Owning an EV in winter – what to expect in terms of range

If you’re struggling to get decent one-shot driving range out of your EV in the cold, we’ve got some advice to help you out.

Winter is coming and, as we head into the colder months, if you’re an electric vehicle (EV) owner then you might notice you’re getting less range out of your car from October through to March than you would do at any other time of the year. There are reasons for that, which we outline below, but there are also things you can do that will help you get more from your EV through the coldest season of them all.

You have to accept reduced driving range in winter

This is just a fact: batteries, whether they’re powering electric cars or any other device, such as cameras, smartphones, laptops and so on, do not like extremes of temperature – especially the cold. Wildlife photographers, for instance, will tell you that their job is much harder in the Arctic because the life of their camera batteries is massively reduced in such freezing temperatures.

When it comes to EVs, the manufacturers will have done as much testing as they possibly can to see how the car’s battery pack will respond to the cold (and extreme heat too, obviously), while various features will be engineered into the EV to try and preserve the battery’s effectiveness. But even with all that taken into consideration, an EV will simply not go as far on a single charge in winter as it would do in the more temperate climes of summer.

The rough rule of thumb is that an EV will lose around 15-20 per cent of its range in the coldest weather – so if, for example, your car has a quoted maximum driving range of 300km, you can expect that to be reduced to 240-255km during a very harsh winter. But if you are pre-armed with that knowledge, then you can at least plan your journeys, and your vehicle recharging times, accordingly.

Pre-heat the car while it charges at home

One of the biggest drains on an electric vehicle’s battery, besides the propulsion motor, is the climate-control system in the cabin. If you switch on your air conditioning when driving an EV, you will notice an immediate drop in the displayed ‘remaining driving range’ figure on the car’s in-cabin screens. This is even more apparent in winter, where you will be running the climate at a high temperature and fast fan speed to warm up the cabin of the car – something that will significantly reduce the vehicle’s one-shot driving range.

However, many EVs have a pre-heat function, which allows you to remotely warm up the passenger compartment of the car – using a smartphone app or similar – before you get in it to drive. If you do this while the EV is still plugged into your home charging unit, about ten minutes before setting off on your journey, you will get into a car which is toasty and warm inside, while also having 100 per cent of your battery available for driving.

Use seat and steering wheel heaters, rather than the climate control

Although you might be tempted to think that something with electrical heating elements in it – such as heated seats or a heated steering wheel – will use more energy than the climate control, this is not the case; in fact, it is quite the opposite. So if you have an EV fitted with bum-warmers and the glory of a heated steering wheel for your hands, use those to keep you warm while driving.


It’s also inefficient to heat the entire interior compartment of the car in winter if you are the only person in the vehicle – so try and limit the car’s climate comfort features to only working for occupied seats in the EV. If you can bear to turn the climate control completely off and only use the seat/wheel heater elements sparingly, all the better, but that probably means you need to wrap up warm and wear a coat while driving.

Slow down, use Eco mode

Electric vehicles use much more energy when they’re going faster than they do at lower speeds. While it isn’t always possible to stick to town-driving pace, you can still eke out what range is available to you by cutting your speed a little bit – especially on motorways. So while the limit may be 120km/h, you will get more from your electric car if you stick to 110km/h or, even better, 100-105km/h, all without the fear of holding up other traffic.

If you’re in a 100km/h zone, stick to 80-90km/h. Connected to that, many EVs have an Eco mode, which reduces the response to accelerator input, sometimes even limiting the power output of the drive motor and which can also make the climate control run more efficiently. Use this, and as much regenerative braking effect as you can – this is where the car slows down as soon as you lift off the throttle, without you having to physically press the brake pedal – and you’ll get more from each charge of your EV.

Keep the battery topped up

Accepted wisdom with rechargeable batteries says that to give them the longest operational life, it’s best to nearly exhaust them before putting them through a recharge cycle – for instance, you’re not supposed to keep your laptop permanently plugged into the mains while you’re using it, instead only connecting it up when the battery gets low. However, a laptop doesn’t have to get you to work or the train station, so the best advice for an EV owner in winter is to keep the battery topped up as much as you can. The manufacturers recommend between 20 and 80 per cent, although if you have a home-charging point then the car can go to 100 per cent on AC electricity quite safely.

This will then mean that when the EV is using some of the battery’s power to condition the unit for the cold weather, you will still have plenty in reserve for driving. Some electric cars have a pre-conditioning feature that will warm up the battery before you set off, in the same way you can pre-heat the cabin; if your EV has this feature, make sure it is activated and functional in winter.

Check tyre pressures, empty out the boot

This advice applies to petrol and diesel cars as much as it does to EVs, when it comes to getting the best possible efficiency. But if you want your electric car to go as far as possible on every single winter charge, then make sure its tyres are in a good condition, and also that they are correctly inflated – if they’re underinflated, you’ll get unwanted ‘drag’ while moving, which will mean the electric motor has to work that bit harder to keep the car in motion and that, in turn, reduces driving range.

Same thing goes for unnecessary weight in the car – no, we’re not talking about Derek from accounts, who you’re car-pooling with on the way into work. What we mean is that if you’ve got lots of heavy junk in the boot that you don’t need, or extraneous stuff in the passenger compartment (again, not Derek), then the additional weight penalty of these items will reduce the EV’s driving range. Basically, keep your car’s interior clean and tidy, and its tyres in good condition, and it will give you the best possible one-shot range that it can all throughout winter.