Winter can be a challenging time for electric car owners. But with the right strategies and preparation, it is possible to successfully navigate the winter months with an electric car. From pre-trip planning and choosing the right charging spots to investing in cold-weather gear and monitoring battery performance, the following practical tips will help you maximise your range and stay safe on the road during a cold snap.
The electric car revolution comes with many interesting misunderstandings: car washes cause problems; battery life degrades catastrophically as soon as cars come off the forecourt; and flooded roads are an electric vehicle (EV) driver's worst nightmare. And then there's the myth that cold weather stops electric cars working properly...
Wrong! Norway, our neighbour across the North Sea, has led the way in electric car adoption. Just look at typical winters in Oslo or Tromsø; even a mild winter in Scandinavia makes a British one feel positively Mediterranean. Rest assured that your electric pride and joy will work fine during the worst of British weather.
Of course, because batteries and electricity are involved, cold weather can have direct and indirect effects on your car. But if you follow our advice, we're confident that you'll get through to spring. Let's brush last night's snow and ice off the electric MG 4 EV or Nissan Leaf and explore the winter wonderland of electric car ownership…
One of the questions asked about electric cars during Britain's winter concerns charging speed when you plug an EV into a home or public charging point.
Fact: colder weather affects charging speeds and manufacturers such as Tesla are open about this. Think a couple of extra hours for overnight charging at home; maybe an extra 15 minutes or so on a typical mid-journey charge-up. It isn't the end of the world…
Another fact: EVs have an ideal working temperature and it's well above zero! Because of this, when temperatures get down near freezing, your EV will need longer to achieve a given amount of battery charge. Now you know this, it's easy to plan in the same way that we already do when we must prepare a conventional car for driving after a hard frost. If you're mid-journey, just enjoy a slightly longer coffee break before returning to the car. It's that simple.
Can you charge an electric car in snow, sleet or winter rain? Of course you can! Forget the EV myth that says this is dangerous or bad for the car. What works in Norway also works in the UK. Regardless of whether it's high summer (can you remember what that felt like?) or a cold, dark February night, have no qualms about plugging your Vauxhall Mokka Electric or Renault Megane E-Tech in for a battery recharge. Just remember that, whether it's your home charger or a fast public charge point, it's likely to take longer to get those Lithium-ions full again.
The other big question concerns EV range when temperatures are low. As cold affects the ability of your car's Lithium-ion batteries to absorb and release electrical energy, a sub-zero cold snap will reduce the mileage you can achieve between charges. This varies between cars and different battery systems, but losing at least 10-20% of range in cold weather seems typical. That's without switching the heater on; this can easily triple or quadruple the fall-off in mileage under wintry conditions.
This chart compares 13 popular EV models to show potential range loss in different driving conditions. Compiled in the US by the EV research team at Recurrent, this report - which uses aggregated and anonymized data from 7,000 EV drivers - shows that some EVs can lose up to 30% + of their range in freezing conditions.
Some brands, notably Renault (for their Renault Zoe E-Tech 100% Electric), offer a useful online range calculator with an outside temperature option. All you need to do is put in your engine and battery details, add your usage (including planned speed and the applicable outside temperature) and discover the effect on your car's mileage. We tried this on Renault's website; here are the results:
We selected the R110/R135 engine with an EV 50 battery, a speed of 50 mph, outdoor temperature of 20 °, heating and air-con off, and eco-mode on. The estimated driving range is 196 miles (315 km). Now, keeping all other settings the same, we selected an outdoor temperature as -5 °C and heating on. This time, the estimated driving range was 148 miles (238 km).
Even Renault says that, '…true driving range depends on speed, driving style, topography and weather conditions.' However, by applying a few simple tips, such as braking and accelerating gently, you can optimise your mileage when the mercury plummets. After all, it's what we've been doing for years with our conventionally powered cars. Let's see what we need to do…
Regardless of the make and model of your EV, remembering – and applying – a few simple tips can help maximise the mileage your electric car achieves when temperatures fall.
Not surprisingly, the traditional efficient driving advice that we've heard for decades applies to electric vehicles as well as petrol and diesel cars. Keep tyre pressures at the recommended setting, avoid carrying unnecessary weight that adds to the load, and drive smoothly (remember the 'egg between your foot and the accelerator that your driving instructor talked about!).
Electric cars may go like the proverbial brown stuff off a shovel, but that doesn't mean you need to accelerate and brake harshly – especially in cold weather.
You've probably already noticed the lower battery depletion when driving at 60 compared to 70 (or, er, more…) when temperatures are higher. Not surprisingly, the same applies during cold weather. Try it, maybe with a switch to eco-mode too, and see the difference.
If possible, try minimising use of the car's interior heater too. The same goes for infotainment. Maybe you can manage without your Radio 2 or LBC fix. It all adds up when battery charge is at stake…
The consensus seems to be that you should keep regenerative braking on during cold weather. The only occasional exception is for the worst ice and snow conditions when regen braking might contribute to skidding.
As a rule of thumb, regenerative braking tops up your battery and helps maximise the range you'll achieve between charges. Keep it switched on under most circumstances.
TIP: because regenerative braking works best when the car is warm, try to warm the battery with preconditioning before driving off.
Just as we work better with a warm coat, beanie and cosy gloves in winter weather, your electric MG EV4 or Renault Megane E-Tech will benefit from being covered. Ideally, this will be in a garage or carport, but it's also worth considering a car cover if your EV regularly stands out in the cold.
Anything to keep your battery warmer will in turn help keep hold of that precious charge!
Does your electric car have a preheat (preconditioning) function? Unless it’s very old, the answer is likely to be yes. As ever, the user manual is your friend here.
Preconditioning allows you to warm the car up while it's still plugged into its charger – and before you get in. By doing this, you won't use the car's battery to warm the vehicle and it'll be toasty when you're ready to drive off.
Check that user manual again: you might be able to precondition the vehicle remotely with a handy smartphone app!
If the option pack includes these, consider using your car's electric seats and heated steering wheel for warmth instead of whacking the heater on. You'll be surprised how warm you'll be, and these accessories use much less battery power than the car's heating.
If your EV has eco-mode, you can use it in cold weather to avoid squandering battery charge on items such as heaters and in-car entertainment.
Is your battery charge level plummeting as fast as the temperatures outside? Switch eco-mode on and head for the nearest charging point.
So you've done everything possible to maximise your EV's range under chilly winter conditions and allowed more time for your latest battery charging. Now you're on a run to the shops or a long cross-country journey and the season's throwing its worst at you. Keep reading to find out how to deal with winter snow, ice or flooded roads in an electric car.
Because electric cars have heavy batteries positioned low-down, their centre of gravity is lower; this helps traction in snowy, icy conditions. Arguably, it probably helps counteract the effect on handling of the EV's extra weight too.
Now add in the stability aids we're used to with petrol and diesel cars and specific winter mode if your car has it. Very little has changed. If anything, the change might be for the better, particularly when you need maximum traction on snow and ice and the EV's extra weight comes into its own.
However, do remember that, under certain extreme conditions, particularly if regenerative braking is enabled, the heavier EV may skid more readily than its conventionally powered equivalent – and be harder to bring back under control if it does…
In recent years, all-season tyres have gone mainstream. They offer a fantastic alternative to traditional winter tyres during our colder months. A set really could be a great all-year-round option for your electric car. That said, it's essential to consult the owner's manual and manufacturer to make sure your choice is right for the car.
Think winter (or summer) floods and how water and electricity don't mix. Fortunately, this doesn't mean that, if it's unavoidable, you can't drive your EV through a flood.
Because electric car batteries are sealed, they shouldn't be damaged by water splashes during normal driving. Besides, because EVs don't have air intakes or exhaust pipes, you don't need to worry about those traditional weak points.
That said, there are still plenty of ways that deep floodwater (above, say, a few inches) could seriously damage your car and its systems. In an excellent article on electric cars in winter, Autotrader states that, 'if the kerb isn’t fully submerged and you drive slowly and steadily, you might get through without water entering the cabin.'
It's a good rule of thumb. Of course, an equally good rule is that, if you're in any doubt, you should turn around and find another route.
Hopefully, we've dispelled the myths about EV driving in cold winter weather. Now you're all set to allow for cold weather's lower mileage and longer charging times. You've also got some top tips for getting the best out of your battery charge and driving safely in snow, ice or even floodwater.
Now, whatever winter throws at you, you can get on with enjoying the many benefits of the electric car revolution.