The Truth About EVs Versus Gas Cars For Winter Driving


The truth is hard to find these days, especially with all the agendas related to this hot topic.

Our good friend Alex Guberman (E for Electric) takes a closer look at why electric cars may be better than gas cars when it comes to winter driving and cold weather. He also speaks to the disadvantages of EVs in freezing temps. To top it off, Alex takes people’s comments and questions live.

We could keep it really simple here. All you have to do is visit the EPA’s website to read about how cold temps impact vehicle range/efficiency. As we recently shared, the EPA concludes:

Cold weather and winter driving conditions can reduce your fuel economy significantly.

Fuel economy tests show that, in short-trip city driving, a conventional gasoline car’s gas mileage is about 12% lower at 20°F than it would be at 77°F. It can drop as much as 22% for very short trips (3 to 4 miles).

The effect on hybrids is worse. Their fuel economy can drop about 31% to 34% under these conditions.

However, the EPA doesn’t mention electric cars or plug-in hybrids. It’s a known fact that electric vehicles take a significant range hit in cold weather. Simply put, batteries just don’t work as well in extreme temps. Keep in mind though that there are many factors involved, and there’s no way to put an actual number on it. Nonetheless, recent studies and tests have show range loss in EVs in cold weather to be anywhere between 20-40 percent. So, not too far off from the EPA’s assessment of gas and hybrid cars above.

Check out the video to learn about Alex’s take. Then start a discussion with us in the comment section or on our InsideEVs Forum.

Video Description via E for Electric on YouTube:

Electric Cars vs Gas Cars: Winter & Cold Driving

Why electric cars may be better than gas cars in winter / cold driving conditions and what disadvantages cars like Tesla may have. Let’s talk about it as I take your questions and comments during the LIVE stream!

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42 Comments on "The Truth About EVs Versus Gas Cars For Winter Driving"

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Cold weather just bites all the way ’round.
Good video though.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes. I am going skiing now…

Also, Bad Tires! Or, Bad Slippery Driving Skills! (Winter, or Rain!)


Reminds me of the quote “there is no such thing as bad snow, just bad snowmen.”

I did a write-up over 5 years ago on this subject pertinent to a road trip in single digit temperatures in my Tesla:

One of the great things about text versus video is you are more efficient with your time by scanning ahead.

I imagine that few people know/care about the difference in cold weather fuel efficiency for ICE for a very simple reason: range/refuel speed.

If/when every BEV has 300+ miles of range and can refuel in 3 minutes, no one will know or care about cold weather efficiency for them, either.

Exactly. That’s why they ignore gas efficiency losses.
But, also this is a new-be issue too.
Most EV’s have “pre-conditioning”.
IF you use it it greatly reduces the problem.
If you ignore it you lose range and power.

Preconditioning in a lot of cases does not save energy, only if you use a heat pump for that.

So, you don’t own an EV.
People who own EV’s know that if you pre-condition the battery you get 4 miles per kWh while driving instead of 3 miles per kWh. So, all the battery heat you use, about 1-1.5 kWh you get back plus MORE with higher efficiency driving.

If you pre-condition the cabin, that uses more heat, depending on temp. But, again you can put your car in Eco-Pro mode to just maintain cabin temperature not flood you with heat in the normal setting. And there are heated seats too.

Preconditioning saves range, not energy. Most people do not particularly care about the (very inefficient) energy usage of preconditioning when their EV is plugged in, but they do care about their total range.

And, while Pre Conditioning, on Grid Power is great, in places with no workplace charging, of at least 240V x 20A, it will still be a “Thing” to deal with, on days like recently, here, of -25C to -30C!

Cars, Batteries, need a “Winter Kit”, just like Winter Tires, to reduce heat loss, and to keep heat in better. ICE Cars, can even add a “Battery Blanket”, for them. EV’s should have Similar Accessories made for them.

We have Winter Coats, but EV’s have Nothing, to deal with the cold, to save energy losses! Yet!

It may come, by a few Generations up from now! In the Mean time, like the old fix of Cardboard in front of the Radiator, what can users create, as a temporary quick fix?

Its call a garage

As noted in the article the reduction in mileage for gas cars in cold weather is mainly on short and very short trips. This is because of the energy wasted heating up several hundred pounds of metal (the heat engine). This applies to any short trip from a cold start; it’s just worse in cold weather. Once warmed up there will be little effect on mileage, a little from thicker air, and from wet, snowy or slushy roads if present, and winter tires if fitted. Heat engine cars get their cabin heat and defogging/defrosting from waste heat, they don’t have to use precious electricity from the battery.

The short trip inefficiency from gasoline cars argues strongly for plug in hybrids which can make most such trips on electricity and long trips on gasoline. The best of both worlds.

You can always turn a 28% energy loss to cold in a BMW i3 to a 40% loss, if you run the heat at 90.
So, yes, easy to put out Fake News.

Not referring to this video.

Number 4: Electric heater gets full heat in less than a minute.
Try that at an ICE where the gas engine takes 20 minutes to get to full operating temperature to give you heat.

This is typically why ICE drivers turn their heat on to FULL HOT to try to rob the engine of heat, because of it’s LONG warm up time.

Whereas in an EV you set the temp to 72 and it gets to 72 fast and stays there. No need to set it to 90F.

Even in arctic cold weather, a properly running ICE will get hot in a matter of minutes. Yes, it takes longer than cold, but there is so much surplus heat that it is a non issue (Again, properly designed and functioning car). Idling a gas car to heat it up isn’t the fastest way, driving it shortly after starting will heat much quicker, and being sure to shift late to keep engine at higher RPM (but not too high) will warm up very quickly.

In contrast, a very cold battery in an EV means not much power available. I notice an issue with my i3 if I don’t preheat it and the battery is very cold it takes 10 minutes for my heater to blow hot air, as it prioritizes power to the traction motor over the heater, so driving uses a majority of the heat to power the motor and not the heater (acceleration is very limited as well due to cold battery). When sub 0 F and a cold soaked vehicle, my Mini Cooper heats up much faster than my i3.

I’m guessing that yours is a REx which heats the cabin using only electric resistance elements unlike all North American i3 BEV’s that use a heat pump for primary cabin heating augmented by electric resistance elements when temperatures are particularly low. I wonder whether a BEV cabin might heat faster because of the lower power requirement of its heat pump.

ALthough only having a resistance heater in the I3 Rex – I’m under the impression that, if the engine is up to temperature, the jacket heat will be used to run the heater since it is so much more direct than diverting any of the 35 precious horses of the engine to run the heater (around 10 hp would be needed otherwise).

There is no connection of the BMW i3 REX to cabin heat.
There is however a heat-exchanger connected to the battery.
If you were to run the REX, and when it got to operating temperature, it would start to send heat into the battery.

The whole point of a resistance heater is that it heats up instantly.
That’s a luxury.

Next time it’s 20F or below, take a stop watch with you with your ICE car.

I’ve done that – but then all my comments are factual. I include apparently too many details since some of the points are over your head. I’ve addressed those points already.

“Even in arctic cold weather, a properly running ICE will get hot in a matter of minutes.”

Actually, it depends on traffic. At my northern Maine farm house, I pull out of my driveway and get right on a northern county highway at 60 mph, accelerating up a long hill at that. My pickup truck engine heats right up, blowing some heat in maybe 3 minutes, even after being cold-soaked in my unheated, detached and drafty garage. But, at my suburban Boston house, I pull out into stop and go traffic, battling to go a mile in 15 minutes due to heavy morning traffic in my town. My truck and the cabin stay cold *far* longer, even if it doesn’t routinely get to 0 degrees outside every winter morning in MA like it does up in 04730.

I look forward to having an EV (most likely a model with a largish battery like a Tesla and plugged in at that) that heats up quickly with no ICE engine warm up being hindered by having to endlessly idle in stopped traffic right outside my driveway.

Right, but once hot, the energy to run the heater is “free” on an ICE. The heater on a BEV will continue to drain the battery all trip long. The issue is hardly cold weather performance though, the real turning point for EV acceptance is range and recharge time.

Nothing like 25% energy efficiency to produce so much waste heat, huh?

Not in a GM PHEV. The engine will run longer if the heater is on since the engine will take longer to get up to 145 degrees F and will immediately cool down to the 120 deg area hence restarting the engine. This is assuming there is some battery charge available – as the engine running during the cold adds minimally to the battery charging, if the car is in ‘tour’ mode, where the battery is allowed to greatly discharge. Of course, all GEN 1 voltecs had a diminutive 1400 cc engine in them so there wasn’t much to heat up in the first place.

I would assume Toyota, with the Prius Prime also does fuel/electricity conservation tricks in all-seasons seeing as that particular car has such fantastic efficiency under most modes of operation.

“Try that at an ICE where the gas engine takes 20 minutes to get to full operating temperature to give you heat.”

That is just false. Unless your engine has a bad thermostat or bad temperature sensor, it doesn’t take 20 minutes to get up the temperature.

The problem is that people don’t know what they are doing and idle for 20 minutes. Driving at low speed is actually quickest way to warm up the engine.

Or, my ICE 2010 Kia Soul 2U: LAST Fill up in Toronto, about half a Tank, 26 Litres, $24.00: Just about 115 Kms!

Last couple weeks of crazy cold, snow, and running the car, while cleaning off the snow! Plus, after getting my right hand index finger drilled at work, and returning from Hospital Emergency visit: letting it Melt the Ice off the windshield, 20 minutes idling, before driving!

Or, an older experience: 3 Speed Automatic on a High Km Used Firefly (Geo Metro), about 180 Kms, between Winter Fills! Much less than the 800 kms I put on my 1st Tank, of a 1987 Sprint Hatchback, in July, basically Toronto to Western Michigan!


Jean-Baptiste Labelle

I do not understand why people did not just read the study. It is mixing highway and city driving with stop and go.
Range is not a question for city driving (except for someone that would make 400km in stop and go in city???).

From the study itself for the highway impact with the Tesla S75D:

“The total DC discharge energy was reduced at an ambient temperature of 20°F; this will consequently result in a reduction of driving range. Compared to 75°F, the combined driving range and equivalent fuel economy at 20°F decreased by 27 miles and 11 MPGe, respectively. This equates to an 11 percent decrease in both combined driving range and equivalent fuel economy relative to 75°F”

ELEVEN %. Which is in line with what I am experiencing in winter. Nothing to write home about we would not already know.

Surprised that no one mentioned that cabin heating is a constant power load (once up to temperature) so its percentage of total vehicle energy use varies with vehicle speed, highest at low speed. It’s effect on range is much less at 70 mph than it is at 20 mph in stop and go traffic, since the drive motor is consuming much higher power at the higher speed. Total vehicle energy usage per mile vs speed is a U-shaped curve, higher at low speed due to cabin heater power consumption, and higher at high speed due to high drive motor power consumption.