First Winter In An EV? Here’s How To Make The Best Of It.

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While many readers are seasoned EV owners who adopted early, we have to remember that we’re starting to climb out of that phase. Many people interested in EVs now are new to the whole technology, and this could be their first winter. If that’s you, be sure to read on, because this article’s loaded with winter safety and comfort tips we’ve learned over the years.

Let’s Start With Safety

Before I get into the things that can make winter in an EV better than winter in a gas or diesel car, let’s talk about the most important thing: safety.

One of the fun things about EVs is the torque. If you stomp that skinny pedal, you get a lot more oomph at lot faster than you get with a traditional fossil fuel-burning vehicle. But, you might be afraid of what happens when that sudden flood of power happens on top of snow, ice, and other slippery surfaces. The key there, like any vehicle, is to not make any sudden moves in slippery conditions. For EVs, it’s also wise to turn off any “sport” or “performance” modes and switch to something like “chill mode” they might have so that the pedal mapping doesn’t deliver power too quickly.

Another very important thing to do is get proper tires. Here’s a video from Engineering Explained that gives you some perspective and pointers on this topic.

Many people think that all wheel drive means that you don’t need winter tires, but that’s not really true. No matter how many wheels are getting power in a vehicle, you need to select tires that fit the conditions you expect to drive it in. For mild, dry, and hot climates like the Southwest, winter tires aren’t needed. It just doesn’t snow and ice enough to worry about it. For places that get frequent snow and ice storms, you’ll want to get a set of good winter tires.

All wheel drive is great at helping you take off, but it can’t help you slow down. Jason does the math and shows that summer and all-season tires just can’t stop as  in the snow as winter tires do. I don’t know about where you’re from, but idiots and borrachos are always pulling out in front of me and doing other dumb things that make it necessary to hit the brakes. Without good stopping power, you might hit those people that give you no heads up or time to stop.

Why doesn’t all wheel drive help you stop? Because despite having brakes and regenerative braking on all four wheels, stopping shifts the weight of the vehicle mostly onto the front wheels. So, those wheels end up doing most of the work. The better those front tires are, the better the vehicle will perform.

Where all wheel drive helps is for taking off and driving on inclines. Taking 0ff, the opposite is true from stopping, and you’ll want more power and grip for those rear wheels. But, don’t get too confident and not give yourself time to stop! The same is true for inclines, as weight can shift to the rear and otherwise put you in situations where you need more traction to get the job done.

When it comes to electric vehicles specifically, tire companies are now offering special tires for electric vehicles in the winter. They can’t really avoid the issue of wear (winter tires need to be softer), but they can do some things to help reduce the noise. Staggered and randomized tread patterns help to cut back on the noise. Add some foam inside, and you can still get a quieter ride without sacrificing much-needed winter traction.

What About Range Loss?

Range loss in winter conditions isn’t entirely avoidable, but there are some things you can do to mitigate the problem.

First off, it’s a good idea to keep the car plugged in at night. Cold batteries aren’t happy batteries, and they end up losing both range and power. But, the good news is that most EVs have on-board battery heaters that can keep the battery from getting frozen. They usually work more aggressively when plugged in. This is also true for summer, as many EVs can keep the battery cooler when plugged in.

Another thing you can do to keep the battery warmer for a cold morning drive is to set a charge timer. The way to do this varies from vehicle to vehicle, but if you set it up so that the charge finishes a half hour or so before you go, the battery will be warmed up from charging. Batteries generate heat from resistance when charging or discharging, so your battery will be in better shape for the drive.

Finally, heaters tend to take up a lot of energy. In a gas or diesel car, the heater uses leftover heat from the engine. EVs don’t have an engine, so you don’t have the extra heat to tap into. Instead, your vehicle’s heater pulls energy from the same battery you need for range.

One way to keep from using as much range up is to pre-heat the car. This can be done with a timer, with apps, and and sometimes with the key fob. If you warm the car’s interior up while plugged in, it takes that energy from the grid instead of eating into your range. Then, the heater only needs to keep the temperature up instead of having to bring it up from cold winter temperatures. That means less energy used.

Another thing you can do after warming up is use seat heaters to stay warm instead of blasting the heater. Seat heaters only use a few dozen watts instead of kilowatts worth of power, so they eat up a lot less range than a normal heater. This will probably work better for longer drives if you wear a light jacket to help trap some of that heat in your clothes and let the cabin cool off a bit. If you want more comfort, you can turn the heat down but not off and use the seat heaters to keep things comfortable in a balanced way.

If you have to park somewhere during the day (like at work) and you can’t plug the car in, you might want to park in the sun whenever possible. The vehicle’s interior can use the greenhouse effect to collect up some of that solar energy and keep the car warmer for when you take off in the afternoon.

One last thing: don’t worry about being stuck in a snow storm! You obviously want to avoid that if you can, but being in an EV during a snow storm isn’t less safe than getting stuck somewhere in an ICE vehicle. An EV can keep the heater going for days, and can keep seat heaters going for weeks. Like any vehicle, having some winter emergency supplies is a good idea.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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