Electric Cars In The Winter: Ultimate Guide

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2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

2012 Nissan Leaf winter test

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Winter is well and truly here for many of us now, particularly in more northerly regions.

It brings with it not just snow, cold weather and a little extra danger on the roads, but also an added dose of anxiety for electric car owners.

Cold weather can play havoc with range, particularly when using heaters, lights and other functions to fight off the cold. It's a subject we've covered on several occasions, so we've brought several of our winter articles together into a single guide.

Winter tips

However little or often you plan to drive over winter, it's always wise to be prepared.

As a result, it might pay to remind yourself of some tips to help you get through the winter--particularly relevant for those with electric cars lacking a thermally-managed battery pack. Dealt with correctly, Winter need not spell disaster for your electric car.

While some tips required with regular, internal combustion vehicles don't apply to EVs, our post on five ways to maintain good gas mileage could also still be useful--particularly with regard to ensuring your tires are suitable. Many electric car owners already benefit from one of the suggestions--pre-heating the cabin. Plenty of Nissan Leaf owners are already enjoying toasty warm pre-heated cabins in the cold weather!

Winter range

Those same owners, and those who own other EVs without thermally-managed batteries, still need to be careful about their cars' range this winter. It's wise, for example, to avoid trips which might push the range of your car--cold temperatures, unexpected traffic and winter-enforced detours may result in you running out before your destination.

We've looked at whether the Tesla Model S will hold up when the going gets cold, and done our own cold-weather test of the 2012 Nissan Leaf. Without using the heater, you may still get 80 miles. But fire up the accessories, and you'd be wiser to stop every 50 miles or so to re-charge.

The Tesla Model S in winter testing.

The Tesla Model S in winter testing.

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Electric car winter testing

Electric cars aren't completely un-prepared for winter, of course--many are actually tested in cold conditions, just like regular cars, to make sure they're suitable in all weathers.

We did just such a test with a Tesla Roadster back in 2010, and again with a Volvo C30 in the Arctic Circle. With the Volvo, we were able to test just how effective it was at keeping its occupants warm, with a small, gas-burning heater--you can watch the video here. There's also a full drive report on the Volvo, which more than proved itself as a winter-ready electric car--it's just a shame they're not making it!

Other cars we've seen preparing for winter include the upcoming BMW i3 electric car, the Tesla Model S, and the Nissan Leaf, which tackling a snowy Japanese test course.

Fun in the snow

It needn't all be doom and gloom--while winter brings cold weather and occasional travel chaos, it can still be a time of year to enjoy. Even if you have an electric car.

How? Well, you could organize a small, local road trip for local EV owners--just like a group of Finnish electric car owners did in Helsinki.

Alternatively, you could have even more fun. We certainly don't condone this sort of driving on the streets, but if you're lucky enough to have some private land, then it may be ideal for practicing your winter car control--you never know when it may come in handy on the streets.

Have any more tips or winter suggestions for electric car drivers? Leave them in the comments section below.


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Comments (8)
  1. Aaaaannnnnd no mention of EVs with "thermally-managed batteries" **cough** Ford Focus Electric! **cough** **cough** BMW Active E! **cough**

  2. Hi Paul,

    While I didn't refer to any thermally-managed cars specifically, I did refer to the concept, in the second paragraph of the "winter tips" section:

    "As a result, it might pay to remind yourself of some tips to help you get through the winter--particularly relevant for those with electric cars lacking a thermally-managed battery pack."

    You'll note the article is designed to tie together all our previous winter and snow-related pieces, rather than arbitrarily refer to cars which may be more suitable than others during the winter.

    I hope you got something from the article, at least :)

  3. Also no mention about the outside temperature! -20c, -10c?
    On what level the heating system was? High, low, medium?
    The defroster was on?

  4. If you are "outside" and NOT plugged in, even the "thermally-managed batteries" still lose significant range. The energy to manage those battey has to come out of somewhere...

  5. Many electric chargers won't be accessible in place where there is a lot of snow because the owner will get tire of cleaning the spot that nobody will use, and also they will remove these chargers because it take too much unused space impeding customers to park near the store.

  6. Speak, let the anger, fear and frustration flow, and then in a moment of rational through it will come to you. GM, Nissan or Ford, it does not matter which you choose, all now offer freedom from your oil addiction.

  7. Come on, just byte the bullet and spit out the fact that Thermally managed PHEVs like my Volt glide over winter in Toronto like Wayne gretzky on ice... toasty warm and never a worry about range. True, at -15c the battery range drops to 2/3 the summer range but thats because ALL cars use a lot more energy in winter. The plug in types just make the naked truth obvious!

  8. I live in Colorado which can definitely be a challenging environment for an #EV. But, I purchased a used, 2011 #NissanLeaf, and have been keeping a diary of the experience. If you're EV curious, follow along! http://EVearlyAdopter.blogspot.com

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