Cold Weather Electric Car Tips From General Motors

Chevy Bolt EV in snow

NOV 16 2018 BY STEVEN LOVEDAY 25

More education for EV owners relate to cold weather.

As winter sets in, there’s lots of talk about EVs and cold weather. For this reason, we’ve ramped up our coverage of the topic as of late. It seems General Motors took notice, as Chevrolet sent me an email outlining some electric vehicle cold weather tips.

The email came via Chevrolet’s Katie Minter, who’s responsible for EV and passenger car communications at GM. She begins by saying she knows we’re well aware of the issues regarding electric vehicles in cold weather. Most importantly, she stresses that when temperatures drop, extra energy is needed. This energy is required to heat the car, the cabin, the battery, etc. Hence, less range. Seems obvious, right?

While we know this, and the vast majority of our seasoned readers are aware, Minter reiterated something that we constantly share. Our job as EV owners is to help educate others and push adoption. We’ve had some complaints lately when we’ve published more elementary posts that are geared for EV education. Yes, we know that our direct audience is well aware of this stuff. But, if only our direct audience supports and understands EVs, we’re not doing our job. At any rate, Minter shared the following information:

Electric Vehicle Cold Weather Tips from Chevrolet

  1. Smart Cabin Heating: Precondition while plugged in, and take advantage of the power of the grid to heat the cabin and the battery prior to driving. Using energy from the grid to warm the cabin allows you to reserve stored battery energy for driving. Using a 240V charger provides the maximum benefit.
  2. Keeping Warm on the Road: If equipped, use the heated seats and heated steering wheel to keep warm instead of the heater. It takes less of the vehicle’s energy to heat your body through the seat than heating the entire cabin.
  3. Tire Pressure makes a Difference: As the outside temperature drops, so does the air pressure in your tires. Check the pressure in all four tires and add more air if needed. Check the tire pressure in the morning when the tires are cold. Properly inflated tires can help improve electric range and fuel economy.

We’re confident you have a much longer list to share. Please, help us get this information in front on new EV adopters. Add your knowledge to the comment section below.

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25 Comments on "Cold Weather Electric Car Tips From General Motors"

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You should listen to GM talking about all the evs they will come out with, while driving.
All that ‘Hot Air’, should warm you up a bit, though it always leaves me cold.

Because the number of EV models Tesla has released dwarfs everyone else, right? All 4 of them.

Who said anything about Tesla? (hint: you and only you did).

Or you could just buy a Bolt today. We are coming up on our second winter driving what is still the only under $40K, 200 plus mile EV, available in every state. That is 16 months and 17K miles of no gas, no oil changes, no problems.

It’s closer to 30k than 40k even before credits are considered, in US.

Tire pressure is critical. I usually over-inflate a few pounds during long stretches of freezing and colder weather. Keep cabin heat to a minimum. 60f, 62f & 65f feel comfortable, even toasty in sub 30f temps. Pre-heating is also good when NOT plugged in. Again, getting into a car that’s 60f feels awesome after crossing a 25f degree parking lot with a 20f or lower wind chill.

I would like to see some good, scientifically measured data on just how big the range hit is from the heater. Yes, it’s more than the range hit from the heated seats and steering wheel, but it makes me nervous when the wider public starts hearing folklore about how the effect of the heater “cuts into range”, which becomes “the heater saps range”, which becomes “you can’t run the heater in the winter in an EV”. Our 2012 Leaf had resistive heating, and when we replaced it with a 2014, everyone said our worries were over, since we had a heat pump.

What would be useful would be a comparison between the range reduction from winter heating in an EV versus the mileage reduction from summer air conditioning in an ICE, converted to the same units. If the EV is the same or better, we could legitimately say that “it’s no worse than running your air conditioner in the summer”, which is a concept everyone has had experience with.

The problem with that is the answer will vary significantly depending on where you live. Assuming a “comfort level” of around 20-25 degrees C AC is realistically only going to have to deal with an additional 15 degrees of heat (up to 40C), but a heater has to deal with anything from 15 degrees of cold (down to around 5C) to 60 degrees (-40C).

The issue is also less an efficiency thing (what you would be directly calculating), but a range thing. EV’s generally have a range of 150-300 miles in the warm, but you’re average ICE will usually have a range of at least 400 miles, so even if the efficiency was twice as bad for AC as heat even in somewhere like California (lots of AC, not much heat) range is still likely to take a larger % hit in an EV than an ICE.

“but you’re [sic] average ICE will usually have a range of at least 400 miles” I keep seeing that 400 thrown around in these discussions, but in my 30+ years of car ownership experience I’ve only ever had 1 vehicle that could go that far on a tank of gas – a Chevy Express conversion van with a 25gal tank and about 17mpg downhill with a tail wind on the highway. My last ICE would go about 250 miles on 10-11gal of gas. What vehicles are people driving that can go 400 miles on a tank? How big a tank? One other thing that seems to fly under the radar in cold-weather discussions is the need to defog the windows. Heated seats and steering wheels are nice, but they don’t clear the glass. I cram my family of 5 into the ’17 Leaf and the defroster has to be on with fan running fairly high. How can efficiency be improved for that function? That’s the big tip I’ve been looking for. Of course, I’ve wondered for decades why they don’t put defroster wires in the front window on all cars – it works great in the back window.

Just taking the top 10 selling vehicles so far this year ( https://www.kbb.com/car-reviews-and-news/top-10/best-selling-cars-2018/2100005607/?slide=10 ) all of them have >400 miles of highway range and 7 of them have greater than 400 miles of city range.

The Civic, the Camry and the Pickups all have > 500 miles of highway range.

Sure, there may be some cars out there with lower ranges, but I’ve never really noticed one, and none of the top 10 selling cars (or a random selection of other relatively popular vehicles I chose) are in that group.

And you’re and your. Ouch. I don’t even have an auto correct excuse for that. 🙁

By federal standards,the windshield must be completely free of any obstruction below five inches from the top,which would make the great concept of heating grids out of the question.Look on any windshield and on one side will be an ASI mark which denotes the five inch limit.

My VW e-Golf has a heated windshield. The tech they use is for all practical purposes invisible.

https://www.vicbaileyvw.com/blog/volkswagen-wire-free-heated-windshield/

“Instead of using wires, Volkswagen has opted for a thin, transparent layer of silver that provides a conductive layer to heat windshields. It only takes 400-500 watts of energy to help defrost things more quickly. As an extra bonus, filaments are still installed at the bottom section of the windshield to prevent your wiper blades from sticking.”

Keeping the cabin heater off usually ins’t an option where I live. The wind screen will fog up without it after 15 minutes of driving. The compromise for me is to keep the cabin heat low (around 68 instead of a nice toasty 72) and keep my self warm with the seat and steering wheel heaters.

Regarding AC, It is much more efficient than resistive heating (as I’m sure you know). In the Volt, the AC compressor uses 1-2KW and runs about half the time when it is in the low 90s F outside. When the cabin heater is running at full blast it uses 6-7KW.

The Big surprise about the BOLT ev is how LITTLE heating is necessary for the battery when it is cold. Its commensurate with the amount of heating my ELR requires, and that battery is only 1/5 th as large. Around 2 kw for only 15-30 minutes depending on how cold-soaked it was.

I have a Chevy 2013 Volt purchased used. I’ve been driving it for about 3 years mostly on electricity commuting to work. I live in the southern California desert. In the fall and spring my electric range when fully charged is about 55 miles. In the summer and winter the range drops to about 45 miles. I try to minimize the use of A/C and heater because they both suck up lots of energy.

Use a low-weight motor oil to reduce friction in the cold.

All kidding aside, I recommend charging the car to full as close to departure as possible. This warms the battery more than the battery heater alone.

Yes, that’s what we do as well by using the Bolt’s “departure charging mode.” This also avoids some overnight battery thermal management, which can use a lot of energy through the winter. If you charge in the evening, you get BTM all night. With departure mode, the BTM is less aggressive, because you get warming through charging as Brian states.

“Heated steering wheel”? What’s that???

~Tesla Model 3 owner

🙁

I have a small lap blanket in the car. The heated seats become downright luxurious when their heat is trapped by the blanket. If I need a lot of range, I will defrost by cracking the two front windows and heating with the seat and blanket. That works for the warmer end of winter temps. But once you get below 15F, all bets are off and range just plummets.

This is just horrible, and makes me think we’ll never see mass adoption of EVs. If we want the general public, we CAN NOT ask them to sacrifice comfort. They’ll never do it. Ever. Frustrated with this hardcore enviro point of view that is counter productive when looking at the big picture. Make EV’s BETTER than gassers.

Thanks,
Jimmy Carter

“Or, if the 1, 2 and 3 sound like ‘Too much heat and not enough light’, please contact any GM dealership for a wide choice of our reasonably priced, good quality ICE models with free winter heating as standard”.

I drive a Volt so I don’t fret over losing a few pennies when running on gas to stay very warm.

After a few cold weather 5 hour trips last winter in my Bolt that normally take under 3 hours, I bought a DC Thermal in-cabin heater and run it from a deep cycle AGM 12 volt battery sitting in the back seat floor. Gives me about 2 hours of heat, on low, to supplement the regular heater, which I only use to keep the windows clear. I’ve also used anti-fog spray which seems to help some.

First, I think we should keep the car warm to protect the car’s heating. Outside the BOLT, the outer opening of the door and the cold wind hole coming through the bonnet hinge and the front fender were blocked as much as possible. As a result, the cold air coming in gradually disappears and the heat in the heated cabin lasts longer.
Second, if temperature below 22F, To speed up the charger, I charged after running as much as 1~2 miles.

I need to store my 2019 Bolt in an unheated garage for 3 months starting in January in lower Michigan (Ann Arbor). Any suggestions on how to protect the lithium battery and the car in general? I could find nothing in the owners manual.