Fact or Fiction: EVs are not cut out for winter driving

5 min read

During Vermont winters, it’s paramount to have reliable transportation that can handle snow, slush, road salt, and icy conditions. Those considering an electric vehicle often have a lot of questions about battery range, traction, and all-wheel drive in winter.

To be convinced of driving an EV in winter, look to the Nordic country of Norway. Despite Norway’s cold climate, nearly four of every five cars sold in 2022 were electric, which shows that it's possible to live with an electric car in colder climates. This guide will help answer some common concerns about driving EVs in the winter.

Do EVs lose range in the cold?

Yes, according to AAA, EVs can lose over 40% of their range in cold weather. All vehicles, whether they are powered by a battery or an internal combustion engine (ICE), lose range in cold weather. Because an EV is solely powered by battery, you can expect to lose some range in the winter and will need to plan accordingly.

When it’s freezing out, more energy is needed in an EV to maintain battery temperature, supply heat to the cabin, run defrosters, etc. Heaters are one of the big energy draws in an EV. However, there are EV models that offer more efficient heat pump heating systems. A heat pump can improve the car’s efficiency by using less power to get the same amount of heat. Many EVs come with standard heat pumps or are an optional add-on.

So, does this mean an electric vehicle can’t or shouldn’t be used in cold weather? No, you just need to be more aware of your driving range and how to maximize efficiency when temperatures fall.

Cold weather driving tips for EVs
Preheat the car

Get the vehicle cabin up to temperature while it is still plugged in. This means you'll have more energy for the battery range.

Use departure scheduling

Many EVs can schedule a departure time to finish charging right before you leave home. This helps warm the battery for improved cold-weather performance. 

Leverage all your heating options

Use heated seats and/or steering wheels (if your vehicle has these), instead of using cabin heat.  These are usually much more efficient than operating cabin heat.  You can also use a lap blanket or wear a jacket to avoid using the cabin heat on longer-distance trips.

Check tire pressure and add air to increase winter efficiency

Cold temps increase air density, leading to lower tire pressures. You can find the recommended tire pressure on a sticker found on the driver’s door jamb.

Reduce your travel speed

This is one of the most effective ways to boost range in any driving conditions. Air resistance increases with speed. Slowing down 5-10 mph can supply 10-20% more range, depending on the model and conditions.

Practice eco-driving principles

Use the “eco” or economy mode in your vehicle. These modes reduce power to the motors and do other things to increase efficiency. Also, speed up and brake slowly. Try letting off on the accelerator as you crest a hill and anticipating stoplights. This will help maximize the use of regenerative braking systems which put energy back into the battery instead of wasting it with mechanical brakes.

Lighten the load in your vehicle

Remove any heavy objects, such as roof racks, or snow and ice from the vehicle. when possible, to increase efficiency.

Should you worry about traction and clearance?

The extra weight from EV batteries placed along the underside of the vehicle helps keep EVs more stable on the road. Especially if you have winter tires installed. Studies have shown that winter tires are the single most important investment you can make for safe winter driving. This is true in any vehicle and EVs are no exception. Winter tires can be less efficient than all-season or summer tires, however, in most cases this will not have a major impact on range.

The aerodynamic body parts that help EVs maximize their range can also reduce the ground clearance of the vehicle. Some EV models have adjustable suspension systems that let drivers increase ride height at the press of a button. Another possibility is putting in a “lift kit” that boosts the standard suspension further off the ground. If you often drive in deep snowy conditions, you can ask your dealer/manufacturer about other options to provide more clearance.

In Vermont, you might want an all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive vehicle. With EV models in all-wheel, front-wheel, and rear-wheel drive options, there is an EV to match your winter driving preferences. We recommend researching specific models before you buy or lease to make sure it's the right EV for you.

  • If you travel on a lot of backroads, consider an EV model with higher ground clearance and/or all-wheel drive. A growing number of EVs have all-wheel drive models available.
  • Most EVs have front-wheel drive. Combined with good winter tires and modern traction control systems front-wheel drive is fine for most winter driving in the northeast.
  • Rear-wheel drive (RWD) systems can be less predictable on slippery roads. Many EV owners have reported modern traction control systems and winter tires means RWD works fine in moderate winter conditions.
Can you charge an EV in the cold?

EV charging speeds can decrease in cold weather. Especially at higher charging speeds (such as DC Fast Charging) outdoors in colder temperatures, charging may take longer. Some EVs warm the battery pack when navigating to a fast charger to get it ready, reducing some of this impact.

If you have a garage or carport for your EV, that will help keep the battery warmer. Some EVs have battery heaters that turn on in the coldest temperatures (e.g., below 0° F) to prevent battery damage. It is often wise to leave your EV plugged in overnight when "polar vortex" air visits your neighborhood. Especially if you park your vehicle outside. Check with your EV dealer or owner’s manual for more information on whether this is a consideration for your vehicle.

Are you ready to drive an EV in winter?

Today, driving an EV in winter can be an adjustment, but electric vehicles are evolving. New makes and models are being introduced into the market all the time. Automakers and battery designers are working on ways to supply more range and fewer impacts from colder temperatures every day. For most Vermonters, driving an EV in the winter is easy. Just ask the people of Norway, where electric vehicle sales make up 91.7% of the market share.