Frigid temperatures, like those felt during January 2019's Polar Vortex, make many wonder whether the range of electric vehicles is affected by extreme weather conditions. While current electric car owners do recognize a significant drop in the available range of their car in extreme cold weather conditions, most new EV models provide enough range to travel long distances without issue.
How extreme weather conditions affect an electric vehicles' range
A recent study by the AAA helped to clarify this problem. The study found that once temperatures drop to 20°F (- 6.7°C) the electric cars they tested saw a 41% drop in overall range. Greg Brannon, AAA's director of automotive engineering, pointed out the study unveils a significantly higher impact of temperature on EVs than expected.
Furthermore, Brannon told CNBC that the impact on range was pretty much the same for all cars tested, which is why "it's something all automakers are going to deal with as they push for further EV development."
He and other experts also note that many different factors contribute to loss of range. For example, simply turning on an electric car in 20°F reveals a 12% loss in range.
Another study states how researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory also noted the loss of electric car range in extreme weather conditions. Based on nearly 10 million miles of data collected, the researchers found that variations in weather conditions can affect the range of electric vehicles by more than 25%.
How to maximize an electric car's range in extreme weather conditions
There are many ways drivers can maximize their electric car's range in extreme weather conditions. Energy.gov gives some specific tips for EV owners:
- Use accessories wisely:
Accessories such as heating, air conditioning, and entertainment systems affect fuel economy on all vehicles, but can have a greater effect on EVs. However, using seat warmers instead of the cabin heater can save energy and extend range.
- Use Economy Mode:
Many EVs come with an "Economy Mode" or similar feature that maximizes the vehicle's fuel economy. In some vehicles, you can activate this mode by simply pressing a button. The economy mode may limit other aspects of the vehicle's performance, such as acceleration rate, to be more efficient.
- Plan ahead before driving:
Pre-heating or pre-cooling the cabin of an all-electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle while you have it plugged in can extend its electric range, especially in extreme weather.
- Avoid hard braking and anticipate braking:
This allows the vehicle's regenerative braking system to recover energy from the vehicle's forward motion and store it as electricity. Hard braking causes the vehicle to use its conventional friction brakes, which do not recover energy.
- Observe the speed limit:
Efficiency usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph.
Do extreme weather conditions affect an electric vehicles' range?
The short answer is Yes. This isn't surprising news as dramatic swings in temperature play a factor in the performance of many "electric" products. Have you ever had a camera not work because it was just too darn cold? It's the same principle working here. The battery struggles a bit in the frigid air.
The good news is, if you are mindful and take a conservative approach when temperatures drop or heat up, you won't have to worry as much about extreme weather conditions affecting an electric vehicles' range.