2014 BMW i3 electric car during winter [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2014 BMW i3 electric car during winter [photo: owner Chris Neff]

One of the challenges of electric cars is persuading potential buyers that they can do virtually everything that most other vehicles can.

For those who live in wintry climates, that includes dealing with snow, slush, road salt, ice, and variable traction.

Given the recent major snowstorms that hit large swaths of the U.S. this month, we felt an article on that topic might prove useful.

DON'T MISS: Electric Cars In Winter: Six Steps To Maximize Driving Range (Jan 2013)

What follows is a set of advice from Chris Neff, a New Jersey electric-car advocate who's now on his second BMW i3 REx range-extended electric hatchback. Before that, he drove a 2009 Mini E and a 2011 BMW ActiveE—so he's made it through seven Northeast winters of varying intensities.

He continues to travel all over his state, including visits to several nature sanctuaries where the silence and emission-free nature of the i3 electric car are less disturbing to birds and other wildlife.

We've combined and edited some of Chris's comments for clarity.


During these frigid winter days, I've seen several online posts about electric-car drivers experiencing challenges with range, or the lack of it.

There's no getting around it: electric cars in winter have shorter range. On really cold days, the loss can be up to 40 percent, especially when running the heater.  A cold battery, using the heater, plowing through snow and slush, all of that contributes to less range.

Your electric car's batteries are not as efficient when they are cold, just as gasoline cars use more fuel in cold weather—though it's not nearly as pronounced an effect. 

With that said, all is not lost! There are ways to hold onto some of that range and smirk at Old Man Winter.

WATCH THIS: Electric-Car Battery Energy: Why Waste It On Cabin Heating? (Video)

The techniques below are the ones I've used over seven winters in four different electric cars, none of which were garaged, with ranges from 72 miles to 100 miles.

My winter driving varied from round-trip commutes of 76 miles to catching a 5 am daily train in temperatures of -15 degrees F. I encountered black ice and pelting sleet over several inches of snow. 

In the early days, it was more common to see a unicorn in public than a charging station for my car, so I needed all the range I could get. It often seemed then like the early days of the settlers trekking across the Rocky Mountain pass.

Today’s electric cars vary greatly in features and overall range, but these techniques can be applied to all of them.

2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

Note also that with longer-range electric cars now hitting the market at more affordable prices, and many more to come—led by the $37,500 Chevrolet Bolt EV with 238 miles of range—some of these techniques will lessen in importance.

The most important one, however, will remain for any electric car operated in cold weather, no matter what its range:


This is the single most recommended thing you should do.  If your car offers the option of setting a time to depart and warming up the battery while it's still plugged in (and most of them do), use it!

Remember, a cold battery is not nearly as efficient as a warm one. Some models even go the extra step and warm up the cabin while plugged in as well.

By not using battery energy, this can increase your initial range in cold weather by 15 percent to 20 percent. It's well worth it. .


Like preconditioning, this is a must for winter driving. Most electric cars have an Eco or lower energy-usage drive setting.

The Eco mode may make your car feel slower, but it is there for a reason: it boosts range by making your electric car operate more efficiently.

I'll sometimes toggle the Eco setting off briefly if I need a boost of cabin heat to warm things up a tad. 

Eco mode also reduces the power output of the electric motor, which can help traction in snow and ice, just like starting out in third gear in a conventional car.

2014 BMW i3 electric car during winter [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2014 BMW i3 electric car during winter [photo: owner Chris Neff]


Another very effective form of range enhancement is to bundle up: keep your coat on, and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.

Yes, this is different from the warm cabin you can have within a few minutes in a gasoline car.

CHECK OUT: Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt Range Loss In Winter: New Data From Canada

That comes from a small portion of the 75 percent of the gasoline energy that's wasted in heat and noise by a combustion engine that operates at just 25-percent efficiency.

In other words, its enormous waste of energy is keeping you warm.

Don’t worry if you think you look like a dork; the real dork is the guy stranded on the side of the road because he ran out of juice. 

I picked up a pair of insulated boots which make a huge difference. 

winter boots

winter boots


Just use them, they don’t use that much juice.

It turns out, based on a couple of studies, that passengers whose backs and backsides are warm feel like the car is much warmer than it actually is.

The same applies to warm fingers if you have a steering-wheel heater as well.

Perhaps that's one reason so many conventional cars now have heated seats and steering wheels as well?

STAY AT 65 mph or LESS

Any car uses more energy at highway speeds, because aerodynamic drag increases exponentially with speed. Above 30 or 35 mph, it uses more energy to push the wind aside than it does to move 2 tons of metal.

In freezing temperatures, your batteries are less efficient, so they have to work harder to maintain highway speeds: it is a range suck. 

Your car is also ingesting cold air and passing it over your batteries at a much faster rate. 

READ THIS: Self-Heating Lithium-Ion Battery Could Cut Winter Range Woes

Keep your speed under 65 mph and, when you can, avoid the highway altogether.

Similarly, chill out, no pun intended, when driving.

Think twice about passing the car in front of you or beating that other guy off the line. Electric cars are exceptionally good for that, of course.

It might be fun but you just cost yourself range and its worse because your battery must work harder in the cold. 

Stay with the flow of traffic, look ahead to see if you need to gradually accelerate for an incline.  Keep your momentum and watch your power usage gauge.

2017 BMW i3 charging in the sun during winter weather [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 charging in the sun during winter weather [photo: owner Chris Neff]


I don't mean solar panels for charging, although obviously those are a very good thing too.

But try to park out in the sun to warm up your batteries as well as the interior. 

I can’t stress enough on how well this actually works, especially if your electric car will be sitting outside for a while—during your workday, for example.

2014 BMW i3 electric car during winter [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2014 BMW i3 electric car during winter [photo: owner Chris Neff]


Windows can fog up in cold weather, so you will need to use the defrosters, front and rear.  For the windshield, I turn on max defrost when I need it. 

Depending on your electric car, defrosters can uses battery capacity even faster than the standard heat, but they'll quickly and effectively clear your windshield.

Once that's done, turn it off. And the same applies to the rear defroster.

Over time, I've found that this technique actually helped me squeeze out 5 to 10 more miles overall.



Yes, resistance heating uses precious battery capacity. but not using it during winter will lose you passengers for certain, not to mention creating such a disincentive you won't want to drive your electric car no matter how bundled up you may be.

Many electric-car owners don't know that turning on the heat after it's been off for a long time uses more energy, because it must work harder to heat up the cabin.

I keep my heater on, set to 70 degrees, and I raise the fan speed a notch at a time if I need a little more.

This way the car, after preconditioning the interior, won’t need to work as hard to keep cabin temp at a human level.

Engineering Explained: How hot do brakes get?

Engineering Explained: How hot do brakes get?


Regenerative braking slows down the car without using friction brakes, which are a total waste of energy that turns into heat and is dissipated into the atmosphere.

More importantly, regeneration also puts energy back into the battery.  In winter, that's even more important.

Proper use of the car's regen can extend the car's range 10 percent to 15 percent.

On long downhill runs while the car is slowly recharging, I’ll turn the heat up to take advantage of the juice being put back into the battery.  (It may take a little practice, but once you have it down it becomes second nature.)

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV


Charging not only gives you miles back but warms the battery. Even a trickle charge on a standard 12o-volt outlet is useful, especially if you are there for a few hours. 

Level 2 charging at 240 volts will give your battery even more warmth, while a DC Fast Charge (DCFC) will make it nice and toasty.  Even just 15 minutes on a DC fast charger helps.

A warmer battery is a happier battery—and, don’t forget, while the car is plugged in you can also precondition the cabin.

Note that charging takes more time with a cold battery. The 30-minute quick charge were counting on to give you an 80-percent boost might only give you 50 percent. Make sure you plan for that.

2017 BMW i3 charging in the sun during winter weather [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 charging in the sun during winter weather [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]


One more thing, keep your car as clean of ice, slush and road debris as possible. It adds weight and hurts the aerodynamics, which matter if you do a lot of highway miles.

And, remember there's no engine to leak waste heat through the front to melt any snow forward of the windshield.

That means you have to brush it all off yourself, paying particular attention to ensure all your lights are completely clear of snow and ice.

Now, in truly nasty weather, after a snowstorm or if there's been thawing followed by freezing, you may find a more serious problem.

Your charging cord might even be frozen to your car.

BMW i3 electric car charging during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

BMW i3 electric car charging during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

I store my car outdoors all the time, so I've learned how to deal with this.

It sounds like a big deal, but it's not.

I very carefully use lukewarm water to rock the plug free if I'm in a hurry. 

If I have more time, I use a hair dryer to melt the ice and snow until the charging port is completely clear.


I find electric cars in these types of conditions are very good, assuming you don’t have summer tires on (I strongly recommend winter tires!) and you are careful. 

I made it through some very tough winters with all-season tires, and all but one of my electric cars has been rear-wheel drive.

As mentioned earlier, like any driver, you need to slow down and plan ahead.  Use the car's Eco mode to reduce off the line acceleration. 

Remember the drive is more direct, because our cars don't have transmissions or revving engines that can produce a rubber-band effect on snow.

2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

2017 BMW i3 electric car during winter snow storm [photo: owner Chris Neff]

All of these techniques will help electric-car drivers gain back or hold the line on lost range in cold weather.

Sure, you can garage your car in a heated garage, but once it goes outside it won’t take long for it to feel the effects of the cold.

Note also that if you leave your car outside and unplugged during a full workday, without any sun and in frigid temperatures, your battery will be ice cold—and it may have used some of its energy to keep itself at a sustainable temperature.

BMW i3 electric-car owner Chris Neff

BMW i3 electric-car owner Chris Neff

That means that its power delivery will also be down, possibly way down as shown by missing power bars on your energy gauge. Don’t be alarmed! That is the car protecting itself.

Once it's warmed up, those power bars will return and its acceleration will feel more normal. The best thing you can do is be aware that it may happen, bundle up, know where your public charging sites are ... and, in extremis, text home to have some hot chocolate waiting. 

With all these concerns, should you avoid an EV?  Absolutely, positively not!

They are still the best, cleanest, most enjoyable form of transportation on the roads you can drive every day. Sure, I have a second car for the very nastiest of days, but the electric car is always my first choice. 


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