I have been driving an electric vehicle (EV) for more than five years now, which means part of my winter ritual is offering advice to newer EV drivers who are anxious to know whether driving in cold weather will affect their vehicle’s range.
We purchased our first EV used from a dealership in the Milwaukee area. It was the coldest day of the year and we drove it home on the interstate, experiencing range anxiety first hand that day. Since then I’ve learned a lot about EV range estimates and driving EVs in a Wisconsin winter so I thought I would share a few insights so that you might have less anxiety.
First, like all vehicles, EVs are less efficient at high speeds. An internal combustion vehicle that gets 22 mpg when driving 55 miles per hour will get just 16.9 mpg at 75 and only 15.8 at 80 mph. That’s a drop of 23% and 28% respectively. For more information use this calculator to calculate the fuel economy of your internal combustion vehicle at various speeds.
Second, like all vehicles, EVs are less efficient in cold weather. In most EVs, heating and cooling draws power from the main batteries so using those options judiciously will minimize the range reductions. However, the heated seats and steering wheel draw power from the 12 volt battery rather than the console heating, so using those options first can help preserve range.
Alternative, pre-heating the vehicle is another option. Most EVs can warm the vehicle in your garage while it is still plugged in, thereby reducing the impact of cold without reducing your range.
And, third, how you drive matters. Whether you drive an EV or an internal combustion vehicle, bad driving habits will use more energy. The driver who accelerates quickly out of an intersection and then slams to a stop at the next traffic light is using about 5% more fuel than someone who has a lighter foot. And driving with underinflated tires will get less range no matter the type of vehicle you have.
Finally, although most EV owners do most of their charging at home - estimates are that up to 90% of EV charging happens in the owner’s garage - knowing where you can charge your vehicle if you need more power helps alleviate range anxiety. Numerous apps can tell you where EV charging stations are located. I like PlugShare because it’s crowd sourced and includes helpful tips from other drivers. For long trips A Better Route Planner is nice because it can lay out a route based on your vehicle, the weather, and other factors.
Knowing where to charge, how your EV estimates range, and how driving patterns and weather affect that range all helps EV owners ease their range anxiety. Still, those first months in an EV feel different. Part, I think, is that instead of looking at a fuel gauge, drivers are focused on an estimated range and sometimes the range seems to change unexpectedly. Key here is understanding that the range is an estimate based on past driving, with more recent trips weighed more heavily. That means if I have been doing in-city errands the last few days my range will vary significantly from when I jump on the highway and drive 70mph for a trip, altering the average. Just remember that at the end of the day, range is an estimate.
All of that information would have been useful in that first trip in our first EV when we drove 75-80mph on the interstate and the salesperson left the heat set to a toasty 85 degrees. Still, we figured it out. Five years ago we were early adopters as EV owners but, increasingly, EVs are becoming mainstream. And that means it is important for everyone to get past this idea of range anxiety and focus on the benefits of EVs—clean, quiet, fun driving at a fraction of what it costs to drive an internal combustion vehicle.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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