How do extremely cold temperatures affect the range of an electric car?

 In Inside FleetCarma

(Dec 16 2013) UPDATED PLOTS (including Chevrolet Volt data) here

Last week’s extreme cold felt in Quebec, Ontario and most of the Northeastern states, made the weather something people actually wanted to talk about.  Public attention turned to how the cold temperatures affect the range of electric cars.

We thought we’d take a look through our real-world database to discover how these frigid temperatures are affecting the range of electric vehicles.  We looked specifically at the Nissan Leaf and pooled our data from the last 2 years (including most importantly the last few weeks).



The graph that we generated was put together by taking data from real-world trips of different Nissan Leaf vehicles throughout North America.  The temperature is the average temperature recorded during the trip, and the range value shown is the maximum daily range available for that vehicle.

What we see is the classic “lower half of the bow-tie” that we talk about in both our hot, and cold weather webinars.  This shows that as the temperature drops, the electric range of a vehicle drops as well.

It is important to note that variation in a drivers range will depend on many things including the driver’s style and the route that each vehicle needs to take.  Temperature has such a significant influence for two reasons, the efficiency of the battery decreases in cold weather, but what is more significant is the auxiliary load.  When the heater is on, available power from the battery that could be used to extend the range is instead used to heat the cabin, resulting in a trade-off for some EV owners between comfort and peace-of mind.

What can those with electric cars do?  Our EV Champions have been discussing this and many other things on their Participant Blog.  Some of the suggestions are alternative ways to heat the EV, driving without using any heating (except when it is essential for safety) and trying to find ways to get in as much charging between drives as possible.  Check out the challenge blog for the full discussion.

Want to learn more about the way in which temperature affects the range of electric cars? Our Hot Weather Webinar goes in depth into particular driving personas and how the different usage and driver comforts can maximize or minimize the effect that temperature has on range.

What can EV owners due to get more range in cold weather?

The folks at GreenCarReports have a great article about six tips to maximize you range in cold weather. Also, we’re going to profile one of our EV Champions in the next few weeks about how he’s able to get much higher daily range than the averages we’ve shown here. Stay tuned!

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  • Tony Williams

    How exactly have you determined range? Is it from the dash display that estimates range?

    • Matt (FleetCarma)

      Hi Tony, we calculated it from the Wh/km we measure using the FleetCarma C5 logger (it logs the battery power & SOC while you drive).  

      • John

        so you take a snapshot of a leaf owner running the heater for a couple of minutes to warm up the cabin and use it to paint a picture of 36 miles of range ?

  • lee colleton

    affect, not effect

    • Matt (FleetCarma)

      Good catch, thanks!

  • JJ McCoy Seattle

    Excellent work.  I took delivery of my leaf in Seattle in October and have been driving in mostly 30F to 45F temps.  Glad to know I can expect another 5+ miles of range when it warms up.

    Have you been able to tease out the relative effects of drivers having the heat on vs. direct temperature influence on the engine?  I suppose if you had data on heater use, you could do a multivariate regression to plot a heat-on curve and a heat-off curve.
    Also, it looks to my eyes that you fitted a 3rd order polynomial to the data.  Correct?

  • Ljinfante

    The effects of cold ambient temperatures includes three energy thieves. The auxiliary load the electric propulsion (engine) and the effects of the rest of the driveline systems i.e. wheel bearings, axles, brakes etc which have much higher friction until fully warm. If these three could be divided it would show the parts that are unique to an EV and those that are normal to all cars.

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  • Does this data include range for trips where the heater was active and trips where the heater wasn’t? The Nissan Leaf’s battery is passively cooled, which would account for some of the range depletion, but heating the cabin would have a pretty big impact too. It would be interesting to see how much range loss is accounted for by each factor.

    • Good question Prusodman. What we showed above was the average from trips that included both. From looking at the individual trips I can certainly share that, with the exception of very low temperatures, the range reduction is heavily due to the heating loads. The cold batteries providing less amp-hours isn’t very significant until you get to very cold temperatures.