Are electric vehicles good in the snow?
So far this year*, fully electric vehicles have
accounted for 1.4% of UK car sales. Plug-in hybrids made up another 1.3% and a
further 6.4% were also hybrid or mild hybrid. That’s nearly one in 10 cars sold
having some form of electric propulsion. As I write this on a crisp, frosty
morning - and knowing the worst of the winter is yet to come - it is worth
considering how electric cars will perform during the coldest two or three
months of the year with hard frosts, icy roads and probably snow.
Many electric cars have active thermal
management - allowing them to be pre-warmed before driving. Not only will the
windows be frost-free for better visibility (and therefore greater safety), you
can do this while the car is plugged-in so you don’t have to drain its battery
while it pre-warms. Heating functions can usually be controlled by an app on
your mobile phone so you can activate the process from within your house or to
start at a certain time.
Unlike a petrol or diesel car, there is no time
needed to warm an engine for the heater to become effective for defrosting to
take place. This means the vehicle isn’t sitting with the engine running and it
isn’t polluting. For security, the car can also remain locked.
EVs are engineered so that they can be driven
very gently for economy and they are also gear-less so it is easy to apply the
power smoothly - and this is exactly what’s needed when pulling away on snow or
The addition of batteries generally make EVs and
hybrids heavier and in winter this can be advantageous for traction when the
road is slippery. Some hybrids have conventional drive to the front wheels and
electric to the rear making them all-wheel-drive when too, so this can aid
traction when the roads are slippery.
Much of a car’s winter ability comes down to
tyre choice and EVs are typically fitted with ‘green’ tyres - ones with a low
rolling resistance and sometimes higher pressures - for lower energy
consumption. The flip side is that they are less capable in the winter as
they’re not as ‘sticky’ as those made with softer compounds.
Cold weather affects cars’ battery performance
and this will cut into its electric range. The American Automobile Association
suggests an EV’s range may be reduced by up to 40% in very cold weather.
Energy demands such as cabin heating, heated seats and steering wheels, fans to de-mist windows and heated window elements - all used more in the winter - will have an impact on a vehicle’s range.
Hybrid vehicles may not switch to battery use as much in winter due to the energy extra demands and lower battery performance when it’s cold. This means you won’t benefit as much from the economy of a hybrid in winter.
Yes or no to electric vehicles in winter?
It’s a simple yes. Vehicle efficiencies are
improving all the time so even if a car’s range is reduced, it is still very
usable. And if you live in a rural area where winter mobility is essential, you
might choose to fit winter tyres.
I’ll caveat all of this of course by saying the
safest option when it’s snowy or icy is to find somewhere comfortable and warm,
and avoid driving at all until the roads are clear!
*SMMT figures as at the end of October 2019.
Images: Copyright of DVSA Crown.
About the Author
Andrew is a freelance motoring journalist with a background in IT and the vehicle leasing industry. With a lifetime’s passion for all things automotive, he can be found behind the wheel of everything from vans to supercars. In addition to reviewing the latest vehicles and technology, Andrew also runs a couple of classic British motors. He lives at the edge of the Peak District with his son and cat.
Andrew Wright @theMotorWriter