Both Electric And Gas Cars Lose Range In The Cold; Electrics Just Lose More


2016 Nissan Leaf

2016 Nissan Leaf

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When it comes to electric cars, one of the biggest fears for potential customers is range anxiety in general--but for many, it's specifically their cold-weather range.

Batteries lose efficiency in colder temperatures, something that only heightens the range anxiety many potential buyers feel acutely.

But, it turns out, internal-combustion cars also lose range in the cold.

DON'T MISS: Wintry Michigan: Not The Best Place To Drive An Electric Car?

They just don't lose as much, concluded fleet-management company FleetCarma after surveying data from both types of vehicle.

FleetCarma peddles software to fleet operators that allow them to track both how and where cars are being used and cost-related factors like fuel consumption.

That produces a lot of data, which the company recently applied to the question of cold-weather range loss.

2016 Volkswagen e-Golf

2016 Volkswagen e-Golf

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It compared the efficiency of both electric and gasoline cars operating at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, 32 degrees, and 73 degrees.

When the temperature dropped from 73 degrees to 0, electric cars experienced an average range reduction of 29 percent.

Between 73 degrees and 32 degrees, there was a 20-percent drop in range, FleetCarma says.

ALSO SEE: BMW i3 REx: Road-Tripping With 72 Electric Miles, 1.9-Gallon Gas Tank (Dec 2014)

The gap was lower for gasoline cars.

Between 73 degrees and 0, they experienced an average range reduction of 19 percent, and a reduction of 12 percent between 73 degrees and 32 degrees.

It's also worth noting that a 29-percent reduction in range is going to be felt more acutely in, say, an 84-mile Nissan Leaf than a 19-percent reduction in a gasoline car with a maximum range of close to 300 miles.

2015 BMW i3

2015 BMW i3

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The causes of these range reductions differed for gasoline and electric cars.

For electric cars, heating both the cabin and drivetrain components like the battery pack were the main culprits.

They were found to cut range potentially by up to 43 percent and 22 percent, respectively, compared to 4 percent and 1 percent in gasoline cars.

MORE: What Does It Take To Drive An Electric Car In Canadian Winters? (Oct 2013)

For gasoline cars, cold's effect on components and excessive idling or warm-up time were found to sap the most range.

They could cut range by up to 14 percent and 15 percent, respectively, but only by 7 percent and 2 percent in electric cars.

Changes in fuel blend were also found to be a factor for gasoline cars, potentially cutting range by up to 3 percent.

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive - First Drive, May 2014

2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive - First Drive, May 2014

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Another potential drain on range was tire inflation, which was found to cut electric-car range by up to 13 percent, and up to 4 percent for gasoline cars.

In addition, air density was found to shrink range by up to 6 percent in electric cars, and 5 percent in gasoline cars.

In other words, a wide variety of factors can affect a car's performance--whether it's powered by electricity or gasoline.

But as the temperatures dropped, the energy-cost savings for electric cars rose, FleetCarma notes.

Average savings for electric cars were 12.4 cents per mile at 73 degrees, but rose to 14.8 percent when the temperature dropped to 0 degrees.

[hat tip: John C. Briggs]

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