Will Winter Storms Spell Disaster for Your Electric Car? Page 2

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Driving on ice in Paignton, England

Driving on ice in Paignton, England

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Taking your electric car from your home garage to your the garage in your place of work shouldn’t affect the range that much in cold weather, provided you have a reasonable route devoid of too much stop/start traffic. 

On the other hand, leaving an electric car parked outisde all day without any way to keep its battery pack warm will significantly affect your range. 

Cabin Heating

Keeping the interior of any car warm requires energy. in a gasoline powered car this energy comes from the heat wated by the internal combustion engine. In an electric car, heat comes from a heating element which has to consume electrical energy to warm the car. 

But don't worry. There are some solutions to ensure that the energy drain from keeping you warm is as small as possible. 

Some cars, like the 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport 2.5, use heated seats. Other electric cars offer heated steering wheels. Both these features can produce heat to keep the driver warm more efficiently than a traditional cabin heater, reducing energy loss to heating and improving range. 

Additionally, pre-heating the cabin before you leave in the morning can also help save energy during the drive. Since it takes less energy to keep a set temperature than it does to raise the temperature of a cabin, set the car’s pre-heat function to warm the car before you unplug in the morning. The 2011 Nissan LEAF, 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2012 Ford Focus all have this feature. 

Extremes - and Surviving Them

winter tire

winter tire

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As pointed out in The Washington Post by Charles Lane, being stuck in sub-freezing weather for six hours could certainly impact on your electric car’s range if the heater is needed to keep you warm. Similarly, pointing out that electric cars cannot be charged when home power is cut hardly needs to be stated.  

But we’d like to hope that in areas where heavy winter snow de facto and authorities are used to dealing with extreme snowfall, such tailbacks and power cuts are relatively unusual. 

As for areas where winter snow brings the world to a standstill? We’d like to think common sense is applied and where possible; you think twice about that commute anyway regardless of the vehicle you drive. 

If you do encounter snow and  want to make the most of winter weather in your electric car  we'd recommend you follow three simple points: 

  1. Keep your car plugged in so it can keep itself warm
  2. Store your car in a garage when it is not in use
  3. Pre-heat the cabin while charging from the mains, and use seat heaters and/or steeringwheel heaters where appropriate. 

Do you drive your electric car in snow? What experiences do you have? Don't forget to tell us in the Comments below. 

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Comments (5)
  1. Absolutely the most useful article I've read so far about electric cars. I wonder if the Nissan or i-MiEV have the heated seat/wheel option or if it can be added? I wonder if the Myers Motors DUO will have it?

  2. Regarding keeping warm in an electric car whilst preserving battery power, I would comment as follows:
    1. Horse and buggy operators did not have cabin heat. In fact they didn't even have protection from chilling winds. So just dress warmly since your dino-powered car may leave you stranded with a frozen gas line or other emergency occurrence.
    2. There are such things as gas and diesel fueled heaters designed to keep truckers warm.
    3. and finally- I ride my electric trike in the winter and am quite comfortable protected from the wind by my fairing and parka. I do, however, keep the trike in the garage so the batteries are relatively warm.

  3. Charging the MINI E in the extremes of winter cold is not entirely straight forward. It's a prototype, a 'science experiment' as we describe it so, one thing that BMW have learnt from the experiment is to add battery heaters in their next EV. The MINI E doesn't heat the pack & as a result, despite a 50A charger the battery only charges at a few amps when it's at -20*C. This extends the charging cycle somwhat.
    Driving the car heats the battery so, on the flip side, if you plug in as soon as you get home, the battery is warm & charging takes place ok; you just have to learn that as we did, the hard way!
    Here's a good point of reference on the power consumed by the heater. A couple of weeks ago, at -11*C I had to sit in the car for a couple of hours waiting for a pick-up. I left the heater on... I know, wuss... the battery drained from 64% to 62% in two hours. That's not a lot really; 1% per hour in VERY rough terms but enough to indicate that, if I get stuck in the snow again, as I did in the 90's and have to spend the night, I'd prefer to be stuck in an electric where I can leave the heat on all night without risk of being poisoned by an exhaust outlet blocked by newly fallen snow.

  4. I'll also point out that packs do not need liquid heating to keep them warm. Many conversion use an insulated pack enclosure and resistance heating elements to warm the pack when plugged in if necessary. Tesla has to use liquid heating, and more importantly cooling, to keep their LiCo chemistry happy. Other chemistries are not as sensitive to temperature.

  5. Great article, Nikki. A couple of additions:
    1. When the power goes out, gas pumps don't work either.
    2. The Tesla Roadster has an inefficient resistive heater for the cabin. Heater and fan draw 3kW. The battery pack is 53kWh, so including idle draw the car can sit for around 13 hours with the heater going full blast (it would have to be really cold to leave it at full blast!). A lot of idling gas cars would run out of gas before then.
    3. I don't have firm numbers for the Leaf, but: its battery is less than half the size of the Roadster's, but its cabin heater is a heat pump, which is at least twice as efficient--so I would imagine it would fare similarly.

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