Chevy Bolt EV electric car range and performance in winter: one owner's log

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2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car after snowfall, Glacier National Park [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car after snowfall, Glacier National Park [photo: D Gadotti]

The arrival of the first affordable long-range electric car on the market has naturally led some owners to push the car in a way that they might not do with a plug-in car offering just 80 miles of battery range.

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, EPA-rated at 238 miles combined, removes most daily range anxiety and allows owners to cover predictable commutes for several days before plugging in, if they choose.

But what about more strenuous usage? Our reader D Gadotti of Western Canada put a white Bolt EV through its paces in some of the snowiest weather any electric car may have seen.

What follows are Gadotti's words, lightly edited by Green Car Reports for clarity and style, and photographs.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car: owners' impressions after a year

Around Christmas, there was a cold snap here in Western Canada, accompanied by abundant snowfall. I decided to take a break from plowing and shoveling and go back-country skiing for a couple days at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park.

It's a trip of 300 km (186 miles) from my home in the Kootenays to Rogers Pass, but there are no charging stations there—so I would need enough range to continue on or return to Revelstoke, a minimum of 370 km (230 mi). 

I was curious to see how my Bolt EV would perform in cold weather. I had equipped it with the meanest studded winter tires I could find.

So I tossed my warmest sleeping bag on the back bench, put some food and drink in an insulated chest, loaded my ski equipment ... and off I went.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car showing snow accmulation in windshield trough [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car showing snow accmulation in windshield trough [photo: D Gadotti]

RANGE

The trip to Rogers Pass is one I could have done on a single charge earlier in the year.  Throughout the summer and fall, I got more than 400km (250 mi), confirming reports that the EPA range rating of 238 miles (383 km) is conservative. 

Once I started using the heater to keep the cabin warm and, presumably, condition the battery, my Bolt’s range dropped alarmingly to around 250 km (155 mi) or less.  The number varied depending on outside temperature, desired cabin temperature, and fan speed. 

I truly wish I could read KWh rather than projected range remaining, but alas Chevy does not provide that information. 

If I don’t have far to go, or if the outside temperature isn't extreme, I’ll pamper myself and set the car to 21 degrees C (70 deg F), but on this frigid-weather trip I kept it to a more frugal 17 deg C (63 deg F). 

While rating agencies give “combined” ranges, meaning city and highway driving—a bad habit inherited from cars with engines—a much more relevant datum for EVs would be to give ranges in temperate and cold conditions. 

Some of us live where winter takes four months or more of the year.  Knowing how far our vehicles can take us in winter is a crucial consideration when buying. 

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car after snowfall, Glacier National Park [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car after snowfall, Glacier National Park [photo: D Gadotti]

BATTERY  CONDITIONING IN THE COLD

The morning of December 24, I drove to Rogers Pass, where I got my ski permit. The car's built-in thermometer showed  -20C (-4F) in the sun. I planned to spend Christmas Eve at the Asulkan cabin in the back country, skinning a 900-meter (3,000-foot) elevation gain on my skis. 

Meanwhile, my Bolt EV would be parked in the notoriously shady parking lot, right where a pocket of cold air often stagnates in that bend in the valley. I had no idea how cold it would get there overnight. 

When I returned, late in the afternoon of the 25th, the Bolt had been parked in temperatures below -20C for 30 hours.  It had used up almost 40 km (24 mi) of range to keep its battery conditioned, and had 80 km (48 mi) of range left, just enough to get back to Revelstoke. 

READ THIS: Driving BMW i3electric car in winter: tips from experienced owner

Good thing that route is mostly downhill.

I was just grateful that the doors opened; I had read horror stories of owners being locked out when the 12-volt accessory battery failed.

There is a backup way to unlock the car, of course—but the owner's manuals, both on paper and the electronic version on my tablet, were of course inside the locked car!  (EDITOR'S NOTE: They're available online too, if you have internet connectivity and a smartphone or laptop.)

Upon turning the car on, I immediately got a warning message about "reduced propulsion”, likely due to the cold battery. 

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car charge port with accumulated snow [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car charge port with accumulated snow [photo: D Gadotti]

With so little extra range, I was scared to use up precious energy even to defrost my windshield fully, so I sprayed it with isopropyl alcohol instead, since the windshield washer was freezing on the glass. 

Once on the road the battery began to feel better, my range improved a bit, and I think I reached Revelstoke with 48 km (30 mi) to spare—thanks also to the downhill.

CHARGING IN A SNOW STORM

The charging port of the Bolt EV opens sideways. When it snows while charging, the recess fills with snow, some of it turns to ice, and that makes it hard to open next time. 

I sometimes put a plastic bag on the handle. It ain’t chic, though it helps, but a door that swings upwards would be much better.

Someone suggested the side opening is best in case you forget to close it, but no, the car will give you a warning if you try to drive away with the charge port open.

CHECK OUT: Electric Cars In Winter: Six Steps To Maximize Driving Range (Jan 2013)

“FAST” CHARGING IN COLD WEATHER

It was -16C (3 F) in Revelstoke, so cold the local car wash was closed due to the frigid weather. But I was able to recharge at the Greenlots DC fast-charging station. 

It's well-known that charging is faster with an empty battery, and slows down as the pack approaches its full capacity. The Bolt EV, in fact, is notorious for an early and sharp tapering down of fast-charging.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car charging at home after snowfall [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car charging at home after snowfall [photo: D Gadotti]

It took a full 90 minutes to load the first 40.65 kilowatt-hours into the 60-kwh pack, after which I was disconnected.  Wanting to top off to 100 percent, I started a second session.

This time it took almost another hour (53 min) to load a mere 9.93 kwh. The display showed a charging rate of just "6 kw," no better than a 240-volt Level 2 station.

I had never seen a "fast" charger slow down that much, so I presume the temperature was affecting the rate the battery could accept.

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

TRACTION

The Bolt EV is a front-wheel-drive vehicle, and equipped with good tires, its purchase on ice and snow is as good or better than any car I have ever had. 

Alas, however, it does not offer all-wheel drive nor does it have high clearance—despite Chevy's occasional claims that it's a "crossover"—and those are two factors are what I’ll be looking for in my next electric car. 

Right now My Bolt is “snowed in” and I have to drive out my steep, 1.2-kilometer-long drive with my work truck.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car after snowfall, Glacier National Park [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car after snowfall, Glacier National Park [photo: D Gadotti]

ICING IN THE WHEEL WELLS

I left from home in relatively balmy temperatures around -10C (14F).  My first stop was going to be Nakusp where about an hour at the Level 2 public charging station would add some safety to reach Revelstoke and the DC fast-charger there. 

The road along the way was white with compacted snow, nice and even, having been plowed recently. 

Nevertheless, the Bolt's steering was squirrely, as if I were driving on a deeply rutted road surface. 

I finally figured out that ice had built up in all four wheel wells to such an extent that the front wheels could not pivot to turn without shaving this ice. This can't be good for the longevity of the car's expensive Nokian Hakkapelliitta studded winter tires. 

The ice was rock-hard and impossible to  dislodge by hand, so I hatched a plan to hose it off in a car wash and then spray some kind of hydrophobic coat on the wheel wells. 

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

However the Nakusp car wash was closed due to the frigid weather and none of the local stores had a suitable compound. I continued my trip with my clogged wheel wells.

A USEFUL HACK FOR ICY WHEEL WELLS

In Revelstoke, I was able to buy a liquid ski wax, which I intended to use to coat the wheel wells. (I do this to my aluminum snow shovel in the winter so snow won’t stick and freeze on the cold metal.)

Alas it hasn't yet been warm enough that I could dry out the wheel wells, so I can’ t report on the effectiveness of this hack. 

Why didn't General Motors anticipate the problem, or discover it during testing in Kapuskasing,and avoid it in the first place by coating wheel wells with hydrophobic materials? 

Electric cars are particularly vulnerable to this problem, as there is no engine heat bleeding through the inner fender walls to help melt ice blocks so they let go of the car body.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car showing snow accmulation in windshield trough [photo: D Gadotti]

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car showing snow accmulation in windshield trough [photo: D Gadotti]

TROUGH BELOW WINDSHIELD

The area at the base of the windshield where the wipers sit tends to fill with ice that's very difficult to remove entirely.

Alas, winter is hard on all vehicles, but this trough is a particularly persnickety recess.

CONCLUSIONS

I anticipated some limitations using a Bolt EV for hard winter driving, but I find that so far, the car is performing better than my expectations. 

A major limitation would be the scenario when it has to be left for a week or more in very cold temperatures, away from any place to plug it in to keep the battery conditioned.

That's not as far fetched as you may think: Here in British Columbia, spending a full week in a remote ski lodge is quite common.

Over to you, GM Canada!

 
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