Even Negative Temps Don’t Stop Electric Cars – Video


Watch how these electric cars handle the bitter cold.

Michael Subasic and family share their holiday travel story. Their Tesla Model X starts right up after sitting for four days in Canada’s bitter cold. Even better, his Nissan LEAF has been idle for two weeks in temps exceeding -20C. It starts with no issue as well.

Electric Cars

Michael’s LEAF buried in the snow and blocked in by a snowbank.

The family drives the Model X in -26C (-15F). Their trip distance is 145 km (90 miles), and due to the cold weather, it will eat up more than half of the vehicle’s total battery charge to cover the trip. They also have to continuously run the “hot” defrost just to keep the windshield clear. In the end, Michael attributes 150 km of range loss to the cold temp.

Once the family arrives safely at home, Michael takes the LEAF out for a quick spin. He’s pleasantly surprised that it starts right up and runs as if it’s not cold at all.

Of course, range is negatively affected, but that’s expected of any vehicle, regardless of powertrain and fuel source. Simply keeping the cabin warm and heating the battery in such cold temps is enough to expend a considerable amount of energy. Though electric cars and gas cars will feel the impact of cold weather, the EV has fewer noticeable issues aside from range loss.

Video Description via Michael Subasic on YouTube:

Today we started the Tesla after 4 days of sitting out in the cold, and made it home no problem. Then I dug out our Leaf, which was left out in colder than -20C temperatures for two weeks. Not only did they both start just fine, they drove like they didn’t even know it was winter… well range was reduced, but driving was still a blast, and we were super warm!!

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34 responses to "Even Negative Temps Don’t Stop Electric Cars – Video"
  1. F150 Brian says:

    I live in Canada and experience these temps, well, more than I wouldn’t like.

    I would really like the instant heat from an EV as some days I make it half way to work before the ICE provides heat. And the range reduction on short trips can be north of 50%.

    But on a long trip, the range reduction with an ICE is quite small – around 10% , with plenty of “free” heat.

    This definitely raises the appeal of a PHEV.

    That and Canada has low population density so I’m not expecting high current chargers to be widely available outside of major corridors any time soon.

    1. Nix says:

      “plenty of “free” heat.”

      Actually, there is no such thing as free heat. It takes gas ($$$) to produce that heat, and ICE cars generate that heat all the time. That heat is something you pay for every mile of every trip, whether you use it to heat the cabin or not.


      Some people complain that running the heat in an EV cuts down the range when they have the heat on. But they don’t realize that producing all that heat in their gas cars 100% of the time is reducing their range of their ICE cars whether they divert the heat to the cabin or not. If ICE cars didn’t produce all that heat, their range would be much further.

      They are effectively driving their ICE cars around with the heater on all the time, wasting gas on producing heat instead of propulsion every mile they drive. With an EV you have the option to turn off the heater when you don’t need it, and gain more range. With an ICE vehicle you don’t have an off button for using gas to generate heat, your only choice is to divert the heat to outside the cabin but you still use gas to make it.

      ICE drivers don’t even think about all the lost miles of range that they suffer every single day from effectively having their heater stuck in the “on” position all the time. E

      V’s have a huge advantage in that they can regain those lost miles of range by being able to choose to turn off generating heat, and only turn it on to heat the cabin as needed.

      1. fotomoto says:

        Brian used quotes around “free” indicating he knows it’s not truly free.

        Second, he’s talking about PHEV’s so NO they don’t go around running the ICE all the time just wasting gas/heat.

        PHEV’s are a great engineering design for the masses as these bitterly cold temps and regions demonstrate.

        Now, we’ve just learned that the Model 3 doesn’t come with a battery heater per se. That will make living in cold climes more difficult for those owners and a dread each season (once the newness of a new car wears off).

      2. Phaedrus says:

        Great explanation!

      3. PHEVfan says:

        But that “lost” range is never there in the first place. You are trying to compare an ICE at 90% efficiency with an ICE at 25% efficiency. The former does not exist. An ICE car will get the same mileage whether the heat is diverted into the cabin or not. That is what Brian is referring to.
        Yes, ICEs are horribly inefficient compared to EVs, but running the heat in an ICE does not make that any worse. Running the heat in an EV does.

        1. Nix says:

          Please re-read my post.

          I’m saying exactly that. People complain about losing range in an EV when they turn on the heat. But they aren’t making the mental connection that due to the design of ICE engines, they are losing range ALL THE TIME because the heat is effectively on ALL THE TIME. I am very much comparing the inherent inefficiency of ICE to EV. Where with the EV you can choose to get longer range by turning off the heat. Where in an ICE car, you can’t, because you never actually turn off the heat, you just release the heat outside the vehicle instead of inside. The heat is always on, full blast, reducing range as gas is wasted going to heat that isn’t even used to warm the cabin most of the time.

          Being able to turn off the heat and get more range is an ADVANTAGE of the EV over gas. But it gets played off as a DISADVANTAGE over gas because people just ignore all the gas they waste producing heat they never use as they are stuck with the short range. They just never think about it that way, so they don’t even realize they are losing range 100% of the time in their ICE. With the EV you only lose range to heating when you turn the heat on.

    2. mx says:

      That’s true about Plugin’s.
      However, remember the BMW i3 and the Tesla now, can Precondition the battery, even outside.
      -Plugged into your L2 charger, the car warms up the battery starting about 2 hours before your departure, and the the cabin 30 minutes before your departure.
      Now, you might be saying that’s a lot of energy, it’s not.
      – You get that energy back in miles per kWh as you drive.
      Instead of 3-3.5 miles per kWh, your car returns to 4-4.2 miles per kWh.
      -And as the cabin has been pre-warmed, you can set the temp to 66, which is comfortable in a winter coat. ( You can set it to what ever temp you want. ). The car is already pre-warmed, and you can just keep a base level of heat on to maintain the inside temperature. You don’t have to blast the heat like in an ICE.
      -Electrics are just more civilized than an ICE.

      1. Phaedrus says:

        Indeed, I use the option of pre-heating the cabin and batteries when I plan to go on a longer trip. Works great. Also, my i3 is equipped with a heatpump, which cut down the amount of juice to heat the cabin with about 50%. The heatpump does not work very well in real cold circumstances, but in the Netherlands we mostly have winter temperatures between 0 and 10 degrees C, so the heatpump is a useful device. Downside is that it takes more time to heat up the cabin, but pre-heating works around this.

        1. alohart says:

          Your i3 BEV, in addition to the heat pump, also has the same electric resistance heater as the i3 REx. When ambient temperatures drop below -10º C/14º F, the heat pump becomes very inefficient so is turned off and the resistance heating element turned on.

  2. Tom says:

    Perhaps a little more reporting on this and the rather obvious fact that the Volt is the far superior solution in this environment and a little less of people whining about the leaf’s battery cooling. Hey California/Arizona. Look at a map some time and pretend for a minute you know about the rest of the world.

    1. Lawrence says:

      Wow. That was pretentious.

  3. darth says:

    He is brave to have a Leaf in Canada w/o a garage. Keeping an EV in a garage helps alot with maintaining battery temp and range. But the range hit is quite noticeable, especially on a small battery model like the Leaf. My range was reduced by 30 to 40% when temps here fell below 10F.

    1. mx says:

      If you don’t have preconditioning, what you can do is plug the car in and charge just before you leave.
      First thing in a morning, when you take the dogs out, plug the car in to charge up. That will warm the battery to a certain extent.

  4. Paul K says:

    Damn lucky he didn’t “brick” the Leaf’s battery. The internal battery warmer is supposed to shut off if the charge drops below 30%. I am under the impression that if the pack drops below -20C that it will become inactive and have to be warmed up to resume operation.

    I’ve never seen my Leaf go below 2 temp bars even when parked for a several hours at -25C, so either the heater had shut off or wasn’t working properly. The range loss even at the lowest cabin temp setting (18C) is still around 40% in bitter cold so folks need to plan for that.

    That being said, the EVs are awesome performers in cold temps and lots of snow. The weight seems to make them dig in a move instead of sliding all around.

    If you hit some big snow drifts the traction control may severely cut power to the motor and allow you to bog down. In such situations it is best to turn off traction control.

    Looking forward to next EV in 2020. A 60kwh pack will cover all the bases for me.

    1. SilverNewt says:

      “I’ve never seen my Leaf go below 2 temp bars”
      Really? I live in Massachusetts and it was very cold here the past 2 weeks. I think my battery stayed at 0 or 1 bars all week. Overnight Temps were 0F +-5, about -20 to -15C. I have a car port so my car stays a few degrees warmer and is slightly more protected than street parking and is plugged in all night.

      I have a 2012 Leaf, and am pretty sure I have the battery heater. Still starts and runs fine though range takes a huge hit in such cold, as noted above.

  5. tech_guy says:

    I was disappointed to learn my Bolt will only charge at 12-13 kW when it’s 18 deg outside, when in the summer I see 40 kW. When paying by the minute for juice and waiting to charge, this is a huge deal that should be more broadly acknowledged.

    There is no such thing as supercharging when the battery is cold.

    1. ffbj says:

      When the battery is cold just use Bjorn’s method to warm it up.

  6. John Doe says:

    well.. not so much a start up (of an engine), but more like they turn on, like an appliance.

    They should try to turn on, and drive a Nissan e-NV200 in conditions like that.
    Could have been funny to watch – but in reality it’s just sad. Clearly an EV assembled in Spain with a more “normal” climate. Then again. . the heat in the summer can be mean to the batteries (and people).
    That car is in general only for places where bugs don’t die of cold in the winter.

    How well an EV handles temperature changes is where the engineering shows, and usually also the price of the car.

    Btw. . I had to have a small fire burning under my 20+ year old diesel van under a really cold winter up in the mountains. After struggling for hours, I kind of hoped it would catch fire.

    1. Nix says:

      I think that is sort of the point about talking about “start up”, is to show how antiquated the concept is of worrying about whether an ICE engine will start in the cold compared with an EV that turns on reliably like and appliance.

  7. vdiv says:

    “That car, I love that car! That car, it doesn’t quit. It is not a quitter, the Leaf”
    — Miker Subasic, a two Teslas owner.

    EV love is in the air, even with an old frozen Leaf covered in snow, and even when it is -25°C outside.

    Some people get it, and some will soon.

  8. MacWizard says:

    Any EV left at home for 2 weeks in winter should be plugged in the entire time. My Bolt was plugged into my Level 2 charger for 4 days after Xmas while about 3’ of snow fell on it in -15C weather. Battery conditioning kicked in and my Juicebox Pro 40 kept the battery topped up. My drive from Toronto to our cabin (about 160km/100 mi) took 60% of battery capacity, while in summer, it would take 35%. Michelin Ice-X tires were a good choice.

    1. PHEVfan says:

      Keeping a Li-Ion battery at full for days on end is not good for the life of the battery. There needs to be a more effective way of keeping it warm without keeping it full.

      1. alohart says:

        Of course, for most EV’s, a “full” charge is not the absolute maximum full charge because the battery management system does not allow a maximum full charge (maybe Tesla’s Range Mode does). Nevertheless, as you state, for those who wish to minimize battery pack degradation, it’s best to not keep a battery pack at its maximum allowed charge level for any longer than necessary unless its cells need charge balancing. However, degradation is worse at high temperatures, so at very cold temperatures, any irreversible electrochemical reactions that cause degradation are much less likely to proceed.

  9. Josh Bryant says:

    When the LEAF was launching in 2010, a Nissan rep told me they tested the LEAF in Norway for 6 years leading up to the release. Extreme cold was one of their worries about an EV power train. Overall I think most people would agree that the LEAF is well engineered for cold, other than the pack being a bit small.

    Hot climate testing: seems like it missed the test matrix…

    I am sure they will have that sorted out for the next generation.

  10. Kdawg says:

    From the video, he wasn’t able to drive the Leaf right away because he unplugged it and quickly used any battery energy left.

    If the Leaf was plugged in the whole time he was away, why didn’t it maintain a full charge? Couldn’t he have remotely heated the battery, or is this the issue with the lack of TMS again?

    1. Josh Bryant says:

      He wasn’t clear about it, but I don’t think the LEAF was plugged in during the 2 weeks away.

      There was a shot of the cord when he was clearing it out, but I am guessing he had just plugged it in. And you can’t have the LEAF plugged in and attempt to drive.

      My guess is the battery was very cold and too low on charge, after heating the cabin, to drive. And the charge rate was much lower than normal at that state.

      Only solution was just to leave it plugged in for awhile. Which seemed to work fine.

      I agree with Paul K above, he might have been very close to bricking the LEAF. But I have not seen any other reports of LEAFs getting bricked in the cold (not that I have searched that info out).

      1. Terawatt says:

        He was very clear about it NOT being plugged in.

        And it would be ridiculous if it had to be for just two weeks!

        1. Josh Bryant says:

          I must have missed it, thanks.

          If it were me, I would plug in my EV 100% of the time if I was going to leave it for multiple weeks. Leaving a car at the airport would be the more likely scenario for me.

          But if Houston gets weeks of -25C weather, I think there would be much bigger problems than the charge state of my EV.

          1. Kdawg says:

            Me too. Why not just leave it plugged in, unless this was done intentionally as an experiment?

            1. PHEVfan says:

              Storing your battery at full for weeks is bad for the battery. That would be the reason.

              Plus I don’t think leaving it plugged in will constantly charge. I believe most vehicles “shut off” when the charge cycle is complete and won’t start charging again until a new cycle is started.

          2. John Doe says:

            I think induction chargers on/under the ground will solve a lot of this in the near future.
            You park, and you are connected.

            The car should then do what’s best for it.
            The amount of energy it uses is in reality peanuts, and the convenience is a big deal.

            I’ve seen they install a few of these. If there are enough, they don’t all have to supply a lot of juice either.
            Trickle charge at airports, fast charge other places.

  11. Bill Howland says:

    ‘Ridiculous to plug in for just 2 weeks’.

    Both my Roadster warranty, and all GM warranties I’ve had to date (Tesla ROADSTER, VOLT,ELR,BOLT ev) state coincidentally the same thing:

    The car MUST be plugged in once every 24 hours (on in a phev’s case, started) in extreme (meaning too hot, or too cold) weather. I believe they define that as under 10 deg F or over 90 deg F.

  12. mxs says:

    Why is such a big surprise to people that EV’s start in bitter cold?

    What some people might find surprising though is, that EV is just so much easier and comfortable to cold start and drive away in every super cold morning.

    Learning to live with regen and how it affects braking on ice and low traction is another issue altogether … LOL

  13. Cecil T says:

    We should really do away with the term “start” for EVs. “Turn on” or “drive” seem more appropriate. There’s really nothing to start.

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