No matter what kind of vehicle you have, winter driving comes with its fair share of considerations for safety, functionality, and comfort. With electric vehicle adoption on the rise, Canadians are asking questions around how practical it is to drive an electric vehicle (EV) in winter - and rightly so, since our winters can be very long, cold, and snowy depending on where you live.
So what’s the deal on EVs and winter? Do they mix?
We’re happy to say that they do. In fact, EVs perform quite well in cold, wintry conditions, with few drawbacks - and even a few benefits.
EV performance in winter
Most Canadian car owners know what it’s like for their gas-powered vehicle to refuse to start on a frosty January morning. The most common culprit: the battery. While both internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and EVs often use a 12-volt battery for starting purposes, EVs, comparatively, demand very little power to start up. In most instances, EVs will start instantly and reliably in frigid temperatures - unlike ICE vehicles (particularly when they have a weak battery) which have a whole engine to heat.
Similar to gas-powered vehicles, where EVs wane in winter is in their range. Unfortunately, the range of an EV can be cut in half in cold temperatures. For example, according to AVEQ, a Nissan Leaf’s range decreases by about 25 per cent at -15°C, and about 45 per cent at -25°C. What may surprise you is that this reduction is not so much a reflection of the performance of batteries in the cold, but rather that electric vehicles are too efficient. Gas-powered vehicles lack efficiency in converting the energy stored in gasoline into motion, so the by-product is heat generation - which can be recirculated for passenger comfort in cold temperatures. On the other hand, electric vehicles don’t produce enough waste energy, so power must be specifically consumed for the purposes of generating heat to keep passengers comfortable.
One other small efficiency-related drawback for electric vehicles in frigid temperatures is that their regenerative braking function can be limited, meaning that less energy can be recovered and sent back to the battery when the vehicle decelerates or stops.
Now that we’ve addressed the drawbacks, here is a summarized list of the winter benefits to look forward to.
- EVs reliably start even in very low temperatures.
- Drivers don’t need to wait for the engine to heat up.
- Batteries are located on top of the axles, so the evenly distributed weight helps to improve traction.
How to optimize EV performance in winter
To help optimize your EV winter driving experience, here are some tips to follow.
- Before hitting the road
- Park your EV in a garage whenever possible in order to protect it from the elements.
- When you don’t have access to a garage, try to park in the sun.
- Keep the battery plugged in at all times when not in use to help keep a full charge.
- Take note of nearby charging stations wherever you will be traveling in case you find your battery running low. This will be especially important during longer commutes.
- Leverage preconditioning features: There are apps that enable EV drivers to pre-set charging and set controls to preheat the battery, seats and steering wheel. This allows you to prepare your car for the road before needing to unplug.
- While you’re on the move
- Limit your speed whenever possible to achieve greater range.
- Bundle up and limit your use of the heater while driving. Look for an EV with heated seats as they are a much more efficient way of heating occupants than heating the air in the cabin. This will help optimize your range while keeping passengers comfortable.
- Ensure that you keep your battery charged with a 20 per cent reserve as it will be important to keep the cabin and the battery warm.
What to look for when shopping for an EV
When shopping for an EV, you’ll want to address the main winter limitations presented above: battery range and cabin heating that won’t drain the battery. Therefore, be sure to ask about the quoted battery range (the distance the vehicle can travel on a single charge). Then, consider if your driving habits will allow for a 50 per cent drop in range during cold spells. Making these calculations early will help you determine if an EV will fit with your lifestyle.
For heating, consider buying an EV with a heat pump - this technology provides a much more efficient way of heating the cabin of your car without limiting your range. At a minimum, ensure that the model you’re considering has heated seats to improve efficiency.
So, if our wintry climate had you skeptical about electric vehicles, we hope this information helps steer you to a place of confidence, especially as Canada aims for 100 per cent zero emission vehicle sales by 2035.
To learn more about EVs as well as gain access to other helpful resources to determine if an EV is right for you, be sure to check out our recent ThinkEnergy podcast on “EV-olving Transportation” with special guest Cara Clairman - President and CEO at Plug'nDrive.