AAA Study: Extreme Cold Has Chilling Effect on EV Range

EVcharging

When it comes to all-electric vehicles, the primary source of apprehension for most would-be buyers is range, and logically so. After all, once your EV's battery runs out of juice, unless you happen to be pulling into a charging station at that very moment, that's as far as you're going — at least until the tow truck shows up. While good planning can prevent that scenario, EV drivers must also account for the sometimes-dramatic swings in range caused by varying weather conditions, especially extreme cold.

A Winter in the Nissan Leaf

A new study released this month by AAA found that EV range can be reduced by as much as 57 percent based on the outside temperature. At the AAA Automotive Research Center in Southern California, researchers conducted a simulation to measure the driving range of three all-electric vehicles in cold, moderate and hot weather, and temperature played a major role in driving range for all three.

According to AAA, the average EV battery range was 105 miles at 75 degrees, but dropped to 43 miles when the temperature was reduced to 20 degrees. By comparison, 95-degree temperatures reduced battery life significantly less to 69 miles, a 34 percent dip. Tests were performed between December 2013 and January 2014, with each vehicle completing a driving cycle starting with a full charge under all three temperature conditions until their batteries were fully depleted, following standard procedures of the EPA and the Department of Energy.

The bottom line, according to AAA, is that buyers of EVs must be aware of their limitations as well as their strengths, in varying situations. "EVs provide owners with many benefits, but every motorist needs to be aware of conditions that can impact vehicle driving range," AAA said in a statement. "EV drivers need to plan carefully in hot and cold weather."

The news comes as no surprise to us at Cars.com, as we spent the winter of 2011 observing weather-induced range swings in our long-term Nissan Leaf test car, variations we described at the time as "erratic." With the car fully charged, estimated range was typically between 70 and 80 miles, in line with the EPA's 73-mile number but well below Nissan's "up to" figure of 100 miles. Outside temperatures ranged from the mid-20s to mid-40s for most recorded trips. The longest predicted range and best-observed outcome both came at higher temperatures than the shortest range and worst-observed outcome. We recorded temperature, predicted miles, actual miles, post-trip readouts of miles per kilowatt-hour and average speed, as well as our own accounting of traffic conditions, and no distance, condition or reading correlated consistently with the range.

"The unpredictable range means the Leaf isn't for someone whose commuting needs are closer to the car's limits than ours are," we said at the time. "And it's certainly not a likely choice if you can own only one car."

Cars.com photo by Evan Sears

Comments 

Ben

Turn off the A/C or the heater and heated seats and the lights and put a jacket on or a tank top on depending on which end of the temperature gauge you find yourself and you should see improved mileage!!! ;-)

- I drive a fit EV

Still beats having to drive into a gas station and paying for tuneups and oil changes.

kevin

Well,lets see they are a top seller in a pretty cold country so somebody most know how to use them-Kevin

Brett

Its the heat or AC that drives the power down. I just purchased a smart electric and the other day it was raining and the windshield kept fogging up. I turned on the heat and wham, down the charge range went. so i just kept it on long enough to clear the windows then i shut it off and then range went back up. I have seat warmers, but damn why would anyone use them.

Pete

It is not just AC or Heat lowering the batteries performance. The effect of low temps on batteries has been known since the first ones were built.

Basically, the cold temp slows down the chemical reaction causing less current to be produced. I imagine that hybrid gas mileage also drops.

Thomas Earle Moore

An EV uses about a fifth as much energy as a similar gas powered car for locomotion, but takes the same amount of energy to heat. When you are wasting 80% of your energy on heat, it seems to be free, but it isn't. Stop wasting energy with gas powered cars!

Thomas Earle Moore

@pete: that's wrong. If batteries put out less power that would serve to increase the range, because they do not lose energy content just because it is cold.

I did a VW conversion years ago. I found batteries needed lots of lead content to work at temoeraure extreens. Heat was worse than cold. It was in CO and it ran great in the snow. Had an 1800 watt heater to defrost the windshield. I run lead acid standard batteries. Batteries last three to five years depending on use and lead content. See photos at my web site

Steve Ash

One advantage of EV's in cold weather - In the morning when it's still plugged in in the garage tell it to warm up with your remote. When it's warm and ready to go, go out, unplug it and you're off with a full charge and a warm car.

Pete

@Thomas: No, that's right. A battery does not work like gas in tank where there is a set volume of fuel that, if you use less, will last longer. It is a chemical reaction and temperature will effect the output of current and voltage without lengthening longevity. Use a cordless drill in cold temps and you will see this for yourself - you will get significantly less torque but the battery will not last any longer.

Unlike a drill, sophisticated electronics like EV cars and cell phones need a minimum current to operate. When the current drops below this, they are designed to shut down. Which leads to the shorter operating time. In the article, this is why batteries last longer in extreme hot temps versus cold temps.

The good news is that the cold will also affect the side reactions that cause a battery to lose power while it is not being used.

Ken L.

Agreed. It's the reason why some people put their batteries (AA, AAA, D, etc.) in the freezer -To preserve their longevity when not in use.

Bill

Cars that run on gas experience loss of range during cold weather also.

Threepwood

It's a moot point; nobody is ever going to get an EV for practical purposes. when their market share peaked about 100 years ago, they were statements for wealthy enthusiasts to parade on weekends, they used horses otherwise. Similarly today I've never heard of anyone with an EV who doesn't have at least one real car. The EV is usually an extra toy. The only difference is people used to pay for them with their own money.

lectrik

Why so negative on electric vehicles? You should be thanking ev early adopters, for not using gasoline and leaving more for folks like you who squander it in "real" cars. In fact, plug in cars are currently saving 45 million gallons of gasoline each year, for people like you who don't have the sense to understand it's a good thing. Trust me, it is.

Ian

As soon as I saw this at the start of the story "once your EV's battery runs out of juice - that's as far as you're going", I jumped straight down to post this comment.
Guys, it is also true that as soon as your 'normal' car runs out of gas, that's far as you go as well. Now I will go back up and read the rest of the story.

John

This is why I'm such a big fan of the Volt. EV purists like to ignore it, but it's a practical compromise. It's electric range is still well in excess of my daily commute so 90% of the time I don't burn any gas. But it has the practicality of a gas-powered electric generator under the hood for longer trips or dead batteries.

DLS

I have experienced this issues. Someone is investigation a class action:

http://www.consumerclassactionlawyers.com/nissan-leaf-reduced-mileage-based-on-temperature.html

I find these comments interesting. I know two neighbors who have a Nissan Leaf as their ONLY car. They have daily commutes of less than 70 miles, so for the two-three weeks a year they take a road trip, they rent a gas burner. The Volt is interesting but still involves the gas engine issues---gasoline, coolant, water pump, oil changes, radiators, etc. etc. etc. Personally, I like the Focus Electric style better than the Leaf.

Karen

"Guys, it is also true that as soon as your 'normal' car runs out of gas, that's far as you go as well." So what? When you know you're about to run out of gas, you hit a gas station. If you think there might not be one handy, you can actually carry extra fuel with you.

In a Leaf? You do as I did, which is take a hairy ride at the side of the fwy at 40 MPH, trying to get to the nearest charging station, which wasn't there, then you use Nissan's free towing service to tow your car home.

After leasing one for 2 years, I cannot recommend this car to ANYone. Unlike the Cars.com editors, I didn't find the range to be unpredictable at all in cold weather. (http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/2011/04/a-winter-in-the-nissan-leaf.html). At 40 degrees and below, I'd get a range of only 40 (several months of the year for us); at 50 and below, 50, etc. In "nice" weather, the range was about 75-ish. Maybe.

After 2 years I've become disgruntled about how little I can actually travel in this car, even for extended-local errands. I thought I knew pretty much where I could go and where I could not, and when, but that proved not to be true last month when a simple trip to the eye doctor turned into a nasty all-day affair, including a flat tire (pretty much guaranteed if you ever have to drive on the side of a highway.)

I have had mostly frustration with my local area's charging stations. Once I could not get EITHER of two Blink chargers to work for me, even with a phone call to Blink. At other times you may show up to a charger to find that it's inoperable. What do you do then, when there's not another within your range? You get towed home.

It was an experiment I won't repeat. What we really want a car to be is *dependable* transportation to actually take us where and when we need to go, and not to leave us stranded somewhere because fuel is unobtainable. The Leaf has failed me on both accounts.

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