My Approach for Driving the Tesla in Cold Weather

FEB 25, 2019 – If you have a @Tesla or other EV, you have seen this article about range during cold snaps. Luckily, I had two extreme cold events where I could test out the Tesla.  First, this is a big deal as it relates to getting EVs saturated into our lives.  I also feel like Tesla is pushing back a little too hard.  If they have better data—that uses the same parameters as the story, they should publish it.  Second thought.  I’m guessing Tesla’s response is based on slightly different temperature variables or not done in “real world” driving conditions—like not driving with the heater on full blast, like people do when its 10 degrees outside.


Here’s my approach for driving the Tesla and my experience with range reduction.  I’m going to drive it exactly how I drive a normal car.  I’m not going to go out of my way to “save electricity” any more than I go out of my way to “save gasoline”, but I am constantly aware there is a financial tradeoff.  When that car is idling, money is flowing out of my pocket.  I balance that with my need for comfort.  My priorities when driving—in no particular order after “getting there”—include being comfortable, being safe, having fun, and listening to music. I’m not got to change those priorities just because.


In my experience driving an EV in both “cold” (defined in the article as 20 degrees) and extreme cold (defined by me as less than 5 degrees), the numbers published are accurate, if not optimistic.  Maybe some people will be OK sacrificing comfort to drive an EV, but not me.  Which means I use a remote start on my vehicles to preheat my cars before I go to work in the morning, and before I go home.  I’m not jumping into a cold car, regardless of its propulsion mechanism.


So when it was 25 below zero (I parked my car outside just to test this) I got up, pushed the button to pre-heat the Tesla at the same time I would have pushed the button to pre-heat the Suburban or Pacifica, and got ready for work.  (I’ll have a separate post on comfort.)


Under those circumstances, neither the Tesla nor the combustion vehicles like to get going.  Their tires seem to get a square edge on them.  They moan when they start out.  But the Tesla was a worse experience.  All the electronics that are awesome on a good day are not as snappy when its 20 below.  For instance, the door didn’t “pop open” like it should have or close automatically.  (Yeah…I know I’m kind of hypocritical because it’s not like the Suburban’s doors do either of those things…1st world problems I know).  The Tesla also threw up an error message about one of the front lights malfunctioning.  It eventually went away by lunch time, but I think it was due to frost accumulation.


Most crucially, the steering was actually really bad all the way to work.  Like it felt like one of my dad’s old tractors that had hydraulic power steering that wasn’t working well.  It was super heavy, and would not return to center.  This did improve after five miles or so.  Suspension was harsh, but no different than would have been on the Suburban.


As far as range, here is my experience.  On several different occasions, I would drive and compare the “miles driven” to “estimated range” from when I started my trip.  So one time I drove 2 miles, and it “consumed” 7 miles of range.  Thinking that was a pretty small sample, later than night I drove 10 miles, “consuming” 50 miles of range.  On another occasion I drove 3 miles and used 35 miles of range.  I did this many times over the course of a few days, and the BEST I got was two miles of range for each actual mile traveled.  Keep in mind this is at 5 and below, sometimes as cold as 20 below—but that’s the world we live in.  And how do you fix that?  It’s hard, because you can’t fight the physics of cold weather vs. battery life.  I guess my first thought would be making the battery pack extremely well insulated. Check a box that heats up the battery compartment when you are plugged in, and then uses a limited amount of juice to keep the battery box heated.  Even if that reduces your range, as long as it reduces it less than the cold weather would have it’s a win.  Maybe they already do that—it not, send the royalty payments to this address.


So all in all, the range reduction in the cold is a real problem.  It’s not controversial that it exists, although there is no consensus on the magnitude of the challenge. Understanding that it will slow adoption of EVs, there is undoubtedly a lot of work going on in the background, (including an engineer who just got an email from her boss telling her to insulate the battery pack).  It’s not a deal-killer for a car you just drive around town, but keep in mind it’s not just the range reduction, but you are paying for electricity that is being siphoned away by the cold—so it costs you real money—another reason we need to keep our electricity affordable, and why we should be thankful that lignite coal gives us some of the cheapest electricity in the country.  If we are going to be charging our EV’s more frequently in the winter, we are going to appreciate it even more, when that driver’s side door closes itself automatically.

Jason Bohrer


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