All electric cars experience some degree of range loss in cold weather. For EV owners in colder winter climates, like northern portions of the United States, daily driving and charging behaviors must be adjusted in these months.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this range loss is temporary and there is no long term detriment to your battery. As the ice melts and the temperatures rise, your vehicle’s expected range at full charge should return to normal.
Why Does Cold Weather Affect Electric Vehicle Range?
Winter range loss occurs for a few reasons. We cover them in detail in our hot and cold temperature article but the two main contributing factors are chemical and mechanical.
- Chemical and physical reactions in the battery occur more slowly in cold temperatures. This reduces the EVs power. Cold temperatures inhibit chemical reactions and act as resistance that slows down the physical processes.
- Electric cars have to make their own heat. The internal combustion engines (ICE) that power traditional cars are surprisingly inefficient. All of the energy that ICE cars don’t use to propel them forward is turned into “waste heat,” which is typically just lost energy. In cold weather, however, ICE cars redirect this waste heat from the engine to warm the cabin. On the other hand, an EV has a much more efficient motor which does not generate as much heat. In the cold, available motor heat is routed to warm the battery itself, meaning that cabin heating requires a power source. Cabin heaters generally draw from the high voltage battery, reducing how much battery is left for driving.
Several organizations have studied these effects, including AAA, but they are often completed in laboratory settings or with only several vehicles. This research project includes a much larger data set. Instead of dozens of vehicles, we are analyzing thousands, and recording their performance in real world driving conditions.
At the end of this article, I also share some of the lessons we have learned on combating winter range loss for our fellow EV drivers.
New for 2022: we include data that shows actual, real-world winter range under real-world driving conditions for the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Nissan LEAF, all Tesla models, and Volkswagen ID.4. These verified winter range values reflect average observed data for a variety of drivers under a wide range of use cases.
Electric Cars React to Winter in Very Different Ways
This chart compares 13 popular EV models to show range loss in different driving conditions. It includes aggregated and anonymized data from 7,000 vehicles in the Recurrent community from across the United States as well as tens of thousands of data points from on-board devices that provide data on energy usage.
The estimated winter range for several vehicles has been updated in 2022 to reflect the winter range that we have verified with real-world data. We will continue to update this chart as we verify new models.
Verified winter range figures include all real-world variables, such as uneven terrain, variable driving speeds and uses, and calendar aging in vehicle batteries. They show the average expectation for winter driving conditions in a range of real use cases.
Estimated winter ranges are based on on-board telematics and reflect the OEMs proprietary range calculations and software. Verified winter ranges are based on original Recurrent research using a combination of on-board devices and real-time usage data providing more than 35,000 datapoints.
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Audi e-tron Winter Range
Model or Trim: Premium Plus
Observed Range at 20-30F: 93% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 101% of Original EPA Range
The e-tron is Audi’s first all-electric vehicle and it comes with the high-end engineering and performance Audi drivers expect. Despite the bevy of comfort and luxury features, its large battery puts out relatively few miles for its size. Since the e-tron was released in 2019, the effects of cold weather are well known, and Audi takes added steps to preserve range in wintry conditions.
The e-tron has a heat pump to heat the interior cabin without draining its high voltage battery, and can recapture up to 3 kW of waste heat from the motor. Energy conscious heated seats also come standard and, in extreme temperatures, telematics will inform the driver of limited performance.
This chart includes all model years, although there are some differences. Prior to 2021, the e-tron came with an optional cold weather package with adaptive windshield wipers, heated washer jets, rear heated seats, and a preconditioning heater for the high-voltage battery. Starting in 2021, the winter package was discontinued, but heated seats, four-zone climate control, and heated steering wheels are now all standard. The preconditioning feature is also standard, but owners warn that to heat the battery using wall power, rather than battery power, it must be set up using the MyAudi app rather than in the car directly.
BMW i3 Winter Range
Model or Trim: 42 kWh Battery
Observed Range at 20-30F: 74% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 98% of Original EPA Range
The BMW i3 does not sound like the ideal winter weather car since it is a small, rear-wheel drive hatchback. On top of that, it does not have range parity with other EV leaders, like the 250-mile Chevy Bolt, so each mile of range loss would be noticed.
This little BMW clearly experiences some winter range loss in cold temperatures. But keep in mind that many i3 models include a heat pump in the US and some feature a gasoline range extender (called REx). Both of those help to preserve range in cold temperature.
Chevy Bolt Winter Range
Model or Trim: 60 kWh Battery
Observed Range at 20-30F: 66% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 98% of Original EPA Range
The Chevy Bolt was an early pioneer, offering an impressive range on a modestly sized battery. The Bolt does not come with many bells or whistles, but it is a wildly popular in the EV community. Recurrent is also closely following the Bolt recall here.
Bolt owners note that the on-board range estimates are highly sensitive to external temperatures, and available range can drop significantly in even mild conditions. Luckily, the 250-mile rated range means that even diminished actual range should be okay for most daily driving. We have reports from Alaska that the Bolt can lose half its range at -40 F, but thankfully most drivers won’t see those temperatures.
The chart below shows the on-board range estimate as a function of daytime temperature, aggregated over 1200+ Chevy Bolts. You can see that while range estimates decline in the heat, too, they are far more sensitive to cold.
The Bolt manual suggests leaving the car plugged in (with reduced max charge, of course) when it is very cold or very hot, so that the thermal management system does not deplete the battery. In more mild winters, the Bolt thermal management system will not kick in when the car is off, allowing the battery to cool to the mid-30’s, and only warming it when the car is turned on.
Chevy Volt Winter Range
Model or Trim: 18.4 kWh Battery
Observed Range at 20-30F: 69% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 100% of Original EPA Range
The Chevy Volt has been on the road since 2011 and although production ended with the 2019 model year, it is still one of the top five most popular used EVs. In an early press release for the Volt, GM offers assurances that its engineering considers winter weather and has systems to ensure gas-free driving even when the weather outside is frosty. The benefit to driving a plug-in hybrid in the cold is that the engine can cycle between electric and combustion, since the combustion engine will produce “waste heat” that can be used to warm the battery and cabin.
Volt was an early pioneer of vehicle preconditioning, allowing drivers to remotely heat their car with an app. Preconditioning allows the cabin to warm up while the car is still plugged in, drawing power from the grid, not the vehicle’s battery. Since it takes more energy to heat the cabin than to maintain a constant temperature, this definitely helps the Volt maintain its range in cold weather. Volts also come with heated seats, which are a great, lower energy option to keep the driver and front seat passenger warm.
Finally, the Volt capitalizes on the internal combustion engine to capture heat when it’s cold enough. As GM explains, “In sub-freezing temperatures, the engine will periodically cycle on and off, heating the coolant to create a reservoir of thermal energy that is then used to warm the cabin air. Using engine heat this way enables faster window defrosting and rear seat heating than taking energy from the battery.”
Ford Mustang Mach-E in the Winter
Model or Trim: Premium AWD
Verified Range at 20-30F: 65% of EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 95% of Original EPA Range
The Mustang Mach-E was released in 2021 to much fanfare and occasional controversy about the appropriation of the famous Mustang nameplate. It hasn’t been on the road for many winters, but it comes with the standard app-based departure settings such as preconditioning and warming the cabin.
However, Ford did not install a heat pump, relying instead on resistance heating, which is known to have a big effect on winter range, since energy must be drawn from the high voltage battery to generate the heat.
In the chart below, the dotted line represents real-world range from 35,000 data points. The solid lines represent the on-board range as seen on the dashboard and by telematics. Ford's on-board diagnostics are very close to real range at many temperatures.
In terms of handling, many drivers report great handling in snow and ice, but urge interested shoppers to get all wheel drive if they live anywhere that might see winter precipitation.
Hyundai Kona Electric Winter Range
Observed Range at 20-30F: 93% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 112% of Original EPA Range
The Hyundai Kona is the brand’s well-known small SUV that comes in both electric and ICE versions. It is a less common vehicle in the Recurrent community, with about 100 active models, but not due to a lack of owner satisfaction or winter handling. Overall, the Kona EV performs well in the winter - its range is healthy enough to be manageable even with some loss and the FWD motor handily navigates the snow and ice.
An industry-leading heat pump is available in the Canadian and European Kona EVs, but it was not available across model years in the US prior to 2023. Starting with this year's models, a heat pump is included with upgraded SEL and Limited trims, so we're excited to see what impact that has on winter range. In 2020, select US markets had an optional battery warmer to help charge time in the cold, as well as a “comfort and convenience” package that helps mitigate winter range loss. This seems to be included in the 2023 model year for SEL and Limited trims, as well. From what we know so far, though, the battery warmer only works when the car is on, so merely leaving it plugged in is not enough to precondition your battery. There are limited reports about Kona EV drivers dissatisfied with the heat, although switching off “Eco” mode often solved this issue.
Jaguar I-PACE Winter Range
Observed Range at 20-30F: 97% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 100% of Original EPA Range
The Jaguar I-PACE is one of the few truly luxury vehicles on this list, and in addition to its style and design, it is known for having a large but very inefficient battery. It remains the subject of debate why the I-PACE battery gets so few miles per kWh. Although drivers reliably get 200+ miles in our community, even the oldest models.
Despite the visible curvature in the chart, the I-PACE only loses about 10 miles of range in the cold weather - amounting to only around 5% of total range lost when temperatures are around freezing. This is due to the I-PACE’s use of a heat pump to control cabin temperature, rather than the high voltage battery.
The I-PACE also boasts a sophisticated thermal management system that pulls waste heat from the motor to warm the battery or cabin when needed, helping to preserve the range.
Nissan LEAF Winter Range
Model or Trim: SL/SV Plus 62 kWh Battery
Observed Range at 20-30F: 54% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 75% of Original EPA Range
Nissan’s LEAF was an EV pioneer as an affordable option. Unfortunately, it also developed a reputation for performing poorly in the extreme heat and cold. This is likely due to the fact that Nissan chose a passive battery thermal management system.
Here is what Nissan tells us about cold temperature driving:
- Regenerative braking is restricted since the battery cannot charge as quickly.
- The colder it is outside, the smaller the amount of charge the Nissan LEAF battery can hold.
- Nissan doesn’t recommend storing the Li-ion battery below -13F for over seven days. This may freeze the battery. However, the 2018 LEAF manual recommends not letting it sit below -1F.
- The battery warmer (if equipped) turns on when the temperature of the battery is at -1F and will turn off after reaching 14F.
- If the LEAF is equipped with a battery warmer, then it will not operate below 15% state of charge and the charging cord is disconnected from the vehicle.
For more on the Nissan LEAF, I wrote an article about battery replacements that goes deeper into LEAF battery costs.
Tesla Model 3 Winter Range
Model or Trim: Long Range
Observed Range at 20-30F: 44% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 62% of Original EPA Range
Tesla is known for two things in the winter: having a very proactive thermal management system that kicks in at both high and low temperatures and for tightly controlling the on-board range estimates that drivers see. As evidenced below, it appears in the Model 3 dashboard data that there is almost no change in available range in cold or hot conditions.
This lack of response in the winter is because Tesla’s on-board computers synthesize a consistent experience. In the real world, drivers do experience lower range in the winter and summer.
New to 2022, we have added observed, real-world range fluctuations to our Tesla data. The dotted line below shows the range as observed from on-board devices and energy usage. This shows a more expected decrease in winter range, although Tesla's thermal management is still great at controlling cold weather range loss.
Teslas will also limit regenerative braking in the winter to protect the battery from damaging charges when cold. Once the car warms up, regenerative braking will come back. Similarly, charging your Tesla at a Supercharger will be slow going until the battery warms up so Tesla recommends waiting until you’ve driven a bit to use a charging station.
As per the Norwegian Automobile Federation tests in 2020, Tesla Model 3 showed a 34% range reduction. The test conditions show only one data point for observed winter range and the Model 3 that was tested did not include a heat pump, which now comes standard. A heat pump will increase the cold weather range.
Tesla Model Y Winter Range
Model or Trim: Long Range AWD
Observed Range at 20-30F: 49% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 64% of Original EPA Range
Whereas the Model 3 heating system was known to use waste heat from the motor only to warm the battery itself, the Model Y uses a more sophisticated heat pump system to help regulate temperatures without drawing on the high voltage battery. The patented Model Y heating system alludes to “a total of 12 heating modes and 3 cooling modes. The system even uses the thermal mass of the battery to store heat. Then, the battery can be used as a heat source as we draw down the thermal energy stored in the pack.”
If the thermodynamic details of this sound interesting, we recommend reading more about how the Model Y is changing the game on EV heating. Remember that you can truly leverage the efficiency of the Model Y's heating by preconditioning the car and using cabin heaters conservatively.
Tesla Model S Winter Range
Model or Trim: 75D
Observed Range at 20-30F: 45% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 63% of Original EPA Range
The Tesla Model S was the original mass market Tesla, released in 2012 after the Roadster’s popularity made Tesla a household name. While they are generally considered the higher end models, as opposed to the more moderately priced Model 3 and Y, S did not originally come with the sophisticated winter weather engineering discussed above. However, as of last winter, all new models now come with heap pump technology.
Note that in our Verified Winter Range data, we include older models that are not equipped with a heat pump, which may decrease the overall winter range.
Tesla Model X Winter Range
Model or Trim: 75D
Observed Range at 20-30F: 48% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 61% of Original EPA Range
The Model X is an SUV built onto the Model S platform and has been on the market since 2016. Both the X and S come with an optional Subzero Weather Package, which includes any or all of the following, depending on the exact year and software package:
- Heated rear seats
- Heated steering wheel
- Heated washer nozzles
- Heater windshield wipers
- Heated side mirrors
- Camera heaters
All of these features help to reduce reliance on energy intensive cabin heating and defrost necessary car components. Of course, it’s easy to set a departure time and precondition the car and battery, too. And, as of 2021, Model X is now equipped with a heat pump, too.
In the observed range line below, the bumps in the data on the left side of the chart represent data abnormalities. As we gather more cold weather data, this chart will be updated.
VW e-Golf in the Winter
Model or Trim: 36 kWh Battery
Observed Range at 20-30F: 88% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 111% of Original EPA Range
The VW e-Golf is an electrified version of the beloved Golf that preceded the company’s much-hyped ID.3 and ID.4 releases. Long-time VW drivers will tell you that driving the e-Golf in winter conditions has familiar good traction and handling, but those with only resistance heating do complain about large range drops in the winter. Rather than use the energy intensive cabin heat, VW recommends using optional heated seats and remotely preconditioning the cabin by setting a departure time. Overseas and in Canada, the e-golf is available with a cold weather package including heated mirrors and windshield, but it can be hard to find these features on domestic models.
A heat pump is included in some premium trim options in the US and is recommended for anyone in northern regions with harsher winters. Volkswagen warns against leaving the e-golf in temperatures below -13F for more than a few days for risk of the battery freezing. Due to a smaller overall battery size (24-35 kWh), we recommend preconditioning before venturing into the cold -- see below for more on that!
VW ID.4 in the Winter
Model or Trim: 82 kWh Battery
Observed Range at 20-30F: 65% of Original EPA Range
Observed Range at 70F: 95% of Original EPA Range
The Volkswagen ID.4 is one of new darlings in the EV world. It comes with all-wheel drive option, heated steering wheel and front seats, and remote preconditioning. In the AWD configuration, the car also comes with a heated windshield. In both configuration, however, the cabin heater is resistive, rather than using a heat pump, so it does noticeably draw from battery power. However, if you must have a heat pump, see if you can find a Canadian model. A heat pump is also optional on the European ID.4s. Volkswagen is convinced that with preconditioning and the use of heated interior elements, we won't miss the heat pump at all.
Tips for Avoiding Winter Range Loss
- Preconditioning is available in most EVs with a connected services app that allows you to warm up both the battery and cabin prior to actually getting in your car, all from your phone. Selected vehicles also offer a “winter weather” package that is specially designed to keep battery temperatures in an ideal zone.
- Prepare for longer charge times. To protect the high voltage battery, many cars limit the charging voltage when the battery is cold. The thermal management system will usually lift the voltage restriction when the battery is warm enough to safely receive the full charge.
- Warm your battery before charging. building on the above, if your car has battery preconditioning, often part of a “winter weather” package, bring your battery to room temperature prior to charging. Alternatively, charging right after a trip will ensure the battery is warm.
- Use seat and wheel warmers rather than only climate controls. These features use less energy and target the driver or passengers with heat, rather than spreading warm air around the cabin.
- Turn down regenerative braking for winter driving as roads may be icy or cold. You will want to be able to engage your brakes more than in temperate conditions. Regenerative braking may also be limited by your battery management system if the battery is cold, since a cold battery cannot charge as fast as a warm one.
- Turn off some hardware features, like side mirrors that fold automatically. If the weather drops below freezing, side mirrors may get damaged or frozen stuck.
- Store your Tesla plugged in. Teslas have very active thermal management, so if you’re going to see family for the holidays, or escaping to a beach for a week, consider lowering your charge threshold to around 70% and leaving your car plugged in. That way, the car can pull energy from the wall to keep warm, rather than using the battery. Otherwise, you may return to a lower battery capacity than expected.