Cold Conditions Compromise Electric Car Range

charging electric cars

While car rental companies around the world trip over themselves to jump onto the electric vehicle bandwagon, a recent study by the American Motor Association might prompt industry players in cooler climates to take notice of one issue.

As many owners of green vehicles discovered during the Polar Vortex earlier in 2018, which saw temperatures plummet to as low as minus-37 degrees Fahrenheit in areas like the Midwest, several models of electric cars failed to reach their manufacturer-suggested battery range.

The AMA study said that such conditions could compromise those distances by as much as 40 percent. But it’s not the weather that prevents the batteries from underperforming. It’s the interior heaters that drivers and passengers turn on to keep warm inside that robs the electric fuel cells of energy that’s normally relegated to powering the engine.

Similar tests in really hot weather found that air conditioners had the same draining effect on batteries, although nowhere nearly as severe, with distances without recharging going down by an average of 17 percent. Mid-range temperatures saw no effect on range.

Testing took place on five vehicles, including the Tesla Model S 75D, which was a huge source of owner complaints, not only over shorter ranges, but frozen door handles during the major freeze that paralyzed much of the U.S. recently. Other models used in the AMA study included a BMW i3s, Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf from the 2018 model year, and a Volkswagen e-Golf. All the cars, which boast a range of 100 miles between charges, were tested on a dynamometer (a type of treadmill) in a temperature-controlled interior.

On average, at 20 degrees F, range fell by 41 percent when heaters were used and only by 12 percent when they were turned off. At 95 degrees F, range dropped by 17 percent when occupants activated the air conditioners and nudged down only 4 percent when the cooling feature wasn’t used.

The AMA suggested that to increase battery range, owners should heat their vehicles up while they’re still being charged.

The findings are similar to statement made from eco-friendly lobbyists the Union of Concerned Scientists, who stated that both petroleum-powered and electric vehicles become less efficient in colder weather. They claim both types of automobiles will drive for considerably shorter distances before needing to refuel in colder weather than in more comfortable conditions.

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