Driving Electric Vehicles in Winter: Fact vs Fiction

Hannah 04 Nov 2022

Are you considering purchasing an EV, but unsure if your cold winters make it a practical choice? It is a valid question to ask, especially if you are unfamiliar with EVs and know the effect cold weather can have on electronics that operate on batteries. Zerofy has highlighted some of the main considerations, plus misconceptions, about driving an EV in winter so you can make the best decision based on your climate.

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Cold weather can decrease the range of EVs: Fact

Yes, it is true that cold weather can decrease the range of EVs.

Yet this is not unique to EVs: all vehicles will have their efficiency reduced to some extent by cold temperatures. For example, driving in a city, an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle’s gas mileage would decrease by about 15% at -6 degrees Celsius compared to 25 degrees Celsius. For EVs in this same temperature change, the range can decrease by about 15%-20%[1].

It is very important to note that the impact of cold weather on an EV’s range depends substantially on the brand. This is well illustrated in a 2021 Recurrent comparison of winter range loss for 13 popular EV models. They found the Tesla Model X experienced no range loss at all, while on the other end of the spectrum, the Chevy Bolt experienced a significant 32% range loss. We carried our own analysis using data from Bjorn Nyland, picking about 10 vehicles tested in both winter and summer: the average range loss was 18% at 90km/h and 16% at 120 km/h[2].

Batteries just don’t perform as well when they are cold, but keeping the passenger cabin of an EV warm is actually the biggest drain on the vehicle range. In an ICE vehicle, when you start the engine, the vehicle isn’t very efficient at converting all of the energy from the fuel into motion. This means heat is generated as a by-product, which eventually warms up the passenger cabin. If you live in a cold climate, you’re likely very familiar with sitting in your car rubbing your hands together waiting for the inside to warm up. Since EVs are much more efficient, they need to specifically draw energy from the battery in order to heat the passenger cabin, therefore leaving less energy available to contribute to the car’s range. However, some EVs, like the Tesla Model Y, actually use heat pump technology as a much more efficient mechanism for heating the passenger cabin, which can save 7-30% of the range lost during cold weather.

Less substantial but still notable is that EVs’ regenerative braking function becomes limited when the temperatures drop. This results in less energy being recovered and then sent back to the car’s battery when the EV either slows down or comes to a stop. This is caused by the batteries’ inability to charge with the same speed as being at normal temperature (around 20 degrees Celsius and higher). Also the fast charging is much slower when the battery is cold. Many EVs now have a battery preconditioning option that the driver can activate before reaching for a fast charger.

To make your life easier, in Zerofy’s EV database, we have included the winter and summer ranges of each model where available. Look for the sun and snowflake icons.

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EVs are not practical for cold climates: Fiction

EVs can be a great option for low impact transportation in a range of climates, including those with cold winters. But, not all EVs are created equal. Just like with any kind of vehicle, you’ll want to do your research to ensure that based on your climate, your choice will be able to handle the conditions where you live.

It is also important to remember that driving in winter with an ICE vehicle is not exactly smooth sailing. Conventional vehicle owners take all kinds of precautions to ensure their vehicles can perform properly in cold climates: using antifreeze, battery tenders, and block heaters to battle against sub-zero temperatures.

Similarly, there are various habits you can implement that will make your winter EV performance better.

  1. If your EV has a prewarming or precondition setting, use it while your car is still plugged in so that it warms up without pulling electricity from the vehicle’s battery.
  2. Avoid leaving your battery uncharged in cold weather: charge it to at least 70% if you aren’t going to drive it for some time before storing.
  3. Drive more slowly. Not only is this just safer when the conditions are icy or snowy, but when you speed, you increase drag which reduces mileage.
  4. Store your EV in a garage, if you can. This will keep the battery warmer than if it were exposed to the elements parked on the street or in a parking lot.
  5. If your EV has a heated steering wheel, you can use it in combination with seat heaters to then allow for a lower cabin heating temperature while still keeping you comfortable (but keep in mind that you’ll need to up the heating temperature if you experience ice or fog on your windshield).
  6. Use proper tires for winter. If studded tires are legal in your region, consider them for your EV for added traction in consistent slippery or icy road conditions, but ensure you remove them in spring. However, if you live somewhere cold but don’t actually drive very often in slippery conditions, don’t install studded tires, even if they are legal. This is because studded tires have high rolling resistance, which can decrease the vehicle’s efficiency and therefore potentially range.

It is also a very good idea when you live in a cold weather climate, regardless of what kind of vehicle you are driving, to invest in dedicated winter tires. In many areas with cold winters, all-season or summer tires are not going to be sufficient (and of course, in some regions, you can even get a fine for not having winter tires).

There are actually benefits to driving an EV in winter over an ICE vehicle: Fact.

EV’s start much more reliably in cold weather. Anyone who has started their ICE vehicle on a frigid morning knows well the guttural sound of an engine turning over and starting after a long, cold night. Sometimes when it is really cold, the engine oil can get too thick and won’t flow properly around the engine block. If the car battery is already low, it can keep the car from starting at all. Starting an EV is a lot more simple and uses much less power, as just a few electronics need to start working.

EVs actually have good traction, stability, and handling in snow. In an EV, the battery placement means that the vehicle has a low center of gravity, providing good stability in winter conditions. Plus, AWD EVs use a motor both in the front of the vehicle and the back for precise control of traction.

The passenger cabin of an EV heats up much faster. Additionally, with many models you will have the ability to turn on the heating remotely from an app before even going out to your car. And as mentioned above, you can heat it up while it is still plugged in, which means a warm car without drawing from the battery right away.

We hope this analysis helps you in your consideration of buying an EV to drive in an area with cold winters, or offers some helpful tips for those who already own an EV. If you’d like to read more, we have many more resources and insights on EVs on the Zerofy blog.

Compare EVs by their summer and winter range
with our EV database

Winter driving videos

Here’s a selection of our favorite EV winter range tests and drives.


[1] A 2019 study from AAA used by the US Department of Energy found a range loss of 40% when heating is turned on. However, the vehicles tested (2018 BMW i3s, 2018 Chevrolet Bolt , 2018 Nissan Leaf , 2017 Tesla Model S 75D, 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf ) were rather old models, many of them known to have low performing heating, and none of them equipped with heat pumps. More recent EVs fare much better, especially when equipped with a heat pump.

[2] We took data for eight EVs from Bjørn Nyland’s tests with results for both winter and summer range, and calculated their range loss at 90 and 120 km/h.

The vehicles included were: Audi e-tron, BMW i4, Hyundai Kona Electric, Jaguar I-Pace (2019, 90kWh), Kia e-Niro, Mercedes-Benz EQC, Mercedes-Benz EQS 580, MG Motor ZS EV, Polestar 2, Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen ID.3
The average range loss was 18% at 90km/h and 16% at 120 km. Best was Model Y with 8%/9% range loss, and worst were Hyundai Kona electric (35%/28%), BMW i4 (26%/23%), VW ID.3 (24%/26%).**