EV cars only go half as far in freezing weather

Preface.    Below freezing, li-ion batteries don’t perform as well.  Consumer reports found that about half the driving range was lost. 

Perhaps this is why nearly half of PHEV/BEV vehicles are sold in balmy California, while the half of the states with the coldest temperatures – freezing or below, didn’t buy 50% of electric cars as you’d expect, but just 23% of them, and half of that total is from the five states that offer state subsidies.  

It’s possible cold weather will be yet another factor preventing the adoption of electric vehicles in all states.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Consumer reports tested cars in cold weather, less than freezing, and found they lose about half their normal driving range.  So cold state EV buyers have to spend more than warmer states for longer ranges or they may be left stranded in a cold snap.   The colder it gets below freezing, the worse the battery performance, and especially pronounced below 0° F.  It’s not just the cold draining the batteries, extra demands are put on them for heating and defoggers. Consumer reports recommends keeping the car in the garage plugged in until you leave (Olsen 2019).

“Batteries are like humans,” says Anna Stefanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute. They prefer the same sort of temperature range that people do. Anything below 40 or above 115 degrees Fahrenheit and they’re not going to deliver their peak performance. They like to be around 60 to 80 degrees. As the temperature drops, the electrolyte fluid inside the battery cells becomes more sluggish. “You don’t have as much power when you want to discharge,” says Stefanopoulou. “The situation is even more limited when you want to charge.”

there are workarounds. First, don’t let the battery get too low—make sure you always have a 20 percent charge or so. If you want to power up in subzero temperatures, the car may need that reserve to warm the battery enough to start the process. “Don’t think that being near an outlet to charge will get you out of trouble,” Stefanopoulou says. (Stewart 2019)

When it comes to putting electrons into the battery, freezing weather hurts in two regards. It limits regenerative braking, so the car recoups less power and drivers can’t rely on one-pedal driving. And charging, particularly fast charging, will be limited to protect the battery.

Californians bought 153,442 PHEV or BEV in 2018, nearly half of all electric/hybrids in the country.

But 21 other states bought 11,221 in total, just 3.4%, and the top 9 states bought 73% of them. Half of the states, the 26 with the coldest average winter temperatures of 32 or less, bought just 23% of the cars.  But that total is skewed towards states that offer subsidies, half of these cars were bought in the 5 cold states with them: New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (EVAdoption 2019, CR 2019, Gorzelany 2018).


CR. 2019. Winter temperature averages for every state. Current results
EVAdoption. 2019. EV Market share by state. EVAdoption

Gorzelany, J. 2018. Here’s which states are best for owning an electric car. Forbes.

Olsen, P. 2019. Buying an electric car for a cold climate? Double down on the range. Consumer reports.

Stewart, J. Why electric cars struggle in the cold – and how to help them. Wired.

State 2018 includes hybrids % of EV sales Avg winter temp F Temp rank Rebates
California 153,442 0.47 46.2 8 2500-4500
New York 15,752 0.05 23.3 38 2000
Florida 13,705 0.04 59.4 2
Washington 12,650 0.04 33 21
Texas 11,764 0.04 47.9 4
New Jersey 9,230 0.03 33 21
Massachusetts 8,990 0.03 27.4 34 2500
Illinois 7,357 0.02 28.3 32
Arizona 7,086 0.02 43.6 10
Colorado 7,051 0.02 25.8 35 5000
Virginia 6,375 0.02 36.8 15
Maryland 6,299 0.02 34.7 19
Pennsylvania 6,063 0.02 28.4 31
Georgia 6,004 0.02 47.8 5
Oregon 5,976 0.02 34 20
North Carolina 4,712 0.01 42.1 11
Ohio 4,456 0.01 29.5 28
Michigan 3,571 0.01 21.7 39
Connecticut 3,415 0.01 28.5 30 3000
Minnesota 2,853 0.01 12.4 48
Oklahoma 2,683 0.01 39 13
Nevada 2,325 0.01 32.2 25
Hawaii 2,296 0.01 67.4 1
Utah 2,295 0.01 28.2 33
Missouri 2,268 0.01 32.3 24
Indiana 2,036 0.01 29.4 29
Tennessee 1,994 0.01 39.1 13
Wisconsin 1,956 0.01 17.2
South Carolina 1,170 0.00 46.1 9
New Hampshire 1,123 0.00 21.1 43
Kansas 943 0.00 31.9 26
Iowa 917 0.00 21.7 39
Alabama 866 0.00 46.5 7
Vermont 824 0.00 19.4 45
Maine 799 0.00 16.8 47
Kentucky 787 0.00 35.9 18
District of Columbia 761 0.00 34.7 19
New Mexico 705 0.00 36.1 16
Nebraska 628 0.00 25.7 36
Delaware 627 0.00 36.1 16 2200
Rhode Island 619 0.00 31.4 27
Louisiana 613 0.00 50.9 3 1500
Idaho 497 0.00 25.4 37
Arkansas 435 0.00 41.5 12
Montana 274 0.00 21.2 41
Mississippi 231 0.00 46.7 6
West Virginia 218 0.00 32.8 23
Alaska 155 0.00 -16.3 50
South Dakota 135 0.00 19.5 44
North Dakota 95 0.00 12.2 49
Wyoming 92 0.00 21.2 41
Total 328,118

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4 Responses to EV cars only go half as far in freezing weather

  1. NJF says:

    Sorry to become a bother with how much I comment, but I can’t stand how Californians think the entire country works like they do.

    In San Diego, bike lanes and all sorts of public transportation systems like scooter-sharing can work no problem.

    I don’t live there, I live in the Midwest, where 6″ or more of snow can coat all the solar panels overnight, where being able to take a warm car to work is quite literally a matter of life or death.

    Now obviously the extreme summer heat and winter cold is survivable without AC and heat. But they both make life much more complicated. People don’t bike to work here in summer because 1) if you are older or not in great shape, it can kill you to bike in 95F with 70% humidity and 2) If you are healthy, you are going to pit out your shirt and have to sit in a sweaty mess the rest of the day unless you have a shower and change of clothes at work.

    In winter, we have to take cars not just because of cold but also snow and ice. Biking – and even running – is extremely dangerous with the amount of patches of ice laying around in the winter. My city has average HIGH temps in January that are below freezing.

    Gas cars effectively heat the cabin and provide safe transport door to door. It is safer for the elderly to drive in winter than it is to walk in many cases. Now obviously this all uses gasoline so it isn’t sustainable, but the point is that if electric vehicles only function in a narrow range of temps, it’s not any use to the “flyover” people.

    • Jeorge says:

      Well, enjoy your AC and happy motoring while you still can; neither will be available to your children. Most likely they won’t need to go farther than a horse might walk in a few hours time.

      • NJF says:

        Probably will be available to children but I get your point.

        Sweating isn’t going to be a big deal when people are working the land: Just go shirtless unless the UV is too strong for your skin tone. Can’t do that in an office space though.

  2. Weogo says:

    Hi Alice,

    Our 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is EPA rated at 64 miles range,
    which is plenty for about 90% of our needs.
    In warmer months we can get over 80 miles on a charge.
    In the winter it is more like 55 miles, or closer to 45 if we crank up the heat.
    This is in the mountains of North Carolina, with lots of up and down.

    Gas and diesel vehicles also have a small reduction in fuel mileage in the winter.
    Tires have greater rolling resistance in cold weather and starting when cold takes more energy.

    Our local utility power is coal-fired.
    I’ve seen the numbers on a similar size gas car and our EV,
    and the gas car puts out about double the CO2 as the EV,
    over the life of the vehicles, including building them.
    Going to PV electricity will further reduce the EV CO2.

    Large, luxury EVs make no more sense than their fossil fueled counterparts.

    Thanks and good health, Weogo