Driving Home for Christmas - 6 Tips for EV Drivers in Winter

The holidays are just around the corner and for many people the annual visit to grandma's house or the trip home to the parents is on the agenda. Anyone who sets out on their own 4 wheels knows that winter has its pitfalls in store for drivers. Icy roads and snow storms not only affect our driving behavior, but also the vehicle itself. The icy temperatures are often a particular worry for drivers of electric cars. This is because the range - the main concern about electric cars anyway - shrinks even further in winter. To ease your conscience, we have collected some practical tips on how to get to your destination safely with your EV in winter.

Why does the range actually decrease in the cold?

Winter is not only a challenge for electric cars. Frozen diesel filters or exhausted starter batteries are among the classic causes that make drivers of combustion cars curse in icy temperatures. In contrast, the electric motor has no problem with the cold. The crux of the matter with electric cars is not the drive, but the battery. 

In cold conditions, the internal resistance of the battery cells increases, which reduces their usable capacity (approx. -50% at -20°C). In addition, the recuperation performance (the recharging during breaking and deceleration) is lower with a cold battery. Here, too, range is lost that would otherwise be available at comfortable temperatures. 

However, there is another significant factor that causes the range to melt away in winter: the increased energy demand. This is mainly due to the interior heating.

How does cold affect the range?

The Norwegian Automobile Federation (NAF) has investigated how much the range decreases in winter. In a large-scale test, 20 different electric car models were driven in the cold until they ran out of juice. The result: depending on the model, driving behavior, and weather conditions, the range is reduced by 10 to 30 percent compared to the maximum range according to WLTP specifications. On average, this results in a range loss of 18.5 percent. 

It is interesting to note that in city traffic in particular, which is normally considered to be particularly energy-efficient, the kilometers disappear especially quickly. Here, too, the heating is the main culprit. Because at low speeds, it takes longer to cover a certain distance, which means the heating is also on for a longer time. 

To make sure nothing gets in the way of your Christmas visit to grandma and grandpa, here are our tips on how to keep your electric car running well even in sub-zero temperatures:

1. Charge smart

A cold battery charges worse than at an optimum temperature of 20°C. This should be taken into account especially if you want to use fast charging stations. If possible, these should always be approached with a preheated battery, as the charging time is otherwise considerably longer. 

If you can, you should charge your electric car at home overnight, especially in winter. Tibber is a particularly smart way to do this. Those who charge their car either via direct integration or the Easee wallbox can conveniently set the desired departure time in the Tibber app. This way, you ensure that the car is fully charged at the desired time. If you also have a smart meter, you additionally always benefit from the hourly flexible prices. This means that the car is always being charged when the price of electricity is at its lowest.

2. Heat smart

As mentioned at the beginning, interior heating is the number one range killer. Heating up a car that has cooled down completely overnight is much more energy-intensive than maintaining the temperature on the road. If possible, you should therefore preheat the car before setting off, while it is still connected to the charging cable. With most models, this can be done conveniently via the app. This way, your car is heated to a cozy interior temperature without losing range, since it is simultaneously recharged. 

But heating can also be optimized while driving. The air heater consumes a whole 2 to 5 kW of power, which increases the energy consumption of the vehicle by about 10-20%. With just 150W, seat heating, steering wheel heating and (if available) windshield heating are of little consequence. This makes it comfortable to sit in an already preheated car while driving. Switching to recirculated air also saves energy. Here, however, a clear view should always have priority.

3. Park smart

Tip number three follows from the previous two points. When the car is parked, you should prevent it from cooling down as much as possible. If possible, park in a garage overnight. Also on intermediate stops during the day it is recommended to park in parking garages and underground garages or, if it shows up, in the sun. 

On the one hand, this prevents the interior from cooling down excessively, which would otherwise require energy-intensive reheating, and on the other hand it prevents the battery from cooling down. Because, as we have already learned, a cold battery charges poorly.

4. The right pressure

When the temperature drops, the tire pressure also gradually decreases. This results in higher rolling resistance, which plays a major role in energy efficiency. The size of the rims and winter tires also have an influence on rolling resistance. The smaller the wheels, the lower the resistance and therefore a higher energy efficiency. This tip does not apply to electric cars alone. However, since their batteries make them much heavier than conventional cars, this effect has a greater impact. 

So remember, especially in winter, to optimize your range it is important to put the right amount of pressure on it!

5. Drive smart

EV fans know: Electric cars have a particularly strong starting torque and can recuperate strongly (recover energy during braking and coasting). What can normally provide a lot of driving fun, however, quickly poses a danger in wintry road conditions. Since abrupt braking on slippery roads can quickly lead to skidding, and cold battery cells charge less well anyway, it makes sense to adjust the driving mode accordingly in winter. The easiest way to do this is via eco mode, which usually ensures that the car accelerates and starts more gently. In addition, recuperation should be reduced as much as possible.

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6. Plan smart

There are all kinds of horror stories circulating about people who froze to death in their electric cars in traffic jams, or at least lost a few fingers to the cold. Realistically, the danger of this is no greater than in a conventional combustion car. Here, common sense helps: Is it wise to start the journey with an almost empty tank when it's freezing cold and there's a blizzard warning? If you're thinking "For God's sake!", then it should go without saying that the same applies to an almost empty EV battery. 

So if you're heading out on longer trips in the winter, you might want to prepare for longer waiting times. This includes, for example, a blanket per passenger in the car. If you want to be on the safe side, take a thermos bottle of hot tea with you. 

If you actually end up in a traffic jam and long waiting times are foreseeable, the first thing to do is not to panic! The maximum power consumption per hour can be estimated at around 3 kilowatts. This means that even with a half-full battery, you can stay in the vehicle longer than you will probably ever have to.

Bonus tip: What if the battery does run out of juice?

Let's assume that the absolute worst-case scenario does occur. The battery is dead. You're on the road somewhere and the car doesn't want to go any further. If you leave the car for 20 to 30 minutes, there should be a few extra kilometers available when you start it up again. If the nearest charging station is close by, the situation is quickly defused. But even if there's no charging station nearby, it's still enough to find a safe place to park the car and call for help. The roadside assistance will be able to bring your car to a charging station. That way, a solution is always at hand, although the chance that it is needed is very limited with the tips above and a healthy dose of common sense. Drive safe and happy holidays! 💚🎄

Published 12/20/2021

Annett Gröschner
Storyteller

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