Driving electric through the winter: what do you need to know?
Winter, snow, and electric cars … What do you need to know to get through the cold months with an electric car? What can you do to optimize vehicle range in winter? And what else is worth considering? We have put together some key facts for you:
- Winter tires
Everyone wants to maximize the range of their electric car – even in winter. However, this should not be done at the expense of safety: winter tires with the “M+S” marking and snowflake on the sidewall are mandatory for electric cars just as for standard vehicles. Using the right tires is particularly important with electric cars to ensure they do not lose their grip despite an EV’s more rapid acceleration.
- Starting a car in snow
Electric cars do not have conventional gears like those fitted in gas-fuelled vehicles: the electric motor is powered not by a manual or automatic transmission, but by an extremely wide speed band. Gear changes are therefore redundant. This means that you cannot shift into a higher gear to prevent your tires from spinning; however, there is a different way to reduce the load on your tires: eco mode. As well as increasing a vehicle’s range, eco mode also helps to prevent tires from slipping in winter as a result of rapid acceleration. It reduces the force that the motor transmits to the tires, minimizing the speed at which they turn when you start up the car.
Cold affects charging as well as vehicle range, as the charging power depends on the actual outside temperature. In other words, you need to plan in more time for charging in winter. It is therefore advisable to charge vehicles whenever possible in a comparatively warm place such as a garage, an underground parking lot or a covered parking bay.
One of the main reasons for the shorter range in winter are additional vehicle functions that require more power as soon as the temperatures drop. Alongside vehicle lighting, which is used more in the shorter winter days, the main culprit here is the heating. There can be a rapid and major increase in energy consumption once you start needing to heat the rear and front windshields, the interior, the seats, etc. – especially if the car is to be heated from sub-zero temperatures to a pleasant 20 degrees in the morning. Tip: turn on the heating while charging the car. The energy for heating will then be drawn from the grid and you can use all the battery energy for driving. Your car will also be nice and warm by the time you set off.
Battery power decreasing in the winter months is not unusual. But can it really fall by up to 50%, as is often claimed?
How drastic the loss of range in winter actually is depends on many different factors. For example, the car range will be significantly reduced if both the front and rear windshields, seats, steering wheel and the entire interior have to be heated. Vehicle lighting also requires more energy in winter than in summer. Other factors such as how you drive, the battery technology and the outside temperature will also affect battery performance.
With older electric cars, the actual range may indeed drop by up to 50% if all additional functions are used to the full in the cold. Most newer models, however, have a heat pump or a heating element that converts small amounts of electricity into heat. For example, with a Tesla Model S you could sit for up to 12 hours in stationary traffic in winter and still be pleasantly warm. In gas-fuelled cars, the heater would stop working after a few hours, which would make for a very chilly wait in the event of a long highway closure.
In short: the motors of electric cars are indeed affected by the outside temperature, but by taking a few simple steps, electric vehicle owners can travel long distances even in winter without any problems.