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Electric cars in winter

How will an electric car cope in snow, on ice, or driving through flooded patches?

Electricity and water don’t mix, so what measures are electric car manufacturers taking to keep you safe during the wet, windy, and freezing winter months?
Here’s everything you need to know about driving and looking after an electric car in winter. Jump to: • Electric car batteries in cold weatherCharging times in cold weatherDriving an electric car in winter weatherCan I use winter tyres on an electric car?Can I tow another vehicle using an electric car?Can an electric car be towed?Can I drive an electric car through water?Charging an EV in rain or snowCan I charge an electric car in a power cut?Looking after an electric car in winter

Electric car batteries in cold weather

The first thing to address is that cold weather does have a negative impact on battery life. Batteries will operate less efficiently, and so you’ll get fewer miles out of them in cold weather – a drop of anything between 10 per cent and 20 per cent in total range for some models. Learn more about electric car batteries here.
If you’re interested in the science and the why – lithium-ion batteries work when the lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode in the battery (generating electricity in the process). Cold slows this movement down, and so reduces electricity production and battery performance. What can you do to fix it? You’ve got a few options.

Prolonging electric car battery charge in winter

Drive in an efficient way
You can conserve your battery by driving at a steady speed, avoiding sudden acceleration and braking, and minimising the use of features like the radio and heaters.
Use eco-mode
Where fitted, an electric car’s “eco-mode” focuses battery power where it’s needed and away from features like the heaters, speakers, and gadgets. If your battery is dropping a bit too fast for your liking, whack eco-mode on and head to your nearest charging point. Find electric car charging points near you with our map.
Cover your electric car
Keeping an electric car in a garage or enclosed parking space, or even just under a cover can help keep the car (and its battery) warmer. The warmer it is, the more likely it is to hold its charge.
Preheat the car and battery
Most modern electric cars have a feature called ‘preconditioning’, which allows you to set the car to warm up just before you get in, and while it’s still plugged in. That way, you’re not using the car’s battery to heat the car. Depending on the car you may be able to do this remotely via a phone app, or on a timer so it’s ready to go before you leave for work.
Keep regenerative braking on
Plenty of electric and hybrid cars use regenerative braking. When you slow or brake, the electric motor acts as a generator and sends the energy back to the battery to top you up. It’s a way of recharging a little bit as you drive.
For regenerative braking to work properly, the car needs to be warm so the battery can best capture that extra energy. So, try and warm the battery before you set off (by preconditioning it, ideally). This way, you can recoup some range as you go.

Charging times in cold weather

Expect overnight charging to take an extra couple of hours in cold weather. Similarly, rapid charging could take up to 45 minutes rather than the usual 30.
Charging points can be affected by cold weather. Tesla has stated that extreme cold weather can result in slower charging speeds at its dedicated Supercharger stations. This is again caused by the slower lithium ion movements. There isn’t much we can do about it for now, other than factor in longer waits at charging stations and prepare for the likelihood of queues. Make sure you’re getting to a charging station with enough charge left to last (do not leave it to the last minute) and set off a bit earlier to factor those wait times in.

Driving an electric car in winter

Driving in winter can be nerve-wracking, and there are a couple more factors to consider if you’re taking an electric car out on winter roads.

Driving an electric car in snow

Electric cars are built differently to petrol and diesel models. In most, the heavy battery is located underneath the car – which gives the car a lower centre of gravity. This tends to give electric cars better traction, so they’re better equipped to crawl through snow.
Plenty of electric cars also include features like stability control and anti-lock braking, which can further support handling and traction by monitoring your speed, reducing wheel-spin and activating your brakes for you. Some may also have a specific ‘winter’ mode to help in slippery conditions. So, while every car is different, you might be better equipped to drive through snow in an electric car.

Driving an electric car on ice

Electric cars are generally heavier than petrol or diesels, so it’s even more important to drive slowly and carefully in icy conditions, as any slides may be harder to bring back under control. Read our tips for driving on ice and in other winter conditions here.
Winter tyres can also improve grip and reduce the risk of sliding in the first place.

Can I use winter tyres on an electric car?

Yes, winter tyres are available for electric cars.
Winter tyres improve traction and have more grooves in them – which help displace water and grip into snow or ice. They contain more silica, meaning they stay softer in cold temperatures. Winter tyres also have vibrating rubber blocks that shake loose snow off as you drive. As electric cars tend to have higher outputs and weigh more than petrol or diesel cars, you’ll need tyres with specific requirements. These requirements can include: • Minimal rolling resistance • Optimal grip • Sufficient load capacity for heavier EVs Check the handbook or with the manufacturer for guidance on which specific tyres are suitable for your make and model. Generally, winter tyres with a lower rolling resistance can give you a better range, because turning the wheel requires less energy. If you’re a fan of the quiet drive electric cars offer, you can also look for low noise tyres to maintain that sense of peace in the cabin. If you don’t opt for winter tyres, keep an eye on tyre pressure and tyre tread to make sure you’re getting as much grip as possible. Learn more about winter tyres here.

Can I tow another vehicle using an electric car?

It’s still a common courtesy to tow another vehicle through snowy drifts, but will that be the case when we’re all driving electric cars?
Some electric cars available today can tow another vehicle, but most probably shouldn’t. Check with the manufacturer, handbook, or dealership as to whether a specific make model can tow another vehicle. Electric cars tend to weigh more than comparable petrol or diesel cars. So, once you start adding extra weight by towing another vehicle, you’re at risk of over-stressing components like the brakes and transmission. There’s another issue if your car has a regenerative braking system, as it’s tuned to the car’s original kerb weight. Add to that weight by towing something and you’ll throw it out. You can turn regenerative braking off, but that’ll put extra strain on the friction braking system. Some models, including the Tesla Model X, Audi E-Tron, Mercedes EQC, Polestar 2 and Citroën eSpaceTourer have produced electric cars that are capable of towing. The weight they can tow vary from 2,270kg to 1,000kg – so check the weights before you buy if you have a caravan or similar in mind. So, long story short: some make models might be able to help tow another car through a tough patch, some can now tow a caravan, and some of the older models will struggle. All that said though, technology is moving us in the right direction so, eventually, most electric cars should be able to tow and this whole conversation will be a thing of the past.

Can an electric car be towed?

Generally, you should call a breakdown recovery service and avoid asking someone to tow your electric car.
The transmission in most electric cars lacks a neutral position, so the motor(s) are permanently engaged. If someone pulls you along with a tow rope and all your wheels are on the road, you risk damaging the drivetrain and control units. If you’ve got a two-wheel drive, then you could potentially use a towing dolly to lift the driven wheels off the ground. But then, lots of electronic make models have automatic parking brakes that engage when the engine is switched off, so you could damage those. So, for now, we’d avoid this one.

Can I drive an electric car through water?

It should go without saying that electricity and water don’t mix, but electric cars do have several precautions that mean they can, if absolutely necessary, drive through a flooded area.
The drive units and batteries in electric cars (like Tesla) are sealed, so they’re unlikely to be damaged by splashes of water. As with any car, the higher the water level, and the longer you drive through a submerged road, the higher the risk of damage is – so drive steadily and minimise your contact with water where possible. One advantage electric cars have over petrol and diesels is that they don’t have an air intake or an exhaust, so the propulsion system won’t be affected if you drive through water. That said, water can still enter the vehicle and damage the cabin and components if the water is high enough. It could even reach the car’s electronic control units (ECUs) – which control various functions in the car. And if the wheels are submerged in water, the brakes might not work properly either, so just avoid the risk if you can. Generally, the bottom of a standard family car’s doors are slightly higher than the kerb. So, if the kerb isn’t fully submerged and you drive slowly and steadily, you might get through without water entering the cabin. Learn more about driving in rain and floods.

Charging an EV in rain or snow

It is safe to charge an electric car in rain. Both electric cars and charging stations use protective layers and covering shields that prevent water mixing, short circuiting, sparks or current loss.
Electric cars are designed and built to withstand rain and water intrusion, and usually have an IP rating of 67. IP ratings are a two-digit code. The first digit (out of a possible six) refers to the “level of protection against intrusion of foreign bodies” like dust. So, the average electric car gets full marks and six out of six. The second digit (out of a possible eight) refers to the “level of resistance against moisture intrusion”. Full marks (eight out of eight) is for things like submarines and buoys. Seven out of eight means you can be submerged for up to one meter (tested for half an hour). So, you’ll be safe.

Can I charge an electric car in a power cut?

Surprisingly, you might be able to charge your electric car in a power cut.
Some charging stations have battery backup systems – meaning they’ll still have power you can access even if the grid is down. Obviously, the available power is going to be limited so we’d discourage you from setting off to recharge – best to wait until the power is back on. But if you’re already out and in desperate need of a top-up – don’t despair before you try a charging point.

Looking after an electric car in winter

Generally, looking after an electric car in winter is basically the same as looking after a petrol or diesel – excluding the finer details.
Keep it clean, keep anti-freeze topped up (yep, electric cars can use anti-freeze for their cooling systems too) and – crucially for electric cars – keep the battery topped up. You’ll need to perform the usual check to dislodge any snow or grit – which can corrode the metal or paint over time. De-icing an electric car works in the same way as a petrol or diesel too – use de-icer, gently score and scrape and don’t drive off until the glass is clear. The melting ice won’t leak in and blow the entire computer. You can learn more about looking after a car in winter here.

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