Why Electric Cars Don’t Like Cold Temperatures, And How To Fix it


EVs are certainly impacted by cold temps, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

While EVs can be fantastic for winter driving, batteries don’t like extreme temperatures. An electric vehicle may lose an average of about 20 percent of its range in cold weather compared to warm weather. However, this varies due to a number of factors.

University of Michigan Energy Institute director Anna Stefanopoulou told Wired:

Batteries are like humans. They prefer the same sort of temperature range that people do. Anything below 40 or above 115 degrees Fahrenheit and they’re not going to deliver their peak performance. They like to be around 60 to 80 degrees. As the temperature drops, the electrolyte fluid inside the battery cells becomes more sluggish. You don’t have as much power when you want to discharge. The situation is even more limited when you want to charge.

According to the EPA, gas-powered cars also see notable range loss in extreme temps, but it’s not as significant as that of battery-electric vehicles. In city driving, traditional vehicles can suffer from 12 percent or greater loss in cold weather, which grows to as much as 22 percent for short trips. Hybrids may see a loss of some 31-34 percent in similar conditions.

Despite the above, we continue to share steps you can take to help your electric car battery deal with the frigid temps. Most modern EVs have some sort of thermal management system to help regulate battery temperature. On-board computers and software also attempt to help the situation and keep the battery in good health. Technology is improving, but there’s still a long way to go. As Wired points out, Tesla’s Model S owners manual reads:

In cold weather, some of the stored energy in the battery may not be available on your drive because the battery is too cold.

We’ve published reports of some EV drivers complaining about their range loss in cold weather, as well as other issues related to the impact of frigid temps. However, we’ve also shared stories from others who are happy with their electric vehicles, despite winter range loss. This is because the cars’ instant electric torque and sophisticated traction control systems assist with winter driving. Moreover, owners don’t have to stand at a gas station in the cold, their cars can be preconditioned in their garage while they get ready for their commute, and they never have to worry about their cars failing to start.

Stefanopoulou reminds EV drivers to keep their cars above a 20 percent charge so that the extra energy can warm the battery to start the charging process. She also talks about taking advantage of your electric car’s preconditioning feature. But, her main point pertains to the future. She — along with other researchers — is hard at work to come up with solutions to the above issues. Stefanopoulou says a battery could be set to use some of its energy when it’s cold, just to keep itself warm. While this may appear to use more energy, in the end it could actually be less, since a warm battery is more efficient.

The University of Michigan researcher also talks about the future of solid-state batteries, which don’t contain liquid. These future batteries won’t be impacted by temperatures nearly as much as current lithium-ion batteries. Stefanopoulou hopes to help chip away at these remaining concerns related to EVs in order to increase customer satisfaction and mass adoption.

Source: Wired

Categories: Battery Tech, Charging, EV Education, General, Tesla

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38 Comments on "Why Electric Cars Don’t Like Cold Temperatures, And How To Fix it"

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Battery temperatures that “like to be around 60 to 80 degrees” Fahrenheit are sometimes hard to manage. This Goldilocks temperature zone can be difficult to maintain In a Nissan Leaf, as there is still (2011-2019) no active liquid TMS.

With multiple DC fast charges on a road trip, the “above 115 degrees” “peak performance” zone fall off point, has to be considered as well.

Do people drive Leafs on road trips? Seems a poor car to do that with.

What I am getting at is the lack of thermal management is probably fine for a city car. It is not fine for a road trip car. Also, the slow 50 kW Chademo chargers are not really suitable for road trips either. If you want to drive long distances get a Model 3, upcoming ID Neo, etc. I would think you would want at least 100 kW charging for longer travel anyway.

Tesla Bjorn just did a race with the new 40 kwh Leaf against a E-Golf in Norwegian winter conditions. Even with the cold the battery and software fix, the Leaf overheated and couldn’t keep up with the E-Golf after a couple of DC fast charges. Fine for local driving but no good for road trips.

It was on the fifth fast charging and more than 10 hrs of driving in winter. So no worries for normal family users. Even on long trip.
Also why the leaf is the best selling EV in Europe if it’s so bad ?

I think you can cook it in city traffic too. You don’t have to go long and fast for that. Just ask some people living in Arizona. Further north it will be harder and harder to do in city traffic.

No, because the thing has the decency to die terminally on the first charge-up, saving having to worry about RapidGate as the rest of the road-trip happens in a crappy recovery Vauxhall Ashtray instead.

I’m not bitter; I got my money back.

Gasoline cars lose between 12% to 22% of their range, and hybrids do even worse in cold weather according to the EPA. This should be noted in every article like this one.

Not to mention, in extreme cold, engine oil can freeze and seize the engine. In Northern states and Canada, you have to put in a block heater and plug your car in when it gets really cold. This happened to me once in North Dakota and I couldn’t start the engine.

They don’t ‘seize’. That’s a bit of overstatement. The proper North Dakotan term is they get ‘stiff’. They’ll turn over with enough amps in the battery. Leaving the battery on a trickle charge will do more than a block heater in my opinion. Or just use synthetic oil at lighter weight.

” engine oil can freeze and seize the engine”

I seriously doubt 0W20 oil would seize. They are rated to still “pouring” at -47 deg C. That is -52 deg F. At those temperature, I would seriously worry about other part of the car. EV with battery at those temperature would certainly have to worry about long term damages to the cells.

Give me 1000 € for each time one of our family ICE cars did not start at all during winters here in Austria and I will order my model 3 tonight.

Sounds like you need a new family ICE with a good 12V battery.

Austria is not that cold.

I Would Cautiously Assume That Solid States Batteries May Not have that Problem Because in Solid State Batteries there will Be no “Electrolyte Fluid” to Jell Up & Thicken Up In the Cold , Or to Heat Up Thin Out in Hotter Weather ..

The cold affect the chemical reactions that slow the speed electron can move. It not because the electrolyte is thickness or viscosity change. It’s chemical not physical.

The charge carrier (ion) mobility in the electrolyte is indeed a physical phenomenon. Alas it is temperature-dependent.

InsideEVs quoting a Wired article on EVs? Can’t stop shaking my head, should be the other way around, Condé Nast is a perennial EV naysayer.

ICE are less efficient until they don’t reach the right temperature, but they waste so much energy (releasing heat) that the problem is just relevant for short trips.
For long trips, heating the cabin and “get to the temperature” time, it’s almost irrelevant, and actually ICE can be even more efficient with cold.
The problem for EVs is that energy density of batteries suck, even more with the cold and as they are very efficient there’s not wasted heat to spare, so extra energy must be used to keep people happy.

What a non-issue. In the real world, you go slower in the cold because of icy roads, you can charge a battery more because it degrades slower in the cold, and you’re less likely to take side trips in the cold. I get home with about the same amount of charge as I did in Summer.

Where do you live?

In the real world (at least in many of the coldest places) temperature and moisture are not connected. It can be -30 outside and the roads are clear, or it can be just below freezing with slush and ice everywhere.

In those places “the cold” is 6 months of the year, and people continue on as they do normally, side trips and all.

This issue isn’t really relevant in places where temperatures only dip to just below freezing, the range loss is relatively small. The issue is extremely relevant in places like Canada and the US midwest where temperatures can be -20 or colder for weeks on end.

Exactly, and often colder means less slick roads. Worst roads are usually in the 10 to 35 F range. Once you hit 0 or cold it rarely is very slick and it rarely snows at such cold temps.

And when it does snow, it just blows off.

In the true north (eg north of the 49th parallel) most parking lots have outlets for block heaters in winter. Using that existing infrastructure you would plug in your EV to warm the battery. Seems like a pretty simple solution.

I love preconditioning my car (Bolt EV) in my garage and I live in CA; so how much more should everyone else enjoy doing this in much much much colder areas which is almost anywhere else. Don’t miss the contact high from the fumes in previous years.

Honda Clarity PHEV Canadian edition is the answer. Has the best of both worlds in a sophisticated package including a battery warmer, liquid battery cooling for summer, pre-conditioning and can be filled (in less than 2 minutes) and run on good-old gasoline when needed all for much less than the non-existent base version of a Tesla 3.

Wrong car format … If they did some sort of hatch, I just might, might think about it. Is that your only car or second commuter only car?

Per Honda’s website, base model Clarity w/preconditioning is ~$37k. That is… not “much less” than even the ~$41k to get a MR today. As BEV prices continue to fall, PHEVs will likely be the first to die. That is entry level BMW 3 series pricing, and not even close to the performance, prestige, refinement, etc (talking about the Honda). Cheap gas means no value proposition for PHEVs that will never make ROI on the ~$12k premium over a hybrid Accord or Insight. At $2/gal it takes roughly 200k miles driven electric to offset the PHEV upcharge.

The Canadian edition also comes with “the rodeo song” preloaded on the entertainment system…

Here in the N.E. US , tires might lose 5 PSI in winter, which negatively affects efficiency. It’s important to keep them inflated up to spec.

I’ve found Nitrogen filling really does make a difference there. There’s virtually no difference in PSI even with 50C temperature changes.

Somehow nitrogen is exempt from the gas law?

PV = nRT

There is one key exception to the “[cells] like to be around 60-80 deg. F” rule. The fast-charging exception. Most EVs’ battery management systems like to allow the cells to warm up to about 113 deg. F (45 deg C) to fast-charge, as the cells’ internal resistance drops at these higher temperatures, which both improves charging speed and actually reduces the total heat that has to be rejected.

Depends what you mean. Those with heating / cooling systems for the battery keep the battery performance good year ’round. Unfortunately different cars have different ways to keep the battery warm, using lesser or greater amounts of their own juice. As far as cost of operation – this varies WILDLY with different EVs. But saying that an ICE, or a Volt’s ICE is horrible during cold weather – is getting to be a wife’s tale. The Chevy Volt only has an additional 2 kw of load for about 30 minutes – to get the battery up to temperature (1 kwh). Turning on its engine uses less than 30 cents of gasoline to get up to and stay at operating temperature – in this case running the heater DOES make it use somewhat more gasoline, as the engine’s duty cycle is larger with the heater on high. But point is almost all the jacket heat is utilized since the engine cycles on and off and the heater (in cold weather) can use all the heat given up. In around 20 degree F weather the ‘hit’ is about 15 cents. There is a slight decrease in engine efficiency in the very cold… Read more »