Extreme Road Trip: How Electric Vehicles Handle Super Hot and Cold Weather

Extreme weather conditions can affect the performance of the electric vehicle battery, potentially limiting its range and the speed with which the battery charges. But why? The answer comes down to the chemistry inside an electric car’s battery, your driving habits, and other factors.

How Extreme Weather Conditions Affect an Electric Car’s Battery

2022 Kia EV6 (Credit: Kia)

Very cold or hot weather – generally defined as below 20 degrees or above 95 degrees Fahrenheit, according to AAA(Opens in a new window)— may cause the EV range to drop. The change is temporary and the range will bounce as the temperature warms or cools, but as recurring notes(Opens in a new window)“at high temperatures, [battery] reactions occur more rapidly and its protective structure may degrade.”

However, most electric vehicles are equipped with heating and cooling systems to regulate their temperature. Tesla, in particular, “controls these effects very tightly and often does not make them obvious to the driver, i.e. the dashboard range often does not reflect the effects of temperature,” says Recurrent.

Why does cold weather reduce the range of electric cars?

winter ev range chart

Estimated EV range loss in freezing temperatures (Recurring)

Electric vehicles are powered by packs made up of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery cells. Li-ion batteries contain an anode, a cathode and a liquid catalyst through which charged atoms move. When an electric vehicle battery becomes extremely cold, the liquid electrolyte catalyst inside becomes thicker and more viscous. This viscosity slows the chemical reactions that funnel electrons through the battery and power the car. It also affects how quickly the battery charges and limits the effectiveness of regenerative braking.

Cold temperatures also mean running the cabin heater. This and other electronics, like the infotainment system, drain the car battery. The longer they work, the faster the charge depletes. Long highway trips also tend to drain the battery faster than city driving in any climate, but especially in cold weather. Taken together, these cold weather factors reduce range by up to 41 percent, according to AAA.

Still, “this loss of range is temporary and there is no long-term harm to your battery,” Recurrent notes.(Opens in a new window). “As the ice melts and temperatures rise, your vehicle’s expected range on a full charge should return to normal.” Electric vehicle models also react differently to temperature drops, as this graph shows, so your Tesla Model 3 can handle a Minnesota winter differently than a BMW i3.

bar graph showing winter range loss for popular electric vehicle models

Loss of winter range for popular electric vehicle models (Credit: recurring)

Advances in battery technology can mitigate at least some of the range lost in cold weather. We could see solid-state batteries that don’t require a liquid component in the next few years, eliminating the problem of the catalyst becoming viscous and slowing the reaction.

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What is the impact of heat on electric vehicles?

ev storage capacity

Battery capacity (Qm) decreases after a certain temperature threshold (Credit: Nature.com)

With Li-ion batteries, excessive heat can be harmful. Heat speeds up normal chemical reactions inside the battery and can degrade it faster(Opens in a new window) than regular aging and use. Too much heat can generate gas which can expand and crack the battery case. In extreme situations, a battery can catch fire or explode, although EV batteries use liquid cooling systems to keep their batteries from getting too hot. So while it’s not an immediate issue (your EV won’t explode after a hot day), it’s still a good idea to take whatever steps you can to mitigate the effects of extreme heat on your car battery.

tesla superchargers

Tesla Supercharger (Credit: Angela Moscaritolo)

On-board battery management systems come standard with many electric cars and monitor the temperature and health of the power source. These systems will automatically activate built-in cooling or heating systems to keep temperatures stable. But there are several ways to keep your battery in good working order.

  • Charge throughout the day whenever possible, for example if you are parked near a store with available charging infrastructure. A good rule of thumb is to keep the battery between 20% and 80% at all times. This is especially important in cold weather when fast charging is limited to protect the battery.

  • In hot weather, find shady places to park, such as under a tree or in a well-ventilated garage. When charging, let the car cool down for a few minutes before plugging it in, or use a less powerful charger.

  • In cold weather, warm the passenger compartment and the battery before setting off.

  • Know how your range will be affected before extreme weather conditions occur. View manufacturer lineup and resources like the Electric Vehicle Database(Opens in a new window) to get an idea of ​​what your mileage should be, consider some level of battery drain when planning your route.

That said, most EV drivers won’t find themselves stranded, even when their range is reduced in cold or hot weather. As long as you plan ahead, take steps to keep the battery at a good temperature, and know where nearby charging stations are, you’ll get from A to B in an electric car with no problem.

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