Winter driving tips: everything you need to know for EV owners

Expert advice on how to make the most of your electric vehicle during the colder months...

All cars, whether they are petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric, do not perform at their best during the winter.

It’s particularly apparent with electric vehicles because when the temperature plummets, it affects a lithium-ion battery’s chemistry, decreasing its efficiency.

In practical terms, this means that the battery pack will take longer to charge and range will take a hit.

While you cannot control the weather, you can control how you prepare, drive and look after your EV, so here are our winter driving tips…

Mercedes EQS

Drive smoothly

Avoid sudden acceleration and braking, and stay within the speed limits. Driving sensibly like this helps with range and efficiency all year round, but especially during the colder months.

Pre-conditioning your cabin

One of the lesser-known features of electric cars, pre-conditioning allows you to pre-heat or pre-cool the car’s cabin before you start your journey. In the winter, it will heat the cabin, as well as demist and defrost windows. Ideally, you should pre-condition while your EV is plugged in at home, so that the battery is not used to warm up the car, which reduces your overall mileage.

Pre-condition the battery

Some EVs are also fitted with battery pre-conditioning, which is different to cabin warming. During cold winter weather it increases your car’s range because the battery is warmed up to its most-effective operating temperature. As with cabin pre-conditioning, scheduling is relatively simple to set up and is usually controlled via an app or through your car’s infotainment system.

Toyota BZ4X eco and snow mode

Use Eco mode

Most electric vehicles have some kind of Eco mode which reduces power consumption and increases mileage by reducing the energy supply to the electric motor and high energy consumption features such a heaters. You will notice a slightly decreased power and responsiveness, but it will extend your battery range, and save you money.

Keep warm

There’s a lively debate about the best way to stay warm in an electric car during the winter. Obviously, you can whack up the heating, but it will decrease your driving range. However, using the heater is an inefficient use of your car’s battery, so the advice is to try and heat yourself rather than the cabin (which can be pre-heated), unless it’s absolutely necessary. In other words, put on warm clothes and switch on the heated seats instead.

Extreme weather driving

Snow, ice, gales, flooding and fog are just some of the challenges drivers have to navigate in the colder months. All the usual winter driving tips for conventional car owners still apply to EV drivers, so allow plenty of time for your journey, drive carefully and sensibly, and expect the unexpected. That said, EVs tend to be heavier than conventional cars and the battery pack located underneath the car gives it a lower centre of gravity, which can improve traction. The disadvantage of the extra weight is that it can be harder to correct sliding in slippery conditions. The good news is that many dual-motor electric vehicles have all-wheel drive with modes specifically for slippery conditions. If you live in an area prone to extreme conditions, it might be worth fitting winter tyres, which improve grip and reduce the risk of sliding in the first place. One final point – instant torque in EVs is great fun, but take it easy in slippery conditions, because tyres can struggle for traction.

> Are electric cars more likely to catch fire?

De-icing your car

Unless you’ve pre-conditioned your car, the rules for defrosting your windscreen are the same – use a de-icer spray and/or scraper to remove the frost. Do not use boiling water, because it can crack the windscreen. Better still, cover your windscreen the night before so there’s no need to scrape off ice the next morning.

BMW iX – extreme cold weather

Maintenance checks

Electric vehicles have fewer moving parts than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, which makes them much easier to maintain. EVs generally only have three key fluids that need to be topped up regularly: coolant fluid, brake fluid and windscreen washer. Also, make sure your wiper blades are clean and don’t leave smears. Experts recommend changing them every 12 months. Also check your vehicle’s lights, and if a bulb has gone, replace it before making your next journey. Legally, all your car’s exterior lights must be operational – that’s everything from the headlights to the number plate bulb.

> EV maintenance: Your how-to guide

Look after your EV

If possible, keep your EV in a garage during the winter to protect it from the worst of the cold and make battery charging more efficient. If you don’t have access to a garage or car port, invest in an insulated cover. Keep your car and wheels clean too. Washing away contaminants such as salt will mean they have less time to affect your cars paintwork and, in some cases, cause rust issues. Also, consider waxing your car once it’s dried after a clean. It will keep harmful dirt away from the paintwork, protect it from the elements and make it easier to wash the next time.

Plan your route

Range anxiety is more prevalent in the winter, because it’s so much harder to eke out miles in colder weather. The last thing you want is to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with a depleted battery pack, so plan ahead to make sure you’re always within reach of a public charger. Also, give yourself options because there may be a queue (batteries can take longer to charge in low temperatures) or one or more of the chargers could be out of action.

Check your tyres

It’s especially important to regularly check the pressure on your tyres during the winter because as the temperature drops, the air in your tyres contracts and the pressure falls. Overinflated or underinflated tyres can affect the grip and handling of your car. Make sure you also inspect the tyres for any damage, such as cuts and bulges. Also check the tread depth of your tyres at least once a month – the legal minimum of 1.6mm.

Emergency essentials

If there’s extreme weather, but you have no option to head out in your car, you should consider carrying a winter driving kit, should thew worst happen and you’re stranded. It should include a fully charged mobile phone, an ice scraper, de-icer, torch, shovel, hi-vis jacket, warm/waterproof clothing, a warning triangle, snacks and water.

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