How to Maximize Electric Car Performance in Cold Weather

Optimize your EV this winter.

An EV Charging Station in Mosjøen, Norway
An EV Charging Station in Mosjøen, Norway.

Beatriz Montes Duran / Getty Images

Anyone who drives with an ice scraper, shovel, and sand in their trunk knows that winter driving requires extra preparation and forethought. Electric vehicle (EV) owners are no exception.

EVs do perform reliably in cold weather. In icy Norway, over two-thirds of new vehicles sold are electric. 

Here are some answers to common questions about EV performance in cold weather, and tips on how to optimize performance.

How Do EVs Start in the Cold?

Electric vehicles are more reliable than gas-powered ones in terms of starting in the cold.

Most electric vehicles use a 12-volt lead-acid battery to start the car. But starting an EV is much simpler and uses much less power than starting a gas-powered car.

The battery in a gas-powered car has to turn over an engine, getting pistons pumping in oil that has turned viscous in the cold. The same battery in an EV just needs to start a few electronics.

Electric vehicles charging in the snow in Zwolle, the Netherlands
Electric vehicles charging in the snow in Zwolle, the Netherlands.

Sjo / Getty Images

Does EV Efficiency Decline in the Cold?

Just like an internal combustion vehicle, EV fuel efficiency declines in the winter.

For an electric vehicle, laboratory-based tests conducted in February 2019 by the American Automobile Association (AAA) determined that driving range decreased by 12% at 20 degrees F, compared to temps at 75 degrees F. When the cabin heater was used, the loss of range increased to 41%.

However, a more comprehensive study of 20 vehicles, done in real-world winter driving conditions in 2020 by the Norwegian Automobile Federation (NAF), found that EVs lost an 18.5% range on average, with some of the more recent models losing only 9%. These figures included climate controls maintaining a comfortable cabin temperature.

Cabin Heating and Battery Loss

For EVs, the main reason for decreased battery range in winter is cabin heating. EVs use electricity from the battery, resulting in greater fuel consumption compared to gas-powered vehicles.

Yet it's important to compare this to gas-powered vehicles: Even if an EV loses 41% of its available electricity by heating in cold weather, a gas-powered vehicle loses energy year-round, just by running the engine.

Depending on the model, 58% to 62% of the energy available in gasoline is wasted as heat in the combustion process. Above everything else, this is what makes EVs more fuel-efficient than gas-powered cars, even in winter.

Optimized Winter EV Heating

Many EV models include fuel-efficient heat pumps for cabin climate control, and some also offer a “cold weather package” that pre-warms the battery and provides higher-powered heating when the vehicle is plugged in, among other options.

Treehugger Tip

Preheat your car while it’s still plugged in to reduce the battery draw from climate control. You can do this in your garage without worrying about fumes.

Charging EVs in the Cold

EV Charging in Saint-Hugues, Canada
EV Charging in Saint-Hugues, Canada.

SOPHIE-CARON / Getty Images

EV charging speeds decrease in cold weather. Drivers might not notice any difference if they're charging their car in a protected garage with an insulated EV charger. But at higher charging speeds and in colder temperatures, battery conductivity declines, slowing down charging rates.

Regenerative braking is also less efficient in colder weather and will only return electricity once the battery reaches a certain temperature.

Cold-Weather Tips for EV Owners

  • Preheat your electric vehicle. Most EV apps allow you to control the cabin climate remotely so that you can set the heater to turn on 10 to 15 minutes before you unplug the vehicle and drive away. You may then be able to keep yourself comfortable by relying solely on the seat heaters and steering wheel heater, which use far less electricity.
  • Time your charge. Alternatively, you can time your charging session so that it ends just before you depart. The pre-warmed battery is more efficient.
  • Use one-pedal driving. Approach a stoplight by removing your foot from the accelerator and allow regenerative braking to slow the vehicle down. This will only regenerate a little electricity.
  • Plan your routes. If you're charging on the road, have a backup plan. You can use a phone app like PlugShare to see what public charging stations are available, assuming they have been plowed.
  • Refill your tires. Tires in cold weather lose about 2% of their air pressure for every 10 degrees F drop in temperature. This increases their rolling resistance and decreases efficiency.
  • Slow down, especially on the highway. EVs are less efficient at converting chemical to electrical energy at higher speeds than at lower speeds. On highways, you're not only using more electricity—you're using it less efficiently.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How cold is too cold for electric cars?

    Although electric vehicle batteries take a major hit from cold weather, there's no evidence that suggests they stop working at an extreme low temperature. Even still, running an EV while the battery is cold is not recommended.

  • Does cold weather affect EV charging?

    Cold weather decreases electric vehicle charging speeds—not because of the charger itself but because of the low temperature of the battery. It's helpful to warm up the battery first, either by turning the car on or keeping it in the garage.

  • Does cold weather affect electric car range?

    Yes, studies have shown that driving range decreases by 9% to 19% when temperatures are below freezing, and if you add in cabin heating, driving range could decrease by another roughly 30%.

View Article Sources
  1. "AAA Electric Vehicle Range Testing." American Automobile Association, 2019.

  2. "20 Popular EVs Tested in Norwegian Winter Conditions." Norwegian Automobile Federation, 2020.

  3. "Where the Energy Goes: Gasoline Vehicles." U.S. Department of Energy.