Winter Range: ICE vs EV

Sydnie GjeraldJanuary 4, 2022

When it comes to vehicle range, operating in suboptimal weather conditions has an inevitable and significant effect. This includes both extreme cold winter conditions as well as scorching hot summer temperatures. The former is a common argument against adopting electric vehicles, as cold winter temperatures affect battery performance and decreases range significantly.

What many don’t point out, however, is that cold weather has always affected range in ICEVs as well. As air has higher density the colder it is, driving at high speeds in the winter increases the drag on your vehicle, using up fuel more quickly in both EVs and ICEVs. Additionally, low temps cause tire pressure to decrease which increases rolling resistance in all vehicle types.

These are just a couple of the ways extreme winters can affect both electric and internal combustion engine vehicles. So, why is the impact on ICEV range not brought up as often?

As a fleet manager operating in colder climates, it can be worth comparing the effect of low temperatures on both EV and ICEV models. This can help in making decisions regarding best vehicles for your fleet, as well as taking action to maintain optimal range despite low temps.

Winter range of EVs

For electric vehicles, cold weather can decrease range by up to 40 percent – a daunting number for any driver or fleet manager. This can affect operating schedules and route planning, in addition to changing a fleet’s charging strategy from how it works the rest of the year. Let’s discuss the top contributing factors to this significant drop in range.

In-cabin climate control

Heating the inside of your truck is inarguably the first thing you want to do when you set out on a 20-degree winter morning. Unfortunately, this is one of the most draining activities for an EV battery. Vehicles often spend 5 to 10 minutes idling while they are warmed up to a comfortable temp for driving, lowering both your vehicle’s range and fuel economy in one go.

About two-thirds of the extra energy consumed in the winter is due solely to in-cabin climate control. This includes heater fans, heated seats and wheel and window defrosters.

Lower battery performance

The second perpetrator is the EV’s battery performance in this less-than-ideal conditions. The lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles have an optimal operating temperature of 68 to 77 degrees F. The lower you drop from this number the quicker a battery’s charge depletes and the longer it takes to recharge.

EV battery technology has come a long, however, and thermal management systems exist within battery packs to ensure that they are kept at an ideal temp while being used. Still, as your car can take a while to warm up to its ideal temperature, shorter trips will likely be made at suboptimal temps and ultimately not be the most fuel efficient.

Winter range of ICEVs

As mentioned before, it is not only electric vehicles that suffer from ice cold, winter conditions. Internal combustion engines face their own challenges in the cold that weaken vehicle performance and fuel efficiency. At 20 degrees F, a gasoline car gets 15 percent less mileage than it would at 77 degrees F. Let’s dive into the “why?”

Cold-starting the engine

Just like an EV’s battery, the engine of an ICEV has an operating temperature sweet spot between 195 and 220 degrees F. Starting up your car in the winter can be harsh on the engine, producing wear and ultimately deteriorating the engine’s performance. Since your vehicle can take up to 15 minutes from when you drive off for it to reach its ideal temp, taking it easy for this time is advisable. Until the engine is warmed up, your vehicle won’t be performing at its peak fuel-efficiency.

Thicker fluids

Cold weather takes a toll on all the different liquids at work within your car, making fluids like motor oil and transmission oil thicker and more viscous. This is detrimental to the vehicle’s operation as these lubricants are necessary for keeping the moving parts in motion and resistance-free. These fluids protect various parts of the car like the transmission and axles, so being at a warm temp is key to them effectively doing their job and preventing the engine from working overtime.

What this means for fleets/drivers?

For fleet managers in colder regions, this means that regardless of the vehicles they deploy, harsh winter conditions will inevitably take a toll on performance. However, that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done to lessen the impact and protect the vehicles.

Here are five easy tips for keeping range high and boosting fuel efficiency in the winter.

1 – Keep your vehicle in a covered place overnight.

Covered garages tend to keep vehicles warmer than they would be outside. This ensures that the initial temperature of your engine or battery and cabin is not as low, so less energy will be expended to get them up to optimal temp.

2 – Warm up electric vehicles while plugged in.

This maximizes the vehicle’s range as you consume energy directly from the current instead of using up the energy stored in the battery. Especially since EV batteries take longer to charge in the cold, you won’t want to be using your precious range on warming up.

3 – Avoid idling when warming up your car.

For internal combustion engines, vehicles heat up much quicker while being driven. This means that leaving your car in park while it warms up is heating it up at a much slower rate and burning more fuel. Driving off while it is still cold may be uncomfortable at first but will reduce your fuel costs, emissions and time to a warm cabin overall.

4 – Combine short trips in the winter.

A cold engine burns more fuel as it isn’t performing at its optimal temperature. Combining various short trips in the winter into one longer trip can minimize the time spent driving with a cold engine. This will protect your engine and lower your fuel consumption overall.

5 – Be mindful of in-cabin heating usage.

It’s tempting to leave the heated fans blasting to combat the harsh weather outside, but this is the greatest contributor to rapid fuel consumption. Instead, get your vehicle to a comfortable temp and then take advantage of the seat and wheel warmers if your vehicle has them. These features save energy and work to effectively heat you up instead of the entirety of the cabin.

It’s easy to point fingers at EVs for being inefficient in the cold, but the fact of the matter is that no vehicle can perform optimally when faced with harsh, often below-zero, weather conditions. Comparing the performance and capabilities of specific models in your region’s conditions is an essential aspect of selecting models. It is worth doing this on a model-by-model basis instead of EV versus ICEV, as both vehicle types can have their own challenges.

Additionally, with ever progressing battery technology, lithium-ion battery packs are being made bigger and with higher capacity which will lessen the threat of lost range due to cold weather or any other reasons. Promising future technology and smart tricks for boosting fuel efficiency can help managers to get ahead of winter range and not let it taken them by surprise.

If you’re interested to learn more about your vehicle’s performance and how our team of analysts are helping fleets optimize their operations, schedule a demo with us today.

Sydnie Gjerald

Data Analyst

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