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  • Nov 24, 2022

  • 8 min read

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How does running an electric car in winter work?

Electric cars are becoming a go-to choice as people become conscious of their carbon footprints and take steps to reduce their personal emissions in their everyday actions. But there are still some misconceptions about how electric cars work and whether they run well in all weather.

We’re here to dispel the myths and explain how running electric cars in cold weather works.

How does winter affect electric cars?

We often get asked “are electric cars good in snow and cold weather?” One thing to keep in mind is that cold weather does have an impact on  battery life. Batteries tend to operate less efficiently in the cold, so range can be reduced by anywhere between 5-20%. Fuel powered cars also have reduced fuel efficiency in cold weather of 15-25%, but because we’re not usually paying attention to how many miles are in a car's tank we don’t notice it quite so much. The myth that cold weather impacts electric cars more than fuel powered cars exists because we have a keener eye for an EV range (because we can see it in numbers on the screen) compared to a fuel powered car (we can’t see the petrol in the tank).

The reason that EV batteries lose range in the winter is because the battery has to work harder when it’s chilly outside. We also tend to blast the heating inside the car when it’s cold out, so the battery has more functions drawing on its energy. The science behind this is that lithium-ion batteries generate electricity when the lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode in the battery. The cold slows this movement down which then reduces electricity production and overall battery performance.

As all EV drivers will tell you, a couple of tweaks to your usual driving behaviour will get you the same result as driving a fuel powered car. Keep an eye on your battery level and recharge more frequently in the winter months if you need to.

How to prepare for driving an EV in winter

There are a few tips you can follow to help extend your battery life in the winter. Driving electric in the winter can be a seamless experience with these simple adjustments:

Drive efficiently

One of the biggest benefits of an EV is that they're very efficient, but as we mentioned this efficiency can drop in cold weather. To get the most out of your battery, avoid quick accelerations and braking wherever you can. Instead, try to maintain a steady speed and give yourself plenty of time to slow down gently. This will help you make the most of each charge.

Plan your route

Another way to maximise efficiency is to plan your route in advance. This will help you avoid getting stuck in traffic or having to make sudden detours, both of which can use up battery power quickly. As EVs conserve energy better at speeds under 60 mph, try to plan your route accordingly.

Use eco-mode

Most EVs have an eco-mode which can help to extend the range of the battery by making some adjustments to the car's performance. For example, it might reduce the power of the heater or dim the headlights. In winter, it's worth using eco-mode whenever possible to help preserve battery life.

Cover your electric car

If you're going to be parked for a while, it's a good idea to cover your car to protect it from the cold and prevent any build-up of snow or ice on the windows. A simple tarp or frost cover will do the trick, but if you have a garage to keep your car and battery warm, it makes sense to keep your car inside it.

Preheat the cabin and use battery efficient heating

Pretty much all EV's have a preheat function. Not only does this make for a more comfortable journey, but preheating the cabin before you set off uses less battery power than doing it on the move. Most EVs have a pre-heating (also called preconditioning). This allows you to heat up the car while it's still plugged in, meaning you can set off with a toasty cabin without compromising on range. By using the preheat function you’re not just warming the cabin either, you’re pre-heating the batteries so they’re at their most efficient temperature as soon as you set off.

Whilst driving you can use your heated seats and steering wheel (if you have them) as these are much more efficient ways of keeping warm than using the main heating, ventilation & air conditioning (HVAC) system in your car. This will preserve your battery life and keep the energy focused on range.

Use regenerative braking

Regenerative braking is a feature of most EVs that captures the kinetic energy from braking and uses it to recharge the battery. This can be especially useful in winter as it means you can top up the battery while you're on the move and improve the range of the car. To make the most of regenerative braking, try to slow down smoothly rather than braking suddenly. This means you'll use the brakes less which reduces the risk of skidding. It’s a good idea to set your steering sensitivity to ‘heavy’ if you have the functionality to do so as this’ll keep you nice and safe when the roads might be slippery.

Keep your EV well maintained

This is important all year round, but it's especially important in winter. As the temperature falls, your tyre pressure will too. Make sure you keep an eye on the tyre pressure and tread depth. You want to be running at the optimum pressures to allow water and snow to be cleared by your tread pattern effectively. You can check the EV database to find the most efficient tyre pressure for your car.

It's also always a good idea to get your car serviced regularly to ensure that everything is in good working order. Our salary sacrifice customers get servicing included as standard when they take an EV through their employer.

If needed, switch to winter tyres which offer improved grip in cold weather. If you fancy a winter road trip in Europe (maybe you fancy a spot of skiing, or to visit the best Christmas markets on offer) there’ll be some countries where you’re legally required to have winter tyres fitted.

Keep the battery charged

To keep your battery in top condition, it's always recommended to avoid completely running it down. This is also important in the winter, especially if you know you won't be using your car for a while. Where possible, try to keep the battery above 20% charge. You can charge your car overnight when energy rates are lower and top up for as little as 3p per mile with an EV specific tariff from Octopus. This will help you make the most of your battery and keep running costs down.

Car charging times in cold weather

It's important to keep in mind that electric car charging times are different in the winter. In fact, it might take a couple of hours longer to charge your car overnight. Also, rapid EV charging in cold weather could take up to 45 minutes instead of the typical 30.

The slower lithium ion movements are again the root of this problem — and there's not much that can be done to change that. All we can do is give ourselves more time to relax and grab a coffee at the charging station to account for the longer charge times. Always make sure you have enough charge left to get to a charging station (don't wait until the last minute) and leave a bit earlier than usual to allow for extra time.

Conclusion

Electric cars are a great option for eco-conscious drivers, and there are a few things to keep in mind if you're driving one in winter. By following the tips above, you can help make sure that your car is running smoothly and efficiently, even in cold weather. With a bit of planning, your winter driving will be a breeze.

Are you ready to make the switch to electric? Leasing an EV is a great way to get behind the wheel of the latest models without spending a lot of money upfront. If you're unsure about leasing and what it means, our helpful EV leasing guide covers everything you need to know.

To find out about the amazing models we have on offer, simply browse all of our EVs today. You could be behind the wheel of your very own EV and heading off to the Alps this winter!