Tips for Operating Electric Vehicles in Extreme Weather
By Dan Belknap
September 3, 2019
Word is going around that electric vehicles (EV) operate a bit differently in cold weather. The fact is that temps on either side of the thermometer present challenges for electric motors and their batteries.
Electric Vehicles In Low Temps
According to AAA, EVs operating in cold weather can have up to a 40% drop in range.
The internal combustion engine (ICE) of a gasoline-powered vehicle generates a large amount of heat that typically warms the cabin. An electric-motor utilizes its lithium-ion battery to accomplish the same task. Yet this decreases range. The colder it gets, the more impact this has on the vehicle since it takes more energy to produce the warm air. Regenerative braking is also impacted. The vehicle recoups less power and charging is limited to protect the battery.
There isn’t an exact temperature when the battery performance begins to degrade, yet optimal temperatures are between 60°F/15°C and 80°F/26°C. Performance may become impacted when the temperature drops below 40°F/4°C.
Yet, it’s possible to mitigate the issues mentioned previously with a bit of planning ahead.
- Turn on heated seats and steering wheels: If your EV offers those features, make sure to use them whenever temps dip too low. You’ll warm up faster, utilizing less of the internal power, and thus the battery.
- Use cabin preconditioning: This setting operates the climate control and heats the cabin before the vehicle moves. Just set a departure time and temperature range. With the vehicle plugged in, the energy is generated from the outlet instead of the battery.
- Keep vehicles plugged in: Less energy goes into maintaining vehicle temperature than raising it, so keeping the vehicle plugged in, inside the garage, can maintain a comfortable temperature and not impact the battery much.
- Consult the owner’s manual: Your best bet with managing the cold weather battery limitations is to consult the specific guidance from the automaker of your exact make and model. The owner’s manual will have specific tips to manage battery limitations for that vehicle.
- Don’t dip below a 20% charge: Charging in subzero temps require a bit of reserve battery to begin the process. So, keep a bit of a reserve and you shouldn’t have much trouble using charging stations.
Electric Vehicles In High Temps
In high temps, you’ll often need to run the air conditioning to cool the cabin, which contributes to limited battery range, like in cold temps. Yet, in hot weather, the thermal management system, at times activates, which diminishes the vehicle’s range in hopes to preserve the charge. Additionally, parking for prolonged periods in direct sunlight puts a heavy load on the cooling features of the vehicle when it powers up.
Here’s how to limit the impact of high temps on your EVs:
- Limit accessory usage: Loud music is a hallmark for summer. While this may not be a major factor for most fleets, some drivers may be partial to summer tunes. If you have a driver who has issues with range, consider coaching them to moderate their stereo volume levels.
- Park mindfully: When you’re unable to park in a closed garage or covered structure, park in the shade. The temperature difference of being exposed to direct sunlight is impactful.
- Only use the AC you need: While driving without air conditioning is impossible in high temps, tuning the AC to its lowest level isn’t always necessary. Instead of aiming for a cold internal cabin temperature, opt for a comfortable cool setting.
- Limit fast charging: Using DC charging in extremely hot weather puts undue stress on the vehicle. Only use this quick charging method when necessary.
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