Driving conditions change in cold weather regardless of the type of car that you drive. If it's your first winter as an electric car owner you may be wondering if there is anything drastically different that comes with your new type of car and if your new electric vehicle will perform as well as a similar petrol or diesel .
Those worried need only look at Norway, where the average temperature in winter doesn't climb above 0 degrees Celsius, which Reuters reported that in 2021 65% of all new car sales in the country were for fully electric vehicles. They currently lead the way in Europe for electric car sales and wouldn't be doing so if they were wildly impractical for the climate.
You might be surprised to know that electric vehicles have better traction than their petrol and diesel counterparts. This is due to the heavy battery being located underneath the car which then gives it a lower centre of gravity.
The absence of gears in electric cars is great for winter driving as it gives immediate torque but also means that it's easier to apply power and pull away slowly on snowy or icy roads.
However, as electric and hybrid cars are generally heavier, it can mean that any sliding on ice may be more difficult to get under control. It's important to continue to drive slowly and carefully where ever there is ice on the road.
Many of the built in features in your electric car will aid you when it comes to snowy driving conditions. Stability control and anti-lock braking helps to monitor your speed, reduces wheel-spin and activates your brakes for you. All of this helps to support traction and overall handling.
We're used to petrol and diesel cars suffering from frozen fluid, dead batteries, and sometimes long defrosting times when you're trying to leave the house, which is frustrating but accepted as normal parts of owning a car. EV owners are naturally going to wonder if the battery is going to be affected by cold temperatures and what that then means for them as a driver.
A lithium ion battery, which is the most common type used in electric cars, have lithium ions which move between two parts of the battery which then creates electricity. Cold weather slows down the chemical reactions that lithium ion batteries rely on to absorb and release electricity which then restricts the overall performance of the battery.
This isn't a permanent reduction in power to the battery, it runs as normal and at full potential outside of freezing temperatures, especially as necessary power sucking features like heating systems are used less.
The biggest difference for an electric car when driving in winter is the battery performance. In 2020 the Norwegian Automobile Federation tested 20 electric vehicles in real world winter conditions, which is more extreme cold weather than in the UK, and found that on average the EV range was only dropping by around 20%.
This means that you'll see a lower range as you drive compared to driving in warmer weather, and whilst annoying, is completely normal and just means that you'll likely have to charge more frequently and make sure to plan ahead if going on a longer trip. You can read more about what happens when an EV runs out of charge in our article.
In winter electric cars will lose range as a result of using additional features, such as an consistent heating of the car or heated seats, in comparison to driving in peak summer time as these all require additional power from the battery.
If you do find yourself unexpectedly low on range whilst out, you won't necessarily be immediately stranded if it runs out completely before you reach a charging station. Electric cars will give ample warnings for low range and then usually have a few miles after it hits the zero to allow you to be able to get to a safe place to stop or a charging point if it's nearby.
One big difference that you'll find when driving electric cars in winter is that charging the car can take longer. Environmental factors are one of the key things that affects the time it takes to charge, with cold weather slowing the process.
If you charge at home, or at work all day then it's unlikely that you'll notice much of a difference but you may find it will take longer at a public rapid charger in comparison to warmer weather due to the additional power demands that they face.
These points may then be in higher demand for longer periods of time, so make sure to plan it into your journey if you're traveling somewhere new or use these for most of your charging as it could cause delays.
The good news is that there are things that you can do to prepare for driving your electric car in the winter.
Keeping your car covered during cold weather will help it greatly as it keeps the entire car warmer than if it's sat unprotected. If you don't have a garage or access to somewhere enclosed to park even using a cover for your car will help to protect it from the worst of the cold and make it easier for the battery to retain some of its warmth.
Electric cars usually come fitted with tyres with a low rolling resistance and higher pressures so that they use less energy. Switching to winter tyres will allow you to have better control as they provide more traction and are designed with more silica to stay softer in cold weather. Some electric models will also have an all wheel drive option, where their ICE counterparts do not, which will also aid you if you're driving in slippery conditions.
"Pre-conditioning" your car, where you have it started up and warming before you need to use it, will also help as it prepares the car for actual use. If you're at home and have it charging it will take the power directly form the wall charger, helping to retain as much as possible once you disconnect. Many electric cars use an app and allows you to leave the car locked too, giving you peace of mind that the car is secure as you do it.
Using the regenerative braking system will also help when driving in winter as it will put a small amount of charge back into the battery as you use it. Whilst it won't completely replenish all of the charge that you are using, it will help keep you going a little bit longer as you use more of the heating and air conditioning functions.
Applying eco-mode will shift the focus of the power output to the battery and restrict the usage of additional gadgets in the car. If you don't use it all the time it's handy to be able to switch to it as you head towards a charging station and retain a little bit more charge.
Plan your routes, particularly if traveling somewhere new or further away than your usual destinations to make sure that you'll always be within reach of a charger. Public charging stations may be busier due to others experiencing reduced EV range too but also as they can be slower to charge in colder weather too.
Whilst you cannot control the weather, you can control how you use your car and respond. Being prepared and knowing how your electric car operates is a huge benefit in the winter. Reducing feature use, utilising your car's Eco-mode, and applying winter tyres will all have an impact on how your electric car drives in wintery weather.
As well as this, recognising that charging may take slightly longer reduces your (already small) risk of being stranded. Public chargers may be particularly busier as they try to accommodate many people requiring more charge than normal, especially if you are in an area with a limited number of public chargers available.
Fortunately evidence from countries like Norway shows that using an electric car in winter is not only doable but really no different from running petrol and diesel models, meaning that EV owners have nothing to fear when it's time for winter driving.