What to Know About Driving Your Electric Vehicle in Winter

Follow these tips for winterizing your electric vehicle, minimizing the effects of cold temperatures on your battery and maximizing battery range.

Anyone who has experienced a dead battery in a traditional gas-powered car in winter knows cold weather is tough on batteries. Imagine, then, what a winter challenge a fully electric vehicle (EV) — one that relies completely on batteries — presents.

A 2019 AAA study evaluating the effects of ambient temperatures on the driving range of five electric vehicles found that when temperatures dipped from 75 degrees F to 20 F, driving range decreased by 12 percent. If your commute is right at the edge of your car’s typical range during normal weather, you might find yourself in trouble in the winter.

Read on for some methods to minimize your range anxiety as the frosty weather approaches.

Check Your Tires, Wash Your Windshield

The following applies to all cars — electric, hybrid, gasoline or diesel. A recent ExxonMobil study showed that keeping an EV’s tires inflated to the proper pressure increases energy efficiency by three to seven percent. And since tire pressure tends to fall by one pound per square inch (PSI) for every 10-degree ambient temperature drop, cold weather can easily drop your tire pressure enough to effect your battery range. You might also consider winter tires, depending on the typical conditions in your area.

Under the hood, you don’t have as much to worry about with an EV as you would with an internal combustion car. The main thing: windshield washer fluid. Make sure it’s topped off with a fluid rated for the low temperature you’ll be driving in.

Bundle Up

Everything that happens in any car requires energy from someplace. In a traditional car, heat generated by the car’s internal combustion engine helps quickly heat the interior space. Energy recycling at its best!

An electric vehicle, however, doesn’t have a heat-generating engine. Instead, it generates interior heat with — you guessed it — electricity, typically with one or several resistive heating elements. Avoid turning on the car’s heating system and you minimize the battery drain. You have a nice parka, right? Keep it on, grab your hat and gloves, and drive.

It’s worth noting that some newer EVs use a heat pump rather than resistive elements. These heat pumps work much like heat pumps for your house, taking waste heat (in this case, heat generated by the lithium-ion battery) and transferring it to the vehicle cabin.

Heat pumps aren’t magic, however. There will still be some energy loss, but it’s not nearly as drastic as the relatively inefficient resistive heating element. Yes, the heat pump uses battery energy to move that heat, but not nearly as much as a resistive element would.

Use Heated Accessories

Many modern electric vehicles come with heated seats and steering wheels. Use them instead of heating all the air inside the car. Simply heating the surfaces you’re touching will make you more comfortable without using too much energy.

Plug In and Precondition

You’re probably already charging your car overnight, right? It’s a good idea even if you don’t need your car to be at full capacity every morning. It keeps the battery ready for anything you might throw at it.

Preconditioning — waking your charging vehicle and turning on the heat thirty minutes to an hour ahead of driving — also helps maximize range, according to Audi e-tron Production Manager Matthew Mostafaei. “[Preconditioning] ensures that no additional energy is used from the battery to warm up the interior,” he says. Most new electric cars have a smartphone app that allows you to precondition on a pre-set schedule or on command.

You may have heard about insulating electric car batteries or using electric blankets to keep it warm when parked. We don’t recommend either. Recall that an EV battery gets hot when it’s working. Extra insulation could potentially overheat it, leading to degraded performance at the least, or a fire at worst.

Electric blankets need to be plugged in, of course, but your car should be plugged in anyhow as noted above. Just precondition your car and let your car’s heater do its job.

Seek Shelter

Keeping the car out of the wind and snow will help keep the batteries reasonably warm. If that means storing it in a garage, all the better. If you’ve parked outside and a snowstorm hits, be sure to brush off all accumulated snow, which can affect your car’s aerodynamics and further drain your battery. Plus, it’s a danger to others if it flies off your car while you’re driving.

Chris Tonn
A lifelong Ohioan, Chris grew up around classic rusty sports cars from Japan and England. He's been covering the automotive industry for nearly 10 years, and is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). A family man, Chris drives a Chrysler minivan, and uses his rusty old Miata as a shelf, until the day it is uncovered as a priceless barn find.