Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

EV Performance in Cold Weather

Winter driving can reduce EV range in a way comparable to lower gas mileage in an ICE vehicle. Preheating your EV while it is still plugged in can help reduce winter range loss. (Adobe Stock photo_222789774/teksomolika)

Wayne Michaud

A northern New England – north country winter scenario

It’s 15ºF out and my car is sitting in the driveway with an accumulation of snow and ice. I need to drive to an appointment in 20 minutes. Now, my last car was an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, so in this weather, typically, I’d use my remote starter to let the engine and interior completely warm up and melt off much of the snow and ice. I profess that this not only wasted gas, it caused carbon emissions that contributed to climate change, and it polluted the air since the catalytic converter didn’t function to reduce tailpipe toxins until the car started moving. My car of today warms up in a similar manner. I start it remotely with the key fob and it quietly “preconditions” itself while being plugged in to an outdoor outlet. In twenty minutes, I sweep off the melting remnants of snow and ice, unplug it, and as long as the windshield is totally defrosted, off I go in my warm car. But this warmup process is virtually guilt-free: no gas, no oil, zero tailpipe emissions. That’s because this car is an all-electric vehicle (EV).

Let’s take a close look at the two main considerations related to how EVs perform in cold weather: traction and range.


With traction, we will not only look at how EVs perform on their own, but how they compare with ICE vehicles. The majority of EVs are front-wheel drive (FWD), but there is somewhat of a trend toward the “old school” rear-wheel drive (RWD) as EV RWD traction can be less susceptible in slippery conditions than ICE vehicles due to the heavy battery pack bearing more weight to the rear axle. FWD works better for ICE vehicles as that is where the engine sits. As to the instantaneous torque of any EV, controlling them in slippery conditions can be more of a challenge, though this can be mastered with the right touch.

The ultimate in traction for all vehicles is AWD (also in conjunction with winter tires). An increasing number of EVs offer this feature, usually known as “dual motors.” How does an ICE vehicle’s AWD function compare with an EV’s dual motor? In the former, the system delivers power primarily to one set of wheels, front or rear. When slippage is detected at one axle, power is diverted to the other axle. Dual motors on EVs are individual electric motors at each axle with no physical connection between them. These motors allow for precise control over the power sent to each wheel.

In winter driving, assuming EVs have winter tires and traction control, they can hold their own verses ICE vehicles, overall. A plus with EV winter traction is the combination of the low placement of the battery and its weight. A possible minus is some EVs have lower ground clearance, though a few of the pricier ones offer adaptive air suspension systems.


In general, EVs will lose 20 to 25% of range in winter. Even ICE vehicles can lose 20% of fuel economy in the cold. But in frigid temperatures, EVs can take a 40 to 50% range loss hit, especially when using the main heating system. This can be a deal- breaker for many people, even considering the real benefits of choosing an EV: no gas, half the maintenance costs, no tailpipe carbon emissions or pollution, purchasing incentives, great acceleration, etc. Now people in sustainability-minded Scandinavian countries, motivated in part by higher gas prices, plus EV purchasing and accessibility incentives, are not dissuaded by the range issues where EV sales are 25% or higher. But, for an EV with a range under 200 miles, this concern cannot be discounted in longer commutes.

Why do EVs lose range in cold temperatures? Lithium-ion batteries, which typically power EVs (as well as laptops and smartphones), are quite sensitive to cold. The electrolyte fluid inside battery cells becomes more inert. And this can have an impact on the effectiveness of other systems, such as regenerative braking (which recovers some battery range) and the slowing down of charging. Fortunately, there’s hope on the horizon to minimize range loss in cold. In development are solid state batteries which are non-liquid, making them less sensitive to cold. And research, even in lithium-ion batteries, shows that their anode design can be modified to maintain much of their rechargeable storage capacity in sub-zero temperatures.


  • Heating, the biggest culprit in range loss, can be minimized by being prepared for the cold with warm clothing. To cut range loss significantly, purchase an EV equipped with a cold weather package including heated seats and steering wheel. Aftermarket heated seats can be installed for $300 to $500 per seat.
  • Precondition (pre-heating/pre-cooling) your EV while it is still plugged in before driving, whether garaged or outside; some EVs are equipped with cabin preconditioning that can be set in advance.
  • Driving conservatively, i.e., smooth acceleration, avoiding speeding, and softer braking, are great smart driving tips for ICE vehicles; this applies for EVs to extend range, especially in cold weather.
  • Check tire pressure: under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance which reduces range.

Before you know it, you’ll adapt to EV cold weather limitations to reap their many benefits, just like a Scandinavian!

Wayne Michaud is Executive Director of Green Driving America Inc., a non-profit that advocates for and educates on transportation efficiency and cleaner transportation. The organization’s “The Clean Transportation Path” presentation has been endorsed by Drive Electric Vermont.

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