keep warm, EVs can divert power away from the drivetrain and only heat the cabin.
  • Drivers will want to use the onboard console to manage their battery usage, and plan to stop by a local public charger (much like the gas-powered vehicles in a similar situation) to top up their battery prior to completing their trip.
  • Drivers should consider keeping a winter weather emergency kit in the vehicle with essential items such as a flashlight/headlamp, spare batteries, blankets, extra winter clothes, and a first aid kit.

Other Useful Tidbits

  • Whenever possible, park your car indoors, not outside—the added protection from the cold will help the vehicle’s battery keep its charge longer.
  • If you are planning to store your car for long periods of time during the winter, it’s best to charge the vehicle at least to 70% to preserve the health of the battery. 
  • Always check with your vehicle manufacturer for more tips!
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About ZETA

National policies to support 100% electric vehicle sales.

The Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA) is a federal coalition focused on advocating for 100% EV sales. Enacting policies that drive EV adoption will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, secure American global EV manufacturing dominance, drastically improve public health, and significantly reduce carbon pollution.