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Electric cars in winter: The essential cold weather driving tips

Discover how winter affects your electric vehicle.
Electric cars in winter: The essential cold weather driving tips
Summary
  • It’s important to understand how electric cars work differently than ICE vehicles. 
  • The cold temperatures greatly affect battery capacity, charging and overall efficiency
  • There are a few important ways to prepare your car before you set off on your commute or trip in winter.
  • These include preheating your car before driving and keeping the car in a warm place at night.

As the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, it's important to be prepared for winter driving!

Electric vehicles are popular year-round, but they may require special attention in cold weather. Especially if this is your first winter owning and subscribing to an EV.

Here are some practical tips that can help you keep your car running safely during the winter season.

Battery and charging in winter

Cold weather reduces the efficiency of all vehicle types, not just EVs. Cars that run on petrol or diesel can see their fuel economy drop by up to 20% when outside temperatures drop in the winter.

However, the range and efficiency of an EV can drop by a comparable amount (and potentially significantly more in extremely cold situations). This can come as a shock – particularly to those who rely on public charging points or those who regularly undertake long journeys in their EV.

The biggest challenge for electric cars in winter is the battery.

It turns out that cold weather can have an impact on your vehicle's battery capacity—but how much of an impact depends on the area you live in and how low the temperatures get. We, in the UK, are quite fortunate that we rarely get snow for prolonged periods of time, but it's still definitely something to keep in mind.

Cold weather causes decreased battery efficiency and capacity

You may have noticed that your electric vehicle uses more energy in cold weather than when it’s warm. That's because the batteries of an EV are affected by temperature, which reduces both the speed that they can charge and the amount of energy that they can hold.

Lithium-ion batteries perform best at a temperature between 15ºC and 35ºC, decreasing in efficiency if their environment is too cold (or too hot as a matter of fact). This means slower charging and also reduced range. In fact, when driving -6°C with the heat on, researchers saw EV ranges drop on average by 41%.

It's a good thing to keep in mind if you're not charging your vehicle at home at night. In winter, your battery will hold less charge, it will take longer to charge and its charge will deplete faster when not driving. Check out our EV map of charging points to ensure a station is nearby!

Prolonging electric car battery charge in winter

So, you’ve chosen to make the switch in the winter by subscribing to an electric vehicle. High five! However, keeping in mind what we discussed above, you will want to follow a few steps to improve your winter driving experience.

  1. If possible, try to park your car in a garage or in a temperature-controlled environment. You can also try to find a spot in the sun (it’s rare in the UK but it happens!).
  2. Warm your car up before you drive. A lot of EVs now have mobile apps that allow you to pre-heat the battery before you set off. This will increase the battery’s efficiency and save energy once you’re on the move.
  3. This may be an obvious one, but the more you drive your EV at high speeds on the motorway, the faster its battery capacity will be used up. This is true all-year-around though, so a good thing to remember.
  4. Plug in whenever possible and top up your battery when out and about. The colder the weather gets and the longer your commute, the more important it is to keep your car plugged in. Keep your range anxiety at bay and be prepared.
  5. If your car is likely to sit idle for an extended period over the winter, try to ensure it has between 20% and 80% charge when it’s parked up. This will help to prolong the life of the battery, and it will also ensure that there’s enough charge when you return.
  6. Go easy on the heater. Heated seats and heated steering wheels might seem like an indulgence, but warming up those touch-points is actually far more efficient than heating all in the air in the cabin.
On-street EV charger covered in snow.

Charging an EV in heavy rain or snow

It's safe to charge an electric car in rain and snow. This is because both electric cars and charging stations are equipped with layers of protective material that prevent water from mixing in with the electricity, avoid short-circuiting, and guard against sparks or current loss.

The engineers who design EVs consider how water, rain, dust and other particles could interfere with the electrical system. Electric cars and charging equipment usually have an Ingress Protection rating (IP for short) rating of 67.

This means they are 100% protected against solid small particles like dust and sand, and it has been tested to work for at least 30 minutes while under 15cm to 1m of water.  

Preparing your EV for winter driving

Preparing your electric car for the colder months isn't that different to non-EVs but we'll focus on what it's actually relevant to battery-powered cars.

Ensure correct tyre pressure

Tyre pressure is a major factor in winter driving. If you don’t keep your tires at the recommended pressure, they will have a harder time gripping the road and slowing you down when you need it most.

For example, some mid-sized SUVs require 35 PSI for the front wheels and 33 PSI for the rear wheels, but always check your vehicle's manual.

Check the conditions of your tyres

Can you remember the last time you checked your wheels? Tyre pressure aside, good tyre thread depth ensures you get as much grip as possible.

The age-old way of checking is by inserting a 20p coin into the tread grooves on the tyre. If you can't see the outer band on the coin, your tyres are above the legal limit which is 1.6mm across the central three-quarters of the tyre.

You should also check for any cuts and bits and pieces hanging of the tyres. Good to keep an eye out for any damage and cuts which can worsen over time.

Winter tyres on an electric car

You can use winter tires on your electric car during the colder months. Winter tyres have more grooves than summer tires, which help displace water and give a better grip in snowy or icy conditions.

Because electric cars have high outputs (e.g. 0-62 in under 5 seconds) and tend to weigh more than petrol or diesel vehicles, EVs have specific tyre requirements, such as:

  • Optimal grip
  • Minimal rolling resistance
  • Larger load capacity for heavier electric cars

Check your owner's manual or consult the vehicle manufacturer for information about any special requirements for replacement tyres.

A Tesla car parked on the side of road, covered in snow.

Preheat your EV when possible

Remote start your vehicle for at least 30 minutes before unplugging it from the power source. This is also known as "preconditioning" the vehicle. Check our write up on "How electric car heaters work"!

While you’re finishing up your morning workout, having a bite for breakfast or taking your morning shower, the car can be preheated in the garage so that when you leave for work, it will be ready to go.

Preconditioning permits the inside of the car to warm up without depleting the battery while the car is still plugged into the charger.

Most EVs now allow you to remote start or even schedule preconditioning ahead of time, so the EV is ready to go when you sit behind the wheel.

On the road with your EV

Once you’re out on the road, there are several things to remember in order to maximise your winter EV experience.

Turn on eco-driving mode

Eco-driving mode is a feature many EVs have to help make driving more efficient. When you’re in eco-mode, the power of the motors is reduced which means you'll accelerate more slowly.

Your car's computer will also find other ways to save on energy so, your driving experience may not feel as good and nimble. But it's all for a good cause, safe driving and extending your range in the cold weather!

Drive more smoothly

Changing driving habits is hard but there are a few winter driving principles which will maximise the use of regenerative braking systems that put energy back in the battery instead of wasting it.

  • Accelerating slowly to avoid losing traction.
  • Brake more carefully.
  • Let go of the accelerator and make use of regenerative braking.
  • Anticipate stoplights and slow down well in time.

When you can, remove heavy objects and roof racks from your vehicle to increase fuel efficiency even more

Careful driving on snow or ice

Electric cars weigh more than petrol- or diesel-powered vehicles. In icy conditions, slow and cautious driving is critical because the loss of traction may cause a slide that's difficult to recover from.

Avoid sudden movements, such as hard acceleration and braking, or turning sharply.

EVs also have stability control and an anti-lock braking system, which can support handling and traction by monitoring your speed, reducing wheel spin—and activating the brakes.

Some EVs also have a “winter” setting specifically designed for winter driving and improves traction in icy conditions.

Winter EV essentials items

Here is a list of items to keep in your car over winter:

  1. Ice scraper and de-icer.
  2. Torch and spare batteries.
  3. A fully charged mobile phone.
  4. A portable power bank.
  5. First aid kit.
  6. An extra set of warm clothes for each occupant.
  7. Non-perishable snacks.
  8. If you’re venturing into a remote area and the weather is particularly harsh, a portable snow shovel can be useful.
  9. Chains or snow socks - unlikely to need them in the UK but worth having them if you plan to drive in snow.

If you are in an emergency during the winter months, most car subscription providers offer roadside assistance as part of your monthly payment. Make a note of their number and ensure you understand how you can reach out to them for help. Any damage to the car will likely also be covered as part of your subscription. 

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There are hundreds of cars available via UK subscription companies.

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