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Driving an Electric Car in the Cold is Possible, but Range Is Not.

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I drove the all electric Polestar 2 in the freezing New York winter. 
My driving range decreased by 20-40% at times and my car was charging slower than usual. 
Although the cold made EV driving more cumbersome than I expected, it wasn’t as difficult as I had hoped. 

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If you’ve ever had your smartphone damaged by the sun, you know what extreme heat can do to it. 

However, the opposite problem struck me when I drove the electric 2022 Polestar 2, this January, for a weekend. The temperatures were expected to plummet to sub-zero in the area I was driving in upstate New York. I was not sure how the electric sedan would respond. 

I was confident that the Polestar wouldn’t completely die on me. But electric-vehicle range — the one thing standing between you and an embarrassing roadside call to AAA — is notoriously susceptible to changes in the environment. Although a fully-charged Tesla might be capable of traveling 300-plus mile in theory, adding in hills and inclement weather will reduce that number. 

A frosty 2022 Polestar 2.

Tim Levin/Insider

I also heard stories of electric cars losing range while parked in cold temperatures. Who hasn’t had the experience of having to jumpstart an electric car in the middle of winter? In the weeks leading up to my trip I was unsure if I would wake up one morning to find my battery level had dropped half a percent. Would I have any fun or spend the weekend looking for charging stations and babysitting my car? 

It turns out that I was reacting too much. People who claim that electric cars in winter are a disaster to drive are also overreacting.

I made sure that I arrived at my Airbnb on Friday evening with a healthy 70% fee. Temperatures dropped to -2 overnight, and climbed into the single digits early Saturday. To my relief, the car didn’t lose any energy by morning.

The 2022 Polestar 2.

Tim Levin/Insider

According to Venkat Srinivasan (a battery expert and director of the Argonne Collaborative Center For Energy Storage Science), I shouldn’t have been concerned about this. He said that electric cars do not discharge completely in cold weather, but that they can still experience other issues. 

Srinivasan stated that heating up the cabin is the main source of vehicle battery drain in winter conditions. Electric cars are powered by battery power, whereas gas cars use heat from their engines to warm their passengers. If you are using energy to heat or cool your vehicle, you can’t expect it to reach its maximum driving range. 

The 2022 Polestar 2.

Tim Levin/Insider

Srinivasan said EV owners can expect around a 30-40% drop in range in cold weather, and that’s about what I observed at most — though my range fluctuated depending on my driving speed and use of the heater. I tried to combat this by charging my EV often and early, and always had a full battery. I realize that I didn’t need to be so obsessive about it.

Here’s a not-entirely-scientific example: One 55-mile drive at 70 mph in 18 degrees with moderate climate-control use chewed through 85 miles of potential range, representing a 35% decrease in efficiency. The Norwegian Automobile Federation found that the discrepancy was sometimes more than 20%. Polestar 2 comes with a Range Assistant app, which shows you how your driving style and speed impact on energy consumption.

Srinivasan also stated that cold can slow down the flow of ions within a battery pack, which can lead to lower efficiency. After about 15 minutes of driving, the problem disappears once the battery pack has warmed up. The cold also slows down an EV’s charging speed and limits regenerativebraking, both of these were things I noticed. 

The 2022 Polestar 2.

Tim Levin/Insider

Your driving habits and car will determine how cold weather affects your EV experience. I didn’t mind the slower charging times and lower range because I wasn’t in hurry and had access plenty of charging outlets. I was able to get a lot of mileage with the Polestar 2’s 270-mile range even after turning on the heater. 

If you live in cold areas and have a long commute, you might reconsider buying a 149-mile Nissan Leaf. Its effective range could drop to below 100 miles in winter. 

If you are worried about driving your EV in freezing conditions, here is my advice: Allow for more mileage, know the location of nearby charging stations and keep an eye on your battery level. And don’t go crazy with the heater – you’ll survive.

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