4 tips to avoid EV battery problems in cold climates


As if it wasn't cold enough in recent weeks in many parts of the United States, some EV owners have had a chilly reaction to electric vehicles.

Charging issues, reduced range and long lines at charging stations left electric car drivers stranded in Chicago last week, waiting for tow trucks in subzero temperatures.

EVs can lose more than 25% of their range in cold climates compared to driving in similar conditions in warm or mild climates. Not only that, but some EV owners find it difficult to even charge their vehicles in areas where temperatures dip into the single digits Fahrenheit.

EV adoption is expected to accelerate in the coming years, but negative press coverage of EVs breaking down in extreme weather may scare away EV fencers. Before freezing EV purchase plans, experts say the most important thing EV owners can and should do is understand why and how extreme temperatures affect their vehicles differently than gasoline-powered vehicles. He argues that it's about knowing how to reduce it.

“If you're thinking about making the transition to EVs, educate yourself,” says Rick Wilmer, CEO of ChargePoint, which operates the world's largest network of EV charging stations in North America and Europe. “As long as you understand the basic mechanism, you'll be fine.”

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EV issues in extreme hot or cold weather

The main difference between an EV and a vehicle with an internal combustion engine is that an EV has a battery. And the battery can be completely destroyed by the cold.

“The colder it gets, the bigger the impact will be,” said Alex Knizek, manager of automotive testing and insights at Consumer Reports. Knicek said cold weather can disrupt or slow down the “chemical reactions that occur within lithium-ion batteries,” adding that colder temperatures create more resistance and make it harder for chemical reactions to occur.

Knicek added: “This isn't just happening inside the battery; many EVs have heating systems to bring the battery up to its recommended operating temperature, so the battery itself gets warmer.” This process can also be hindered by the cold. What's more, drivers are likely turning up the heating in their cars to keep them warm, which can further strain the battery and slow it down even further.

Research shows that in most cases, lithium-ion batteries tend to perform worst at temperatures below freezing, or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius. That may be some kind of “magic number” that EV owners should pay attention to.

As Knizek explains, the cold-weather performance issues many EV owners experience are ultimately due to delayed chemical reactions within the vehicle's battery. And most EV owners experience his two main problems related to performance in extreme weather. The overall range will be reduced and the battery will take much longer to charge.

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Reduce range

As mentioned earlier, cold weather can reduce the range of your EV. So if it's particularly cold (or hot, see below) outside, EV drivers should expect relatively lackluster performance. However, it's difficult to say how much of a performance drop EV owners should expect, as it depends on the specific make and model of the EV, as well as the conditions themselves.

Knicek points out that gas-powered cars also experience a slight reduction in performance due to lower temperatures, but “the effects are not as dramatic or noticeable.” He added that for EV owners, the specific vehicle, condition, and accessories used in the vehicle (such as a heater) “could combine to reduce performance and overall range.”

Charging time will be longer

Extended charging time is also a major problem that EV owners encounter in the cold. Many of the issues are related to the EV's own battery being cold and needing to warm up first to charge efficiently, but the charger itself being cold, which increases charging time. There is a possibility.

Most of the problems are “related to the EV and the battery itself,” Wilmer said. But “the other half of the equation is the charger itself. The charger has to work in cold weather,” he says.

Charger performance varies, but Wilmer says ChargePoint chargers are tested at very low temperatures down to -40 F (-40 C). During the recent Chicago winter storm, the company said it was “monitoring our network and did not see any real anomalies regarding charger performance. Sessions were taking perhaps 5% longer. But this is not unusual even in mild weather,” he said.

Electric car covered in snow with charging point open and charger plugged in

Electric vehicles generally have a shorter range in cold weather, as colder temperatures drain battery capacity faster.

Devgner/Getty Images

Tips for EV care during the cold season

While EV owners can't control the weather, there are some things you can do to stay ahead of the weather and keep your EV performing at the highest level possible.

Charge at home and park indoors (if possible)

It may go without saying, but charging your car at home and parking it indoors is the best way to survive the cold weather. That way, your EV will be protected from snow and ice, and your battery will be fully charged and ready for use as long as you have the facilities to charge in your garage and home. “If you can charge at home, charge at home,” Wilmer says.

“Prerequisites”

Knicek recommends EV owners “precondition” their vehicles before use. This essentially means heating up the vehicle before driving it on the road while connected to a charger. “You can remotely start your EV while connected to the charger,” he says. “When you warm up the car and warm the battery while it's connected, it uses energy from the charger instead of the battery.”

CNET's resident EV expert Antuan Goodwin also points out that many EVs use navigation systems to prepare their batteries for the fastest charging possible. When he includes a DC fast charging station as a GPS destination, the car knows that charging is coming and performs a quick battery warm-up precondition just before arrival to speed up charging. If you don't use GPS, the software won't know to do this and the charger will charge cold, which can lead to longer charging times. This kind of on-the-go preconditioning takes a little more range since it uses the battery to warm it up, but it only happens when you get close to the charger, so the trade-off is small and saves you waiting time. It's worth it.

Tesla also recommends drivers pre-condition their cars in a support article on its website.

relieve the heat

In EVs, using a heater in the car also uses battery power, so if you can set the heater to a lower setting, you might see a small benefit in increased range, Knicek said. “If you can get away with a 70 instead of a 75, you see the range advantage,” he says.

Please keep the battery level above 20%

Wilmer says EV drivers should also do their best to keep their battery life from dropping below 20%. His 80/20 rule for batteries states that batteries tend to be more efficient when operating between his 80% and 20%, and this also applies to his EV batteries. But from an efficiency and winter safety standpoint, Wilmer says it's best practice to find a charger before the battery drops below 20%.

You don't want to drive a gas-powered car in the winter and have the fuel gauge stay stuck near “E.”

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What will happen to EVs in hot weather?

EVs have issues in the cold, but it's definitely worth asking if they have performance issues when it's hot outside.

While EV owners in Fargo, North Dakota have problems in the winter, the same is not necessarily true for EV owners in Phoenix during the summer months, as temperature-related performance issues are a cold-weather issue. . “Most people will experience [problems] But in extreme heat, “the battery has to cool itself,” which could reduce battery efficiency somewhat, Knizek said.

This also requires battery power, especially if the driver is revving up the air conditioning to cool the cabin, which can reduce range and performance in extreme heat. Previously, it could affect EV range by up to 20%. However, technology is advancing, and various cooling techniques such as heat pumps are helping maintain range.



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