Will an electric car work in the winter?

Worried about a cold-snap immobilising your electric car? Don’t: electric cars are capable of tackling the worst that the British winter can throw at them

Compared to other countries, the UK’s winters aren’t really much to complain about. However, while sub-zero temperatures are often restricted to the space of a few weeks, and snowfall to a handful of inches every year, these can still prove difficult conditions for both drivers and road authorities.

Freezing temperatures not only bring with them ice and snow, but they also affect the way cars drive and perform. Electric cars in particular are impacted by the cold, but this doesn’t mean they don’t or can’t work in icy conditions. Norway, one of the biggest adopters of electric cars per capita, has much tougher winters than the UK. If they can work in Norway, they’ll do just fine here.

How does winter affect an electric vehicle?

The biggest effect the cold has on an electric vehicle is reducing the vehicle’s range. This is because cold temperatures affect the batteries that store electricity onboard electric vehicles.

In simple terms, batteries rely on chemical reactions to give off electricity. The cold slows down these reactions which in return slows down the battery performance. Lithium-ion batteries, the most common battery technology on board electric and hybrid vehicles, work by lithium-ions moving from the anode to the cathode in the battery – a process which creates electricity. Cold slows this process down and restricts battery performance.

For example, Tesla says it’s Model S P100D can do 425 miles at 55mph when the outside temperature is 40-degrees Celsius. Turn this down to -10 degrees Celsius and the range drops to 372 miles.

Another effect of the cold is that charging speeds at public charging stations may be lower. Tesla points out that extreme cold weather can result in a slower charging speed at its Supercharger stations.

Should I worry when driving during the winter?

Apart from keeping an eye on the vehicle range, and weather and road conditions, there isn’t much to worry about.

Electric vehicles are in general heavier than petrol and diesel models. This means that their slides may be harder to control, so its even more important to drive slowly and carefully in bad conditions.

This can, of course, be mitigated by investing in a good set of winter tyres and driving carefully and to the conditions.