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Electric Vehicles: AAA Research Shows Freezing Temperatures Reduce EV Range

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author photo by Russ Heaps February 2019

Range is at the center of almost any discussion of electric vehicles (EVs). It's all about how far an EV can travel between charges. For decades, that range topped out well below 100 miles. Only in the last 10 years or so has battery technology taken a leap forward, allowing estimated ranges to crest 200 miles or more. But, no matter the make or model of an EV, the estimated range is always based on optimum conditions. It turns out batteries, much like you and me, function better at moderate temperatures (70 to 75 degrees). Significantly colder or warmer temps will affect a battery's ability to hold a charge, as well as require longer to fully charge.

Responding to owners of a variety of EVs grumblings about cold temperatures sapping their car's range, the American Automobile Association (AAA) recently conducted a study of five EV models to determine what impact freezing-cold and hotter-than-average weather has on EV range. What the researchers discovered is, when the mercury plunges to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, range drops by an average of as much as 41 percent.

The math is fairly simple: For every 100 mi of estimated range in 20-degree temperatures, owners can expect to get 59 mi. This results not only costing more per mile, but also more EV down time to charge.

The Hardware

EVs picked by the AAA had to be on sale throughout all of the U.S. and have a government-estimated range of at least 100 mi. Test vehicles had to have odometer readings between 1,000 mi and 6,200 mi. To prevent over representation of a brand, only one vehicle per manufacturer could qualify.

The five participating electric vehicles were the 2018 BMW i3s the, 2018 Chevrolet Bolt, the 2018 Nissan Leaf, the 2017 Tesla Model S and the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf.

The Quest

Thee AAA set out to answer three questions:

  • How is estimated range affected by hot and cold outside temperatures?

  • What further impact does operating the HVAC (climate control) have?

  • Based on real-world driving estimations what is the cost of driving in hot/cold environments with the HVAC engaged?

Using a dynamometer (think of a treadmill for cars.) that mimics actual road miles, all five EVs were operated for specific amounts of time at specific speeds. This was done in temperatures of 75 degrees, 95 degrees and 20 degrees both with the climate control on and off.

The Results

The AAA found the results to be clear cut. On average, with the HVAC turned off, an outside temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit resulted in a 12-percent decrease in range. That decrease was 4 percent with an outside temperature of 95 degrees. Using the HVAC further impacted range reduction to a total of 41 percent at 20 degrees and 17 percent at 95 degrees.

The AAA estimates that 41 percent reduction would increase electric costs by more than $24 for 1,000 mi and almost $8 per 1,000 mi for the range decrease at 95 degrees.

The Answer

There's not a lot to be done when the temperature boils or freezes. It is what it is. But the AAA suggests that when possible, preheat and cool down the cabin with the EV still connected to the charger. Most electric vehicles have a function on the key fob or a smart phone app to initiate heating or cooling before entering the vehicle. Find an Electric Vehicle for sale

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Electric Vehicles: AAA Research Shows Freezing Temperatures Reduce EV Range - Autotrader