AAA Study Shows Extreme Cold Is An Achilles Heel For Electric Cars

Cold weather can sap range by as much as 40 percent

AAA Study Shows Extreme Cold Is Still An Achilles Heel For Electric Cars

Driving in cold weather can drop your range by as much as 40 percent.

A recent AAA study proves what electric car owners have felt for awhile: Cold temperatures sap your range. Under ideal circumstances, new electric cars have vastly improved over their older counterparts. The Tesla Model 3, for instance, can manage up to 310 miles on a charge with its Dual Motor models. The Chevrolet Bolt can run 238 miles, and the Hyundai Kona Electric has an official EPA range of 258 miles.

As most electric car owners can attest, though, we don’t live in an ideal world. There’s a general consensus that battery-electric cars lose range in the cold, but now we have some numerical data to see how much they’re affected by temperature swings. The study found HVAC also has a more significant impact on range in colder temperatures, decreasing range by up to 41 percent.

To put that energy consumption in perspective, AAA research found that 20 degree temperatures add almost $25 in charging costs for every 1,000 miles covered compared to a car’s comparable range in 75 degree temperatures.

With HVAC off, range figures aren’t affected quite so heavily by cold temperatures. [Source: AAA]

AAA conducted the study using a BMW i3, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S and Volkswagen e-Golf. With their HVAC systems switched off, the range of each car did drop significantly. Some were more profound than others: The BMW i3, for example, dropped 20 percent of its range in 20 degree temperatures. All the other cars lost about 10 percent of their range, with the Volkswagen e-Golf least impacted.

Switch the HVAC on, and the range drops even further, as you’d expect. The BMW i3s lost half its range, while the other cars didn’t fare much better. According to Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering as reported by CNBC, “We found that the impact of temperature on EVs is significantly more than we expected.” Across all cars tested, the range dipped by an average of 41 percent. On a Chevy Bolt, that would drop the range down to around 140 miles per charge.

Turning HVAC on further impacts overall range, the AAA study found.

Batteries don’t like hot weather, either

While we’re in the middle of winter, AAA also looked at hot temperatures’ effects on range. The change was a lot less profound, but there was still a drop from the standard 75 degree figures. With the A/C off, the EPA range fell an average of 4 percent when tested at 95 degrees. Turn it on, and the range fell an average of 17 percent.

2018 BMW i3s
[Photo: BMW]

AAA issued some precautions with its report for drivers before heading out into the extreme cold. Among them, drivers should “precondition” their cars while they’re still plugged in. That means warming up the cabin before setting off, rather than pulling energy from the battery pack to warm up the cabin. Fortunately, most electric cars have smartphone apps that let their owners do just that.

If possible, drivers are also advised to park their cars in garages to stabilize cabin temperature.