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As it gets colder, it is worth planning trips and charging stops for your electric car carefully. This is because ranges are shorter in the winter. This is partly down to the fact that the cold slows down the electrochemical process in the battery: internal resistance is greater, which reduces the voltage and capacity. There is also a greater load on the battery cells at cold temperatures.
Added to this is the fact that power consumption is greater in the winter because of the heating: the interior, the windscreen, the seats, the steering wheel and the battery itself are heated using electrical energy from the drive battery. At the same time, the colder battery cells cannot absorb energy as effectively, which means recharging is slower.
According to ADAC (the German equivalent of the Swiss TCS or the British AA), this can impact range by up to 30 percent. It can even be more, depending on how the car is used: if you make lots of short journeys a day, it can make a real difference as the cold car has to be heated up from scratch again each time.
Interestingly, the ADAC measurements show that, compared to a summery 20 degrees, you can reckon on a loss of range of up to 50 percent in urban traffic (at 30 to 50 kph) if the outside temperature is 0 degrees, while the impact at higher speeds (e.g. on motorways) is only around 10 percent. At normal temperatures, the pattern is reversed: the faster you drive, the quicker the range is reduced.
You don’t need to worry about sitting in a traffic jam in winter. There is a stubborn myth that the batteries drain so quickly if the car is stationary in cold weather that you risk freezing to death. But ADAC tests revealed that the heating in an electric car could easily run for several hours, even in icy conditions.
However, the cold does has an effect on the charging time of the battery – it increases it. And the battery needs to be at operating temperature for fast charging to work. So it makes sense to charge up in the evening at high power after using the vehicle, rather than in the morning before you leave.
On the other hand, there are benefits to using an electric car in winter too. As it has stationary heating, the vehicle can be pre-heated, which often means you no longer need to scrape the ice off it. Even without pre-heating, electric cars warm up more quickly because, unlike combustion engines, they are not reliant on waste heat from the engine, which can take a moment or two.
Below are a few tips on how you can save energy in winter and reduce loss of range:
Winter tips for electric cars
● If possible, switch the interior heating to a lower setting and use the more economical seat heating instead.
● Switch the heating to circulating mode, this means the interior gets warm faster and the system uses less energy.
● Try to avoid using energy-zappers like front/rear windscreen heating, wipers and high-beam lights as much as possible, and only keep doors and windows open as long as necessary.
● Park in a garage if you can to avoid extreme cooling of the batteries.
● Avoid short trips with long stationary times between them, as the interior and the battery cool down and then have to be reheated again.
● Use the app to heat up your car in the morning.
● If it has one, use your car’s eco mode to regulate and optimise energy consumption.