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Does cold weather affect your EV? A guide to driving and charging in winter

Does cold weather affect your EV? A guide to driving and charging in winter

Electric vehicles (EVs) accounted for more than 14 per cent of new car sales in Europe last year and are expected to achieve a 20 per cent market share in 2024.

But as EVs continue to gain in popularity, many potential buyers are concerned about how well they work in winter.

Before you hit the road, here’s our guide to getting the maximum performance out of your EV in the cold weather.

Does cold weather affect electric vehicles?

Like humans, cars prefer ambient temperatures and cold weather will cause all cars - petrol, diesel and electric - to function less efficiently.

A flat battery, a faulty alternator or a problem with the starter motor can result in an internal combustion engine (ICE) car struggling to start in winter while cold temperatures can play havoc with the range of an electric car.

When the temperature drops, the range is reduced but so too is the capacity of the battery.

The capacity is essentially the amount of energy the battery can hold and how quickly it can discharge it so recharging will take longer.

In extreme cold, the charging points can also be affected and the result can be a considerably slower charging time so you can expect to spend longer at charging stations during winter.

How does a drop in temperature affect the battery?

Electric car batteries work by storing and releasing energy. Colder weather results in a slowdown of the overall chemical reaction process and the performance of the battery. It's worth noting that not all electric cars, however, are impacted to the same extent.

How much range will an electric vehicle lose in winter?

The Norwegian Automobile Federation (NAF) regularly conducts winter and summer range tests on EVs to find out how they perform.

In their most recent winter test, 29 cars drove on a mixture of urban and rural roads in temperatures that fluctuated between zero degrees to minus 20 Celcius. The cars start with a fully charged battery and are driven until they run out of power.

The results show that the loss of range in an EV can vary from 10 per cent to 30 per cent of a car’s official range.

The best performing EV was the Maxus Euniq 6, an SUV that lost just 10.5 per cent of its Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) range while the Tesla Model S travelled 530 km, the furthest of any EV before running out of range, a distance that was 16.4 per cent less than the car's stated WLTP range of 634 km.

A Tesla Model Y home charging under cover during the winter.
A Tesla Model Y home charging under cover during the winter. - Tesla

What can be done to lessen the impact?

You may not be able to control the weather but there is a host of ways to minimise the impact of cold temperatures on your range.

If you park your car in a garage or covered area, this will protect the battery from the extreme cold which makes it more likely to hold its charge.

Also when charging overnight, you can schedule preconditioning for the time you’re setting off. This allows you to pre-heat the car's cabin before you start your journey that way you are drawing power from the main electricity supply and not your EV battery.

Once on the road, turning the heating on is the quickest way to lose range so use heated seats and a heated steering wheel instead as this is far more efficient than heating the entire car.

Look out also for an EV with a heat pump as this makes heating and cooling your battery more energy efficient. It’s worth buying a car that’s equipped with one or spending extra on one if it's offered as an option.

Finally, ensure your tyres are properly inflated and check tyre pressure regularly as any imbalance in tyre pressure can affect your energy efficiency.

If your tyres are underinflated then the battery has to work harder to maintain power.

Are electric cars hard to drive in ice and snow?

Electric cars are generally front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive so they should cope well on snowy roads.

They also tend to have a low centre of gravity due to the positioning of the batteries and this can help increase traction and improve stability in wintry conditions.

But it's important to remember that EVs are heavier than similarly sized petrol and diesel cars so in the event of a skid it may be harder to get the car under control.

The most important factor on the road is your speed so always drive slowly and carefully in icy conditions.

The eco mode function is useful as it will not only extend your battery range but it can also make your car safer to drive in winter by reducing the power and limiting the amount of torque.

Winter or all-season tyres are also worth considering as they make a significant difference when the temperature plummets as they offer more grip while driving on snow and ice than regular tyres.