Frigid weather saps EV batteries. Here’s how to keep yours running.

Icicles hang from the charging cable for a Nissan electric vehicle. (Jenny Kane/AP)
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Plummeting temperatures across the country can force car owners to deal with icy roadways, endless window scraping and tire spinning. Now, another problem has arisen: drained electric vehicles.

Frigid temperatures across the Midwest and East Coast have proved to be a challenge for some electric-vehicle owners, as charging stations become graveyards for dead EVs. Some charging stations are stinted because cold weather causes congestion at the few sites that are working.

Advocates say cold-temperature issues are not specific to EVs.

“Across the board, vehicles don’t work as well in really cold weather,” said Ingrid Malmgren, a policy director Plug In America, an EV advocacy nonprofit.

But dead EVs in subzero temperatures may come as a shock to some drivers. There are a few reasons cold temperatures impact EVs. Here’s what to know and a few tips that may help:


The battery drains faster when temperatures dip

Electric batteries generate power from chemical reactions within the battery. But when temperatures drop, cold temperatures delay the reaction process, reducing the battery storage and the EV’s available power, according to research from Recurrent, a tech start-up dedicated to data about EVs. This could greatly extend an EV’s charging time — even if someone went to a supercharging station.

The research also found that when temperatures were freezing, some of the most popular EVs can drop down to 46 percent of their verified range, down to what’s known as a “winter range.” For the Volkswagen ID.4, which ranges about 250 miles per normal charge, its winter range is nearly 115 per charge.


Warming the cabin takes energy from an EV

Warming the cabin of an EV during cold weather also subtracts from the already limited driving range. Gas-powered cars naturally generate excess heat when they run. So, heating gas-powered cars rarely has an impact on their fuel economy.

But that’s not the case for EVs. The vehicles use most of the energy they produce for driving — that’s what makes them so efficient. It also means that to heat an EV cabin, energy must be sucked from the same source used to propel the car. Research from AAA found that EVs lost an average of 41 percent of their range when the heater was on and temperatures were below 20 degrees.

Yet, there is a way to plan ahead, beat the cold and keep your EV charged during cold blasts.

“It’s not like some freak occurrence that EVs are driven in the extreme cold,” Malmgren said. “People charge all the time.”


Precondition your EV

Avoid the issues that come with a cold EV (and EV battery) by keeping it warm. It takes more energy, and therefore more time, to warm up a cold car than to keep a warm car, warm. Preconditioning your EV maximizes the battery’s charging speed and efficiency, Malmgren said.


Warm your EV while it’s still plugged in

If you have home charging, experts suggest pre-heating your car — the same way drivers with gas-powered cars do — while you’re at home so that you’re not siphoning energy from the battery.

“In addition to being super comfortable for the driver and very convenient, it allows you to use your battery power toward driving and not toward heating up your car,” she said.


Consider a heat pump

Heat pumps aren’t found in every EV, but maybe they should be considered as an optional add on — especially for people who live in places with drooling winters. Heat pumps move heat from outside of the car, compresses it, and heats the battery or cabin with condensed air instead of taking energy from the battery. This makes them more efficient than regular EVs and doesn’t impact driving range as much in cooler temperatures.


A photo caption in a previous version of this article misidentified the brand of vehicle pictured. It is a Nissan, not a Tesla. The caption has been corrected.

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