What to bear in mind when driving an electric car in the cold season

Long range, short charging times – even in winter

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Low temperatures are a particular challenge for electric cars: cold weather decreases the range and potentially compromises the charging capacity of the battery. However, with these 5 tips, you can counteract the “winter weakness” of battery-powered electric vehicles.

Electric cars require up to 30% more energy in winter than in the warmer seasons. As with combustion vehicles, this additional consumption is partly due to the increased driving resistance caused by winter tyres, wet or snowy roads and the denser air. By far the greatest part of the increased energy consumption, however, is due to heating the interior and the battery. Yet this is precisely where certain tricks can be employed to counteract losses in range.

Why the consumption of electric cars increases significantly in winter

First of all, however, the question should be addressed as to why the heating system in an electric car supposedly needs so much energy. The answer lies in the efficiency of the electric drive, which is actually its greatest strength. Whereas often only 20% of the energy stored in the fuel tank is converted into movement when a combustion engine is used (and therefore 80% converted into heat), in the case of an electric car it is 90%. This means that only 10% of the energy is unintentionally converted to heat. Because petrol and diesel engines therefore dissipate an extremely large amount of energy in the form of heat, they require cooling systems that are actually well suited to conducting waste heat into the passenger compartment in winter. In this respect electric cars are literally “cooler”. Heat for the passengers or the battery (which doesn’t like to be too cold either) must therefore be specifically generated. And that drains the battery.

1. If possible, preheat the electric car at the charging station.

Getting into a pleasantly warm car is not only comfortable, it can benefit the range. Firstly, battery cells are more efficient at operating temperature, which translates directly into a longer range. And secondly, a vehicle that is plugged into the wallbox does not use the energy from the battery for heating, but instead uses the electricity right from the charging station. So if you start driving after skipping a warm-up session when plugged in, your cold battery will not only have to propel your car, but also fight against low temperatures. The charge level and thus your remaining range can then drop quickly right from the start. In most cases, you can conveniently preheat your car remotely using an app provided by the vehicle manufacturer or a timer in the car, for example if you start driving at the same time every day.

2. Smart timing: Charge before you start driving in winter

Usually, electric car drivers select an upper charge limit. For normal use, this is a maximum state of charge of 80%. Therefore, if they park at the charging station, they charge up to this point, even if the trip only is continued the next morning, such as when drivers recharge at home. However, since the battery heats up just from charging alone, it is a good idea to time the charging process so that the desired charge level is reached just as the vehicle is leaving. This saves electricity and increases the range. Therefore, if you know when you are leaving and have the appropriate charging facilities (parking space with wallbox), you can benefit from charging your car as late as possible.

3. Prefer seat heating over a fireplace temperature

It’s generally a good idea to wear warm clothing in winter. Nevertheless, for safety reasons, you should not wear a down jacket when driving a car, as the seat belt will not work as well as it should in the event of an accident. Warm socks and the like aren’t a problem, however. It’s obvious that driving a car at 22°C in winter conditions costs more electricity and thus range compared to 18°C. Therefore, to stay comfortable in your electric car even at lower temperatures, you can switch to alternative systems. Many electric cars have heated seats, and some have a heated steering wheel or a heated surface in the cockpit. Especially if your electric car has a conventional heating system that heats the interior with up to 3 kW of continuous power (that’s 3 kWh consumption per hour of driving alone!), these heating elements can help considerably to reduce energy consumption. Vehicles with a heat pump generally have an advantage here, as they require significantly less energy. However, the savings potential resulting from reducing the temperature in the vehicle interior is significantly lower in this case.

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4. Preheat the battery before rapid charging on long trips

When it comes to rapid charging with direct current in the three-digit kW range, the battery must be optimally conditioned, and that means: warm. Temperatures of 25°C to over 40°C are required here. In winter, this means preheating is a must. The models of some manufacturers do this automatically when a charging station is located by the navigation system. Others have to be warmed up manually. While this does not increase the range, it does save time, as otherwise the warm-up is only carried out at the charging station when the battery is cold. And then the charging currents are clearly limited.

5. Do not park your car for an extended period of time if the charge level is very low.

If your electric car’s charge level is very low, it may shut down systems that are particularly useful in winter, such as the battery heater, in order to prevent a deep discharge. Then, the next time you charge the battery, the charge currents may be very throttled initially, increasing the charging time. Therefore, if the state of charge is low, it is better to plug the electric car into your wallbox.

In addition, the following rule applies: As with an internal combustion engine, an economical, constant driving style also has a positive effect on the consumption of the electric car. This becomes all the more important in winter, when the range is reduced anyway. Moreover, tyre pressure adapted to low temperatures counteracts a loss of range.

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