How to survive winter with an electric car

Tom Barnard

21.12.2020

It won’t have escaped your notice that winter is upon us. The days are short, while the nights long.  For electric car drivers, the onset of winter has more downsides than a runny nose and less daylight. It means you’ll be getting fewer miles out of a full charge on your electric car.
But there are ways to manage the effect the cold has on your car – and some tricks which will actually make you realise electric cars can be much cosier than a petrol or diesel! Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your electric car in winter:
 

EVs work in winter, just not as well

Precondition your battery
 

The most important part of your electric car is the bit you can’t see - the battery. Like all of us, battery packs do their best work when they’re not too hot, and not too cold.
  The best way to make sure your electric car is at this ideal operating temperature is to use something called preconditioning. This draws power from your wall charger to warm both the cabin and the battery pack before you drive away, so you are using mains power to do the  heating. Setting everything up will vary according to the make of car you have, but most electric cars have an app. Just set your departure time, hit send and the car will do the rest.
  There are two reasons why preconditioning your electric car is a good idea. The first is that electric car batteries are built from lithium-ion cells. When the weather is cold, the chemical reactions are slower and the pack loses its charge faster. If you’ve ever tried to use a smartphone on a really cold morning, you’ll know what we are talking about. Preconditioning warms the battery pack and makes it ready to work at its full efficiency the moment you hit the accelerator.
  The second reason why preconditioning is such a great idea is because it makes the cabin warm before you’ve even set off. Otherwise you’ll be using a lot of power from the battery just to get the cabin up to a temperature and energy used to heat the cabin is energy you don’t have to drive the wheels.
  The added bonus is that you’ll save all that time you used to spend scraping ice off your windows and waiting for the car to get warm. The car simply does it while you are eating breakfast, or hitting the snooze button one last time.

Tesla Model S app iPhone Warm your car using an app, so you can drink more coffee

Be heat smart

With petrol or diesel power, keeping warm inside is pretty easy. The engine generates heat which is easily piped into the living quarters. With electric cars, the batteries and motors are so efficient that they don’t generate a lot of heat. Certainly not enough to keep you warm on a cold morning. 
Using the car’s heater is a pretty inefficient use of your electricity. If you think about it, you don’t get many battery-operated heaters to use around the home as it’d take an awful lot of AAs to warm anything. So our advice is to try and heat yourself rather than the empty space around you. 
By this we mean you’re better off turning down the car’s main heater and cranking the heated seats and steering wheel up if you have them. Likewise, if you have a heated windscreen – use that rather than the blower to defrost.

Seek out the heated seat

Declutter

Some people (Ginny) have as much junk in the back of their car as in their house. Maybe it’s on its way to the tip, post office, charity shop or there’s a bag full of kit just in case you get the urge to go back to the gym. But getting rid of all this is another clever way to maximise the range of your electric car.
Why? Well, like with any car, weight is king when it comes to getting the most from your power source. And that’s especially true in winter for an EV when the battery is working flat out keeping you warm AND getting you from A to B.  Car makers spend a fortune trying to take weight out of electric car, using exotic materials and clever engineering. And then we undo it all with a carrier bag full of books we’ve been carrying around for months. Think about it - if you had to put all the junk in your car into a backpack and carry it around, you’d run out of energy pretty quickly. So does your car. So ditch the junk and watch that range figure go up!

Lighten the load and make your car more efficient

Become a driving mode ninja
 

Another great way to go further in winter is to master your use of the drive mode selector. Nearly all electric cars have some form of selector as standard. These allow you to alter the way in which your car uses the charge from its battery. In normal mode, you get maximum performance from the motor and can have as many gadgets and gizmos on the go as you like.
A lot of drivers will just leave the car in whatever mode it goes into when they hit the start button and never bother to change it. That’s fine of course, but if you want to maximise your range in winter, you’ll need to become something of a driving mode ninja.
Every car maker has a different name for the various modes on offer, but essentially they do the same thing. Usually, you’ll find that an eco or range setting will limit some of the functions of the heating system and whack the brake re-generation up to max. If it doesn’t do that automatically, make sure you get that button pressed for maximum energy recuperation - it’s worth it.
Most will also limit the pulling power of the motor to prevent you frittering away your charge with too many Grand Prix starts. This can be especially useful in winter, as the instant power you’ll get from an electric motor can cause some scrabbly wheels when pulling away in wet and icy conditions.
Some cars go even further with what’s known in the business as an Apollo 13 setting. This will switch off all but the essential kit on your car, so while you’ll still have important stuff like lights and windscreen wipers, the heating will be switched off and you’ll be limited to a fairly low top speed. You may get to your destination with mild frostbite, but at least you’ll have made it.
 

Apollo 13 mode can be a bit chilly

Plot your route
 

Winter driving in an electric car is all about efficiency. It might sound a bit nerdy, but to get the most out of your car when the thermometer drops, you’ll need to look at every part of your journey.
If it makes the difference between getting home or having to do what’s known as a splash and dash at a rapid charger, your geeky attention to detail will pay extra dividends over winter. 

Route planning might sound like something only a boy scout would find fascinating, but believe us - it’s something a lot of electric car owners swear by.

Let’s say we’re going from Weymouth to Oxford and we ask Google maps to plot us a route. The fastest route is 161 miles and takes two hours and 40 minutes. Now the trick here is to look at the alternatives it offers you because the mapping software assumes that you’ll want to go on a motorway and that you’ll doing 70mph all the way. A second route will take around the same amount of time but is 44 miles shorter. Plus most of it is on 60mph roads - and they will take far less out of your battery pack than the motorway will.
So choose that route, see a bit of the British countryside and hopefully arrive without the need for a recharging stop. Oh, and don’t forget if you drive a plug-in hybrid to use your sat-nav, even on regular or often-used journeys - most have a neat little bit of software that works out the most efficient way of using the available battery power. But only if you can tell it where it’s going!
 

BMW X5 xDrive45e Some EVs will work out the most efficient route. Way to go!

Have the foggiest

Do you remember the old days when you had to wipe the inside of your car windows with a cloth just to be able to see out? Now almost every car has air con, which does the job much better. But using it will steal power from the battery, so try and limit the amount you’ll need it by putting wet coats, muddy football kits and moist umbrellas in the boot. 

Put your moistness in the boot, or get wiping

Wrap it up
 

Now this one won’t save you any power, but it will make life a little bit easier for you. When you plug in, park as close as you can to the charger and use a velcro wrap to keep the cable neat and off the floor - if it is safe and you can do it without causing a trip hazard.
 It will mean that your cable won’t be dangling in the puddles and getting covered in grime. You don’t want to be dribbling gutter juice on your clothes!
 

Those are our top tips for surviving an Electrifying winter. Do you have more to share? Please let us know!
 

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