Electric cars lose nearly 60 percent of their range in cold weather, AAA report finds

By Shawn Knight
Mar 21, 2014
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  1. A new study from the AAA Automotive Research Center in South Carolina confirms what some have suspected all along: cold weather and extreme heat can indeed impact the driving range of electric vehicles.

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  2. Raoul Duke

    Raoul Duke TS Guru Posts: 860   +307

    No sh*t Sherlock, batteries never have worked when cold. It actually took a study to determine this?
  3. davislane1

    davislane1 TS Evangelist Posts: 3,370   +2,162

    This only demonstrates what everyone has already known from the start; EVs are great as economical commuter vehicles but fall short of being effective under all conditions.
  4. cmbjive

    cmbjive TS Booster Posts: 777   +137

    What?! Batteries don't operate as efficiently in cold temperatures?! Who knew?!
  5. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 1,823   +874

    This wouldn't have anything to do with air conditioning and heating, would it? I can see that AC would take a lot of power. Cold weather presents two problems. 1) battery output isn't as high in the cold. 2) Unlike internal combustion cars, electric cars have to use induction to create heat instead of using the head that comes off the engine. So the cold has a two fold problem. We need some great innovation in energy storage before electric cars will be effective. If we ever do, electric cars will be the way to go.
  6. veLa

    veLa TS Evangelist Posts: 699   +164

    Honestly I was never very impressed by electric cars in the first place. I'll stick with American muscle cars like my Mustang.
  7. RzmmDX

    RzmmDX TS Addict Posts: 294   +58

    Oh hey Tesla Motors, remember that report about your cars losing miles in the winter and you were so defensive about it that you kept criticizing the reporter.

    Good job.
  8. wastedkill

    wastedkill TS Evangelist Posts: 1,373   +310

    In time this will be ironed out its like when new CPU technology gets mainstreamish their are always bugs to iron out some are worse in certain condition but they will get sorted out in time :)
  9. Xtreme gamer

    Xtreme gamer TS Enthusiast Posts: 40   +7

    So create a better battery! All the world's Grandma's should be driving electric cars.
    To and from supermarkets and breakfast buffets.
  10. Oh my goodness. Didn't anyone see this. "AAA conducted a simulation". They didn't even do any real testing.

    How about selecting the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf and then two Internal Combustion Engine vehicle. Report what you find in BTU's consumed per mile. That would be a much more fair test and accurate way to measure energy consumed.

    This is the way all vehicles will be measured in the future. No more MPG but instead "BTU'S per mile" since you can convert ANYTHING to that value. Things like propane, diesel, natural gas, fuel cells, electric vehicles can all be measured in BTU'S consumed per mile.

    What I think you will find is that the electric vehicles do quite well under those conditions.
  11. Mark Ludden

    Mark Ludden TS Rookie

    I have a Chevy Volt and here is my experience with cold weather. During regular temperatures of 70-80F, I get around 43 miles per charge. Colder weather 20-30F, I get about 38 miles per charge. This is still enough to get me places without using my gas range extender. During extreme cold, the Volt will start the engine to warm up the battery fluid and give you better range (with the cost of some gasoline usage). Now what the article doesn't state, is whether they are using the heater in the car during cold weather. Everyone has to remember that EV's do not get free heat as regular combustion cars do during operation. The heater draws A LOT of power, much more than AC.
  12. I can only speak for my own experience as a Chevy Volt owner in Las Vegas weather.

    My 2012 Volt has a spec of 37 miles on pure battery before it switches over to gasoline, and this is usually plenty for my typical daily driving around town. I'll burn gas on longer highway trips; these amount to 25% of my total miles. A "fill up" at the pump is 9 gallons and between the battery and the gasoline the total range is around 350 miles.

    Ambient temperatures here run up to 115 F afternoons in summer and 28 F overnight lows in winter, during my ownership of this car. The pure electric range I get runs from 34 miles (winter night lows) to 45 miles (ideal spring/fall conditions), on the nearly two-year old battery. But my habit is to dress for the conditions and I rarely run heating in winter, and I use the "eco mode" air conditioning in summer, rather than the full blast AC setting. On hot August days the range seems to be around 36-38. I'm sure these figures would suffer if I were more aggressive with heating and AC.

    I'm on a 36 month lease, to avoid concerns about battery life, range erosion, and replacement costs in later years.

    Given the plentiful Las Vegas sun, I use solar power to charge the vehicle, and at the rate of savings in monthly gasoline I no longer purchase, my solar investment breaks even in 4.3 years (another two years to go). After that, the first 40 miles or so of daily driving shall have no fuel cost, for the remaining life of the solar array (20-25 years), no matter what e-car I replace the Volt with over the long run.

    Were I to pay for utility power to put the daily 40 miles on the battery, it would cost about $1.40 under the usual 12 cents/kilowatt-hour power rates here. But I buy my utility power in a tiered pricing contract, making certain times of day cheaper, so if I'm not using solar, I pay about 72 cents for those forty miles.

    However, my usual source of power is free solar. Either way, compare this to my old Mercedes, which burned two gallons of premium gas for those 40 miles, about $8 worth.

    Rather than put more money into a bigger downpayment on the vehicle, a financial IRR analysis showed that it was much smarter to put that money into purchasing the solar array instead from an ROI viewpoint.

    As measured by the amount of monthly expense I avoid by using solar power rather than gas, the array's ROI is 22% (n.b., simple, non-compounding). What investment is paying a near zero risk 22%, year in and year out for the next two decades? Plus, savings are not taxed, only income is taxed. Were I still paying the monthly cost of gasoline, I'd be having to cover that cost with even more earnings, given the income taxes I'd have to pay.

    I don't know any other deal that gets you two decades of zero-cost fuel for daily driving, and for that I'm more than happy to keep an eye on range. Of course the Volt switches over to gas if one drives beyond the battery range, so getting stranded along the highway is not any threat anyway.

    The basic idea GM's engineers had behind this design is to carry a battery only as big and costly as one's daily average mileage demands, rather than rely entirely on a bigger, costlier battery for longer trips that are statistical outliers vs. daily averages. (Of course, one is having to carry a small gas engine too.)

    It is also worth noting how great it feels to know what my "e-fuel" will cost for the next two decades. There is no price volatility with solar derived e-fuel unlike the constant weekly roller coaster ride at the gas pump that used to drive me nuts. The strategy I have outlined is a fine way to manage gasoline price inflation risk one normally suffers in one's retirement. I don't curse at gas pumps anymore. My blood pressure stays lower.

    Those who mindlessly parrot the conservative (or more broadly, the vested interests') media's many attacks on e-vehicles might have a fatter wallet at the end of each month if they'd do a little math and think for themselves.

    Retired electrical engineer
    misor likes this.
  13. misor

    misor TS Evangelist Posts: 1,157   +195

    I knew it was a placebo effect when the dead AAA batteries I placed in the freezer for about 1 hour suddenly have 'extra juice'.:)
  14. MilwaukeeMike

    MilwaukeeMike TS Evangelist Posts: 2,729   +1,093

    Hi Jim, thanks for the perspective, but I don't understand your math. You can't compare the ROI of a car purchase to an investment(apples and oranges), and you can't logically say you'd replace money spent with additional taxed earnings(unrealistic).
    For the sake of the argument, let's say your solar panels are free. The cost of a Volt is around $38,000 (at least at my local Chevy dealer) while the cost of a Cruze is around $20,000. The Cruze will get you about 28 MPG combined. If you drive 34 miles per day, 365 days a year that's a total of 12,410 miles in a year. If you drive less, the benefit of the Volt goes down, because you're only saving money when your travelling for free. If you drive more than that, then you're burning gas and saving nothing. That makes 34 miles per day the amount you'd have to drive to save the maximum from buying a Volt.
    If you had a Cruze, those 12,410 miles would cost you $1772 a year in gas @$4/gallon (your gas price you said). That means, just to recoup the cost of buying a Volt instead of a Cruze you'd have to drive the Volt for almost 8 and a half years. That's hard to do with a 3 year lease. :)
    And this is ignoring the cost of your solar panels.

    Now if you were looking at spending $38,000 on a car you could compare it to say a V6 Sedan that gets 20 MPG, then you'd be coming out on top a lot sooner. But people who buy the Volt aren't buying it because it's powerful or luxurious. It's most accurate to compare the Volt to cars of equal power and luxury.

    Maybe this is why the 'haters' in the media speak poorly of electric. Personally, I've never seen this opinion from any news source, and I take in a lot of news. The problem people have with electric cars isn't anything against being green, it's that the math doesn't work out to savings yet. I have envied Volt owners since they came out... I envy Tesla owners even more. But I can't afford either, and couldn't justify it even if I could. Someday maybe.
    SNGX1275 and misor like this.
  15. *alarm sound!!!* WRONG!! its been proven by Tesla that there is only a slight decrease in range, a decrease of 20-30 miles out of 200 is fine. So no one listen to this crap. It doesn't apply to all EV companies.
  16. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,455   +1,758

    Carbon zinc,(I think), and alkaline batteries both exhibit that behaviour. However NiCads are exactly the opposite. Take them out in the cold and they go almost dead right away. That's especially true of well worn batteries, which may not have the capacity of new cells anyway. NiMh fares a bit better. Lithium ion too, I think.

    The lead acid battery in my motorcycle, simply won't start without a hot shot, after the temps fall much below 40 F. A couple of years on the lead acid cells exacerbates the situation.

    This is why car batteries have that, "CCA", (cold cranking amps) spec. Low temperatures drain battery capacity, and when combined with the thickening of the engine oil at winter temps, prove a disastrous combination for starting in low temperatures.

    There is just so much bull sh!t going around in the way of mileage claims.

    Now they're pitching, "clean diesel", great mileage, or so they say. What they don't tell you is that diesel fuel is probably 50 cents MORE a gallon, than regular gas. So, mileage from a diesel engine has to be a minimum of 12% better than a gasoline engine, just to break even.
    misor likes this.
  17. dms96960

    dms96960 TS Addict Posts: 253   +28

    So, in other words, "global warming" is great news for electric vehicles!
  18. misor

    misor TS Evangelist Posts: 1,157   +195

    according to the article, not really. :)
  19. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,885   +642

    Meh, in the UK Electric cars haven't really kicked off that much at all, but Diesel engines? I think more cars in the UK are Diesel than Petrol! Diesel is usually 1-5p more than petrol, depending on where you are in the country. The problem is Diesel Engine cars cost more in the first place, we'll take a Vauxhall Corsa as an example, you can get a 1.4 SXI for £14,500 or a 1.3 Turbo Diesel for £16,000.

    Now the Diesel will get issues if the engine is only used for short city driving, they are more for if your travelling over 40 miles day kinda thing, Plus Diesel's have particulate filters and a lot of there power comes from the turbo, there's a higher chance of things going wrong.

    Sure the mpg of the diesel is 55mpg and the petrol is 40mpg but overall, you have to be driving the diesel a lot more and over a good 7 years or so before you've saved enough money on the fuel to have paid for the initial investment in the car, then the potentially higher service costs of the diesel need to be taken in.

    Just overall I don't think Diesel's are all what they crack up to be unless your travelling long distance everyday, then they make total sense. My dad has a 1.9 turbo diesel (130bhp) and I have a 1.6 Turbo Petrol (200bhp) both cars weigh about the same and so far in there life times I've had to pay out less purely because my engine doesn't have to be in the turbo as often and I don't have a particulate filter to go wrong, and for some reason his starter motor has gone as well which mine never has. Just an observation.
  20. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,599   +369

    Next they are going to tell you ordinary diesel can't be used in sub zero temps? ;)
  21. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    Electric vehicle are still in the early development stages. They'll get much better (and so will the batteries) as more development goes into them. They are no doubt the way of the future.
  22. Railman

    Railman TS Booster Posts: 708   +101

    The first known electric car was built in 1837 so they have been in development for a very long time! However serious development of electric cars by the major car manufacturers is relatively recent. Electric cars do tend to be very expensive to buy even when there are subsidies offered.
    Maybe they will get cheaper when more electric cars are mass produced.
  23. Conclusion: do not use your electric vehicle in cold weather
  24. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 8,430   +2,822

    Conclusion: do not use your heater in cold weather.
  25. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    Serious development on electric cars has only just started. I think all the major (and not so major) manufacturers have a vested interest in them so we can expect to see things happen quickly. In a few decades when they become commonplace we'll even see entry level budget models.
    That electric car that was built in 1837 probably plugged directly into the city's power grid and trailed a good few yards of electric cable. XP. I wouldn't be surprised if Edison or Westinghouse had a shares in it. :) Just kidding, electric trams were in operation long before the internal combustion engine was wheeled out.

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