Electric cars, how autonomy changes in the cold

Electric cars, how autonomy changes in the cold

Electric cars

One of the first questions that arises when buying an electric car undoubtedly concerns the autonomy of the chosen model; this is a more than legitimate question considering that we are referring to a relatively new technology and that not all users are aware of the strengths (and weaknesses) of battery-powered cars. We remind you that the range indicated by the car manufacturers in the WLTP cycle represents a value which, more often than not, is very conservative; some manufacturers manage to get very close to the indicated values, while with others there is even a considerable discrepancy.

The first cold weather is upon us, but how do electric cars behave in conjunction with colder temperatures? Before venturing into some technicalities and the related secrets that we can apply to safeguard the health of our battery, it is good to take a step back and explain, in more concrete terms, how batteries work and their limits. The electrodes, i.e. the positive and negative pole, between which the flow of electrons takes place, are sensitive to extreme temperatures: in the event of a too sudden rise or fall in temperature, recharging may be less effective and the reliability of the battery, during usage, may also appear reduced. In other words, somewhat on a par with endothermic cars which tend to consume more in cold engine conditions, electric cars could have a similar behavior.

In the future, the situation should improve with the arrival of lithium-sulphur batteries, capable of guaranteeing increasingly significant distances thanks to the ability to accumulate a greater amount of energy compared to current devices.

What remedies can we apply for the first colds?

Preheat the battery: the battery works best if kept at a temperature between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius. As it gets colder, the yield drops (like smartphones and cameras) due to a reduction in conductivity and chemical reactions. Some tests by the American Automobile Association have shown that at -6 °C compared to 23 °C, an electric car loses about 12% of range.

Of course, not all vehicles react the same way, some systems allow the temperature of the battery pack to be regulated in advance to prevent yields lower than expected. Some further remedies, to avoid a premature loss of autonomy, are to park the car in a closed place protected from bad weather and drive as soon as the vehicle is disconnected from the charge. By applying this last little strategy, the recharging activity that has just finished will "automatically" preheat the battery, inevitably bringing it to a more suitable operating level.

Heating the passenger compartment : like the air conditioner in the summer, heating can have a drastic impact on battery autonomy. Even in this case, however, it is necessary to make a distinction between heating and heat pump. While the former can require a consumption of around 4 kW, the heat pump is decidedly less energy consuming and consumes between 500 and 750 Watts, depending on the car model. However, it should be noted that heat pumps are less efficient at very low temperatures. The best solution is always and only one: to preheat the passenger compartment when the car is still plugged in, in this way the battery will not be consumed. In the event of a solo journey, we suggest "tamping down" the passenger compartment temperature by first using the steering wheel and seat heating, two systems that require drastically lower consumption.

Boot and ski rack: you will have sure to find yourself with a full trunk or with the ski bars mounted; the advice is always one, travel as light as possible. It may seem "extreme", but the roof rack can have a dramatic effect, especially on the motorway, on the autonomy of the car, if it is not necessary we advise you not to leave it fitted.

Solar panels: even if available at the moment on very few models, like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 that we tested a few months ago, we recommend keeping them clean and accessible at all times. In this way it will be possible to recover a minimal part of kWh, even in winter.

Driving style: with snow it is always advisable to maintain a fluid driving style. This is even more valid for those who use electric cars. In this regard, it is good to remember to use the tires (or equipment) suitable for the season and the type of vehicle. If on the one hand the stability will be higher, on the other, however, the greater grip will lead to an increase in noise and probably also in consumption. For the uninitiated, the market offers a series of tire models specifically designed for electric cars with unique characteristics and sometimes even very different from those that can be found on "classic" tyres. Without going too far, more information is available at this address.

In general, it may seem trivial, but on snow it is always advisable:

to avoid a nervous driving style: even if this advice should be applied 365 days a year, on snow and ice we recommend not keeping constantly the foot on the accelerator. Light footed is a must; choose less energy-intensive routes: are the kWh available or the minutes traveled more important? If you are not in a particular hurry, always look for itineraries that require a lower energy intake; regenerative braking is a valid aid: in very cold conditions, the battery may not allow the use of regenerative braking. Also for this reason, it is advisable to set off immediately after recharging, in order to take advantage of the preheating. Depending on the operating temperature, it may take up to 30 or 40 km to use regenerative braking.