Winter weather can be undeniably picturesque, but it doesn’t do drivers any favors when it comes to the fuel efficiency. The effect can be especially harsh if you drive a hybrid or electric vehicle (EV).
Fuel economy tests conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that a conventional gas-powered car’s mileage is roughly 12 percent lower at 20 degrees Fahrenheit than it would be in 77-degree weather.
Hybrids suffer an even more dramatic drop in fuel efficiency. A hybrid’s gas mileage is about 31 percent lower at 20 degrees Fahrenheit than it would be at a temperature of 77 degrees.
Chilly conditions can also impact the performance of electric cars (EVs). According to a study conducted by the Automobile Association of America (AAA), when the temperature dips to 20 degrees and the car’s cabin heater is used to warm the vehicle, EV driving range can decrease by as much as 41 percent.
Below, we’ll examine why cold weather has such a negative effect on vehicle efficiency. We’ll also look at steps to you can take to improve a hybrid’s mileage and an EV’s driving range when the mercury drops.
Why Does Cold Weather Affect Vehicle Efficiency?
There are many reasons why frosty temperatures affect vehicle efficiency.
Cold air is denser than warmer air, and this will increase the vehicle’s aerodynamic drag in frosty conditions. This is especially evident when traveling at highway speeds. With more drag, the vehicle will have to expend more energy to get from A to B.
Also, battery performance decreases in colder weather, and it can be more difficult for a battery to retain its charge. With EVs, diminished battery performance can make it harder for the regenerative braking system to optimize driving range.
Finally, tire pressure decreases in cold weather, and this will worsen a vehicle’s rolling resistance. Increased rolling resistance means poorer fuel economy.
How to Boost Cold-Weather Driving Range and Fuel Economy
There are steps you can take to boost an EV’s driving range and a hybrid’s fuel economy in cold temperatures:
- Park in a reasonably warm place. Parking outdoors on a cold street will result in frigid cabin temperatures, and this means the vehicle will have to expend a great deal of energy getting its interior warm enough for passengers. If you park in a relatively warm place like a garage, the vehicle’s cabin will be a lot less frigid than it would have been if you had parked outdoors. This means less energy will be spent warming the cabin for passengers.
- Ditch accessories that boost wind resistance. Certain accessories can increase a car’s wind resistance with effects being greater in dense winter air. These include things like roof racks. If they’re not in use, remove these accessories to improve your vehicle’s fuel economy.
- Regularly check tire pressure. Cold weather causes the air in your car’s tires to condense, and this results in reduced tire pressure. For every 10 degrees that the temperature drops, tire pressure can dip by as much as 1 psi. According to the EPA, you can improve your car’s gas mileage by up to 3 percent by making sure the tires are inflated at the proper pressure. In cold weather, check your tires every couple of weeks to make sure they’re inflated per the car manufacturer’s specifications. These specifications can be found on the driver’s-side door jamb or in the car’s owner’s manual.
- Pre-heat EVs while they’re still plugged into the charging station. It takes lots of energy to warm a car’s cabin. To extend driving range, pre-heat your EV while it’s still plugged into the charging station.
- Use seat warmers instead of the cabin heater to keep things toasty within your EV. Seat warmers can be remarkably effective at banishing winter chill within the cabin. This amenity uses less energy than the cabin heater, so it has a less detrimental effect on your EV’s driving range. Optimize the distance your EV can travel between charges by using the seat warmers instead of the cabin heater in cold weather.
Cold weather is a natural enemy of vehicle efficiency, but there are things you can do to remedy the problem. Whether you’re looking to optimize your EV’s driving range or get the best possible fuel economy for your hybrid, the tips discussed above will help you master the task.