What happens to an electric car when you drive in cold weather?

Do chillier temperatures affect an EV? We explain.

Porsche Taycan
Porsche Taycan

All cars are affected by colder weather. During a fall in temperature, petrol and diesel cars require more battery power to get started, while fluids within the car’s systems can often become thicker making it harder to get the engine going.

But electric cars can really be hampered by chillier temperatures. Though the UK’s weather is reasonably mild, a fall to below zero degrees isn’t a rare occurrence during winter – so let’s take a look at what happens to your EV when it does.

Can I drive my EV in cold weather?

Cold weather
An electric car is still perfectly fine to use in cold weather

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Off the bat, should you drive an electric car in cold weather? Of course, you should. Electric cars go through the same rigorous testing procedures as petrol and diesel cars, so you needn’t be afraid of piloting your EV in colder temperatures.

Many electric cars are driven specifically through arctic conditions to ensure that they’re able to function properly even in the harshest of conditions.

So how can cold weather affect my electric car?

Electric car
Cold temperatures change how effectively an electric car’s battery can work

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The changes that you’ll notice surround the battery and the amount of range you get. Batteries use a chemical reaction to take on and release energy and it’s this process that is slowed down during cold weather. It’s why electric cars offer their best possible battery performance in warmer weather when this process can work in its most effective window.

What does this mean? Well, essentially it means that you won’t get as much range as you might in warmer temperatures. You could see up to a 20 per cent loss in range, though for many cars this reduction will be around 10 per cent of the claimed range.

Is there anything I can do to help?

Of course. There are a few things you can do to boost the range of your electric car during colder temperatures. For instance, you could try covering your car – either with a plastic cover or within a garage – which will help to bring its temperature up.

In addition, you could use your electric car’s preconditioning system to warm the car’s interior up ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on its battery to do this. When charging, most electric cars give you the option to pre-set a time and temperature for your car. For instance, you could set it to warm the cabin up to 20 degrees at 8am before you leave, ensuring it’s toasty warm but through using the cabled electricity instead of the battery. Though some cars will allow you to pre-condition without plugging in, this will draw more energy from the battery and leave you with less charge from the off.

Are manufacturers doing anything to help EVs in cold weather?

Electric VW ID3 car charging outside of Tesco
(Volkswagen)

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Absolutely. A lot of EV manufacturers are now fitting their cars with heat pumps as a way of getting the very best from them during colder weather. They’re used to warm the car’s cabin more efficiently. They work by using thermal energy to turn a liquid refrigerant into a gas which then leads to a rise in temperature. Because this is using otherwise wasted energy to heat up passing air instead of drawing power directly from the battery it helps to extend the car’s range. Essentially, it’s the reverse of how your fridge works at home.

Many electric cars are using this method at the moment, including Polestar’s 2 and the Volkswagen ID.3.

What about charging? Is that affected by cold weather too?

There’s a chance that cold weather could affect public charging speeds. These charge points use a similar transition of power to the batteries inside your electric car, so there’s a good chance that you’ll notice a slight change in how quickly you can charge.

Plus, the rate of charge you get during colder temperatures will also depend on how cold your car’s battery is. This affects how quickly it can accept a charge.

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