Winter Driving in an EV? 

March 6, 2023

Win­ter Dri­ving in an EV? 

What should I know switch­ing from my gas vehi­cle? 

My name is Ben West­by and I am a Vol­un­teer EV coach rep­re­sent­ing the West­ern Slope region. I live in the region known as the Flat­tops, at about 9,000 ft ele­va­tion north of Glen­wood and Rifle. As of this writ­ing, I’ve received about 190” of snow­fall at my house this sea­son, which has made dri­ving very…exciting to say the least. Hav­ing near­ly five years of EV dri­ving expe­ri­ence and get­ting behind the seat of near­ly every auto man­u­fac­tur­ers EV offer­ing, there are a few things I’ve learned to make win­ter dri­ving suc­cess­ful.  

As Col­oradans, we know the basics of win­ter dri­ving: slow­er speeds, longer brak­ing and fol­low­ing dis­tances, less aggres­sive accel­er­a­tion.  

These win­ter tips, of course, are just as nec­es­sary for EV dri­vers. How­ev­er, EV’s by their design have more torque and more aggres­sive accel­er­a­tion than most pro­duc­tion gas cars, which means there are a few ways EV own­ers need to pre­pare their car for win­ter driving. 

  1. Pre-con­di­tion­ing 

EV bat­ter­ies are tem­per­a­ture sen­si­tive; the packs have a ther­mal sys­tem to make sure the bat­ter­ies are at a min­i­mum tem­per­a­ture. This, and using pow­er to heat the cab­in, are the rea­sons why EV’s do take a hit on range dis­tance in the win­ter (on aver­age 15%-20% of EPA range). There is a way to mit­i­gate this: Pre-Con­di­tion­ing. This sim­ply means using the car’s onboard com­put­er to sched­ule the warm­ing up of the bat­tery and cab­in before you leave your home. This max­i­mizes the effi­cien­cy of the bat­tery, the heat in your cab­in, and your abil­i­ty to fast charge at peak speeds in cold­er weather. 

  1. Accel­er­a­tion Adjustment

Many peo­ple find the per­for­mance and accel­er­a­tion of an EV as a pri­ma­ry ben­e­fit to mak­ing the switch from a gas car. Instant pow­er and torque at the slight­est touch of the accel­er­a­tor ped­al. But that same per­for­mance can make icy and snowy dri­ving chal­leng­ing. Most EV’s have dri­ving modes with­in the onboard com­put­er to adjust dri­ving based on envi­ron­ment. Set­ting the car to “chill” mode or “snow” mode will elec­tron­i­cal­ly lim­it the rate of accel­er­a­tion, giv­ing the dri­ver a bet­ter advan­tage at icy conditions. 

  1. Regen­er­a­tive Braking

Near­ly every EV takes advan­tage of regen­er­a­tive brak­ing, the absorb­ing kinet­ic ener­gy of the car “coast­ing” and recharg­ing the bat­tery pack. Often this is called “One-Ped­al” dri­ving, because releas­ing the accel­er­a­tor ped­al instant­ly acti­vates regen brak­ing, thus mak­ing the mechan­i­cal brake ped­al redun­dant and sel­dom used. Regen brak­ing can be aggres­sive, which makes for slip­pery sit­u­a­tions on icy or snowy roads. Vehi­cles like the Ford F150 Light­ning can dis­able it entire­ly, allow­ing you to take com­plete con­trol of the brak­ing. Some vehi­cles, like old­er mod­el Tes­las, allow you to lim­it the regen brak­ing strength, giv­ing you ener­gy back in the pack but not as strongly. 

  1. The Basics

There are some things that are just plain true, no mat­ter what fuel source your car con­sumes. Tires are always the biggest fac­tor on a suc­cess­ful trip in the win­ter. Pair­ing an EV with win­ter tires will give you the best expe­ri­ence. My Mod­el 3 is rear wheel dri­ve, paired with a set of snow tires, I find it per­forms bet­ter than my gas all wheel dri­ve SUV. Anoth­er basic is keep­ing a win­ter kit in the car, with reflec­tors, snacks, hand warm­ers, and some sand or snow melt. And with EV’s, keep the mobile charg­ing equip­ment on hand. Even if you plug into a reg­u­lar 110v out­let at a pub­lic place, you can gain a few cru­cial miles in an hour of charg­ing if strand­ed on an I‑70 closure. 

Win­ter dri­ving in an EV does not have to be filled with wor­ry or con­cern. Range is affect­ed, but not near­ly to the lev­el of hype that is often found in a Face­book or Twit­ter rant. Thanks to Col­orado Ener­gy Office efforts, near­ly every small town in Col­orado has at least some lev­el of charg­ing infra­struc­ture, mean­ing it’s entire­ly unlike­ly that you’ll ever be strand­ed with­out some sort of charg­ing help. Mak­ing the switch from a gas car to an EV dur­ing the win­ter is a small learn­ing curve, but it is small. You’ll quick­ly learn how your EV oper­ates and find sat­is­fac­tion that it often per­forms bet­ter than any gas car in inclement weath­er.  

Stay safe and pos­i­tive­ly charged! 

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