How to best manage the loss of autonomy of electric vehicles in winter

Batteries of electric cars generally do not like the winter cold and lose their autonomy, this is a fact. Here are some tips to better understand this era and its impact on electric cars.

When winter temperatures arrive, the range of electric vehicles decreases, consumption increases, charging is sometimes slower, and some functions such as regenerative braking may be slow to start. The most experienced users of electric vehicles are already familiar with the exercise, but for the most inexperienced, a few tips and explanations will probably not be superfluous.

First of all, it’s important to remember that not all electric car models are equal when it comes to winter overconsumption. From the battery’s chemistry to its thermal management (including pre-conditioning), whether it’s having a heat pump or using winter tires and even your vehicle usage: these elements will change the way your car behaves. electric car in winter. Observed differences generally range from 15-30% autonomy loss for temperatures close to 0°C, compared to ideal temperatures around 20°C. Don’t listen to those who say that an electric car is not made for winter: the excessive consumption of thermal cars, even if the effect seems to be a little less.

Provide more autonomy for your travels in winter

This is obvious to people who are already used to driving an electric car, but a boost shot is never useless. To avoid any idle fear, if the temperature is close to zero, we add a third to the distance of his journey. We keep at least 133 km of autonomy up to 100 km so as not to reach the remaining autonomy. You can add up to 50% when temperatures are below −10°C, which also allows for a margin if the weather conditions are accompanied by wind or a snowy or icy road.

The most modern electric cars now have batteries with enough capacity to not be afraid of failure. In daily trips, an electric car will not cause any special problems. However, on a longer trip, especially if you take the highway, it is better to wait a little longer for autonomy and charging. Even as charging stations proliferate, the combination of cold weather and high winds can reduce a car’s range faster than anticipated. We experienced it in the Volkswagen ID.4 test.

Cold battery = potentially impaired operation

Until the battery reaches its optimal operating temperature, some functions of the vehicle may appear to be impaired. This can happen during regenerative braking, which will not be active in the cold, at least for the first minutes of driving for certain vehicles. This can also happen on slower recharges, especially seen on faster recharges. Toyota encountered this problem with LFP battery models in Canada. Again, this is highly variable from vehicle to vehicle, depending on how the battery thermal regulation is handled.

Filling bZ4X. // Source: Raphaelle Baut for Numerama

Many vehicles have battery pre-conditioning to compensate for slow charging at fast terminals due to cold. Heating the battery will consume a little more energy, but charging on a fast terminal will be faster. These prerequisites are automatic in cars like Tesla, which have a powerful and intelligent route planner. Other models, such as the Nissan Aria and models from other manufacturers, may have a manual.

Preheat your passenger compartment or heat it more efficiently

A few electric cars have a cabin pre-heating program via a mobile app that is activated before setting off. Feel free to use this feature if you connect your car at home. Thus, the temperature of the interior of your car will be prepared from the mains before departure, not by debiting from the autonomy of your battery.

For those whose daily life is unregulated or unconnected at home, it is the control of the internal heating that you can gain or lose autonomy. If you’re traveling alone in a car, opt for heated seats and a heated steering wheel (if equipped). These two elements work in a resistor, but consume little power. In any case, when the car is cold, it is much less than wanting to heat the entire cabin to 22 ° C for one person.

Tesla Model 3 in winter // Source: Raphaelle Baut
Tesla Model 3 in winter. // Source: Raphaelle Baut

Heat pump or simple resistor, what is the difference for heating and consumption?

Some models are equipped with a heat pump to heat the interior of the car. For other references, this equipment is optional or completely missing from the catalog. When a heat pump is optional, the question of the interest and profitability of the option is regularly asked in online communities.

The thing to remember is that there is no universal answer to this question. A heat pump will consume less over time than resistance heating. In the first minutes, both solutions will consume the same, but then the heat pump will require less energy from the resistor to continue heating the space on board. This will be more autonomy on winter trips. The profitability of the option depends on many other variables: the price of the option, the use of your car (duration of trips), the region of your residence and weather conditions.

A heat pump is like an air conditioner in its early days, this equipment seemed optional, but now it is essential for comfort. If your trip is longer than 15 minutes in a harsh winter area, don’t hesitate to use this option or choose a car equipped with it as standard.

Eco mode can be especially interesting in winter

The operation of the “Eco” driving mode is quite variable depending on the make and model. To offer electric cars a little more autonomy, manufacturers play on several comfort and performance parameters. Heating, air conditioning and power to the wheels are particularly targeted by this mode, which will limit their use.

Less direct acceleration and more moderate heat limited by the car is a good way to maintain mileage in winter.

Winter tires slightly increase fuel consumption

Providing better grip on the road, the so-called “winter” tires lead to increased consumption in all equipped cars. If you’re worried about the laws of the mountain, or if you’re careful with your winter safety as a priority, these tires can’t be ignored. However, it should be noted that if you take the same size as your summer tires, they increase the energy consumption significantly.

Finally, be sure to check your tire pressure in the summer as well as in the winter. Under-inflated tires increase the average fuel consumption of all electric, hybrid or thermal vehicles.

Bring your charging cable

It’s not a bad idea to carry your charging cable in your trunk during a particularly cold winter episode, especially if you’re going a little further than your usual routes. If you need extra power or want to insure yourself by taking a little more margin compared to your estimated consumption, it is better to have your T2 cable (or Chademo) and charging card to be able to connect to a public terminal.

It’s never a bad thing to be a little cautious and wait, because only fast charging stations always have a cable connected to the terminal.

Park your car under cover

You probably won’t need an article to expect this. If an electric car is stored in a garage or parking lot, winter temperatures will have less effect on your car. Less heating and less melting will definitely use less energy. A simple “carport” can already make a difference to a completely open car in winter.

Car in the snow // Source: Kimono on Pixabay
The car is under the snow. // Source: Kimono on Pixabay

Things to remember about electric cars and the cold

At the development stage, electric cars are tested in harsh winter conditions. They are perfectly resistant to winter, especially in the conditions in France. However, it should still be taken into account that consumption and therefore autonomy will not be the same in summer as in winter. Summary:

  • Cold and wind can quickly increase average consumption;
  • Adjusting your speed by elevating your foot is more effective for increasing distance in winter. Eco mode can be useful to help with this;
  • When cold, regenerative braking and charging may not work as usual on some models;
  • Cabin preheating and battery conditioning aren’t just gimmicks;
  • Heated seats and a heated steering wheel are a good solution so that you don’t always have to heat the whole cabin strongly;
  • The heat pump allows you to consume less on medium and long trips;
  • Expecting higher consumption prevents unpleasant surprises.

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