Winter in Canada is not for the faint of heart, and existing in it requires planning, preparation, and awareness. The same goes for driving an electric vehicle in that same winter.
*Pictured is the Chevrolet Bolt EV
There are a few things to take into consideration when getting behind the wheel of a car that uses something other than fossil fuels to get around, and my recent experience of driving these vehicles in polar vortex conditions is that no one really tells you those things. That lack of education can apparently lead people to act in some pretty asinine ways, as I learned from reading this article.
I don’t know if this missive was meant to be a cautionary tale, an eyeroll worthy example of the ignorance that can come with wealth and privilege, or simply ICE bias in a world turning more and more towards alternative transportation methods (ICE stands for internal combustion engine). Either way it’s important to learn what affects EVs in winter and why, so that drivers can operate their vehicles safely in the winter, instead of rolling our eyes at them for embracing a new and necessary technology in a world heavily affected by fossil fuel overuse.
Batteries don’t perform well in the cold
Have you ever taken your cell phone outside with you on a cold day with 20% battery to walk your dog, and gone inside shortly after only to find your phone had died? The same sort of thing happens to any battery, including one in an electric car. I asked my electrical engineer father and Google why that is, and together they told me this: when a battery’s negative and positive ends are connected, a chemical reaction occurs, which generates electrons to produce the current they require to fulfill their purpose of powering whatever it’s inside of. That chemical reaction occurs at a slower rate when it’s cold, resulting in less of a current being produced, and only warming the battery further will result in its normal functionality.
You can’t trust your battery gauge like you used to
Electric cars generally tell you the expected range in terms of kilometers on a battery gauge, in place of where your fuel gage on an ICE vehicle would be. When considering that range, you have to take into account everything else your car is doing, that may impact the battery usage. Things like the radio, phone connectivity, and heating/cooling the vehicle all require battery power in addition to putting the vehicle in motion. A warm battery works better than a cold one, as we learned above, so yet another thing battery power will be used for is warming the battery itself. So the battery will have to work much harder in order to first warm itself up, then to operate the vehicle itself. As a result, the battery will deplete that much faster than it would under warmer conditions. So when you get into your EV and see that it has 400km of range left, you’ve got some mental math to do to determine how much range you actually have, and how to plan accordingly.
Your regenerative braking may give up on life
I was driving in a Tesla this week, yet another cold one in Toronto, when I noticed an alert on the dash. I had no idea what it meant, until I noticed that the car’s regenerative breaking wasn’t kicking in when I took my foot off the gas, like it normally would. Once I got home, I frantically asked Google what was up, and found myself in many a Tesla forum with people freaking out over the exact same thing. As it turns out, the large quantities of energy created by regenerative braking can actually damage the battery in the cold, which is why that function isn’t available until the car warms up enough.
Condition, condition, condition
I’m not talking about split end prevention. In order to mitigate the battery loss mentioned above, it’s always a good idea to slowly warm up, or condition, your vehicle before hitting the road, with the modern-day version of a remote starter. Many EVs and hybrids come with app functionality that allows the driver to warm up the car, and therefore the battery, before you even get near it. This way, your ride is toasty warm when you get into it, and you’re not forcing it to rush to warm itself while you’re driving, therefore saving battery life.
You’ll need to charge more often
Because your battery will be draining faster, you’ll need to plan more charging time into your life so you don’t end up stranded on the side of the road in a snowstorm. Every other EV driver will be in the same boat, so expect public chargers to be in higher demand in winter months, so plan accordingly for that as well.
Charging may take longer depending on how cold it is
I learned this one the hard why while at a Tesla Supercharging station with a low battery and not a lot of time on my hands. Normally it would have taken less than an hour to charge to full capacity, but because of the freezing temperatures, and the fact that the supercharger uses DC and not AC charging (which is what makes it so fast), I had to wait for the car, and the battery, to warm up before the charging would actually kick in. Conditioning the car helps to speed up charging, so keep that in mind when plugging in this winter.
NEVER drive with a low battery
When driving around in an EV in a Canadian winter, never do so with a low battery. Charge wherever you can, whenever you can, be it at home, work, or at one of the many charging stations across Canada. Driving in cold weather with a low battery is not only risky for you as a driver, but for other drivers out there whose drives you would disrupt when your car stalls on the side of the road.
So be kind, be considerate, and be safe while you’re doing your part to safeguard the environment in your EV.
Got any EV winter driving tips of your own? Share them with us on Twitter @weraddicted today!