Driving lesson

Why winter saps the range of your electric car

More and more Americans are choosing to buy an electric vehicle, but some electric vehicle owners are surprised to find out how much their car’s range is compromised by winter conditions.

Why is this important: Overcoming the hurdles of buying an electric vehicle – the higher sticker price, knowing where to charge it, or the fear of getting stranded – is hard enough.

  • If your car doesn’t live up to the EPA-estimated range that’s been promised, it could undermine confidence in electric vehicles and even deter potential buyers.

Example : In January, Margaret and her husband took their first road trip in their new Mustang Mach-E from Washington, DC, to a cabin near Wardensville, West Virginia, about 110 miles away.

  • Their car has an EPA range of 300 miles, but in cold weather the estimate before they left home was only about 200 miles, so they had to schedule a stop to recharge.

Reality check: Most electric vehicles experience some range loss in cold weather.

What they say : “Batteries are like humans,” Anna Stefanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan Energy Institute, told Wired.

  • “They prefer the same kind of temperature range as people. Anything below 40 or above 115 degrees Fahrenheit and they won’t deliver their peak performance,” according to Wired.

Some electric vehicles do better than others in the cold, however, according to battery analytics firm Recurrent, which uses data collected from electric vehicle owners to create “battery health reports” on used electric vehicles.

  • The company analyzed the actual winter range of thousands of electric vehicles and found that the Tesla Model Y retained most of its range in the winter.
  • Tesla has developed more advanced thermodynamic systems, including a heat pump to warm the interior, recurring CEO Scott Case told Axios.

Between the lines: Cold temperatures slow chemical reactions in battery cells, which reduces range and increases charge times.

  • Without heat-producing motors, electric vehicles must also siphon battery power to warm the cabin.

The plot: Your driving also affects the range of your electric vehicle. If you drive with a lead foot or like to turn up the heat, your expected range will be less.

  • Ironically, driving only a few miles a day will also lower your range estimate.

Electric vehicle owners can take some steps to maximize their range in cold weather, Mach-E chief engineer Donna Dickson tells Axios.

  • Start the vehicle while plugged in to allow the battery to warm up.
  • “The key is to get that battery warmed up,” Dickson said. “That preconditioning helps a lot because it brings it to a temperature level that works efficiently.

What to watch: Ford is considering a software update that would give drivers a better understanding of how to improve their vehicle’s range.