We’ve created this must-read guide to readying your green machine for the months to come, starting from the basics of battery maintenance, through to optimising vehicle performance during frosty spells, as well as a few other ideas to help you get more miles per kilowatt
The leaves are falling, and winter is only a few chilly breaths away, so clued-up motorists are preparing their cars for the months ahead. But with several potential pitfalls specific to hybrids and EVs during cold weather, these owners need to be just as vigilant as their combustion-engine-owning neighbours to ensure a smooth season of driving.
1. What are the bare basics for EV and hybrid winter prep?
Before getting into hybrid and EV specifics, it’s important to remember the checks you would have performed on your old petrol or diesel driven cars. Always book your car in with your mechanic for an autumn service to make sure that the coolant, other fluid levels, and engine performance are as they should be. Get the wheel alignment checked out at the same time. While the car is booked in, ask the garage to carry out a hybrid or EV battery conditioning, which can restore up to 95% of its original performance.
2. Where is the best place to keep my EV or hybrid?
All car batteries perform best at temperatures between 15 and 20°C. As the temperature drops, the battery’s electrolyte cools down and slows the electrochemical reactions between the battery terminals. This has a lot more impact on the performance of EVs and hybrids, as any temperature below 4°C can decrease the driving range of EVs by 12%, and increase the fuel consumption of hybrids making them up to a whopping 30% less fuel efficient. It’s therefore wise to pay attention to the environment around your vehicle and its battery while at and away from home.
It may seem obvious, but if you have a garage and it’s full of ‘stuff to get rid of later’, clear it out now and make room for your car and its charging point. If you live in an apartment or have on-road parking, protect your vehicle from the elements with a cover, or make sure you brush off frost, ice or snow as soon as you can. Also, on those beautiful cloudless days, make use of all that free solar energy by parking in direct sunlight.
3. What is preconditioning and what are the benefits?
The other advantage of garage or private parking is that you can leave your EV or hybrid plugged in to your home charging unit right up until the time you leave the driveway. This also allows you to take advantage of preconditioning the cabin. For about 30 minutes the mains electricity will warm up the car’s interior, making it nice and toasty for your journey, as well as getting the battery closer to its optimal temperature without draining any of its precious charge on warming up. Who needs the ‘good old days’ of scraping ice and running your engine, when you can be enjoying a warming mug of tea while your EV or hybrid prepares itself to go? If this facility isn’t available, most manufacturers recommend setting off about 30 seconds after pressing the start button, as the engine heats up more quickly while you’re driving.
4. What is the minimum battery charge I should maintain on my EV or hybrid during cold weather?
You only need minimal planning to eliminate this potential issue, but ignore it at your peril. Experts recommend that your battery should never be less than 20% charged during the winter, due to the additional consumption of energy required to create heat, as well as the increased time needed for charging. If you can, leave your EV or hybrid plugged in whenever it’s not in use, because batteries and charging stations are affected by low external temperatures – this means a charge time of two to three times longer than usual.
5. How can I reduce the weight of my EV or hybrid to improve winter performance?
We’ve all done it – stuffed the boot with unwanted items destined for the charity shop, only to rediscover them three months later while searching for a missing walking shoe. All this unnecessary weight is kryptonite to getting as much distance as you can from your battery while it’s already under attack from icy winds. Also, do you have any roof or bike racks that can be removed until needed? As soon as you’ve shed your car of those kilos, you can move on to point 6.
6. Do I need to check the pressures or change the tyres on my EV or hybrid for the winter?
Cold temperatures decrease tyre pressures, which in turn increases rolling resistance, draining your battery more quickly. Your mechanic may check the tyre pressures as part of the service, but make sure it’s been done. If there is a sudden plunge in temperature, you’ll need to check them again anyway, and likewise when it warms up again. If you live in an area that welcomes a seasonal arrival of snow, you may be used to changing your tyres. There’s been a lot of discussion about the performance benefits of all-season as opposed to winter or snow tyres, so have a chat with your dealer or mechanic to find the best solution for your model.
7. If I heat up the cabin of my EV or hybrid car, will I drain the battery?
If you’ve been able to precondition your cabin and battery, then you’re off to a head start. But once you’ve unplugged and hit the road, turn off the car’s main heater in favour of the heated seats and steering wheel which use a lot less battery capacity. For the same reason, if you’re on a longer journey and concerned about getting as many miles out of your charge as possible, it’s a great idea to wrap up warm, and forego a tropical ambience. If the windows start to mist up, turn on the heated windscreen if you have one, rather than the blower, as this is a lot more efficient. However, if the weather is at the extreme end of freezing, don’t sacrifice yourself or your passengers to save your kilowatts – remember that it’s more economical to maintain a steady warm temperature in the cabin than to heat it up from a frigid starting point to defrost your children.
8. And lastly…
With the negative impact of colder temperatures on hybrid fuel efficiency and EV battery performance, time and again, the advice is not to push the needle past 65mph, and to cruise at a steady pace if you can. This will not only allow your car to go the distance, but for winter driving, it makes for a much happier and safer road trip.
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