As freezing temperatures plague much of the country, electric vehicle owners may experience a decrease in driving range, compounded by the use of the vehicle’s interior climate control.
New research from AAA reveals that when the mercury dips to 20°F and the HVAC system is used to heat the inside of the vehicle, the average driving range is decreased by 41 percent. This means for every 100 miles of combined urban/highway driving, the range at 20°F would be reduced to 59 miles.
“The appeal of electric vehicles continues to grow since a greater variety of designs and options with increased range have come onto the market,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “As long as drivers understand that there are limitations when operating electric vehicles in more extreme climates, they are less likely to be caught off guard by an unexpected drop in driving range.”
Cold weather, however, is not the only factor that can influence driving range. AAA’s research also found that when outside temperatures heat up to 95°F and air-conditioning is used inside the vehicle, driving range decreases by 17 percent.
AAA tested five electric vehicles, all with a minimum EPA estimated driving range of 100 miles, in partnership with the Automotive Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center. Real-world driving conditions were simulated using a dynamometer, essentially a treadmill for cars, in a closed testing cell where ambient temperature could be closely controlled.
“The research clearly shows that electric vehicles thrive in more moderate climates, except the reality is most Americans live in an area where temperature fluctuates,” said Megan McKernan, manager of Automotive Research Center. “Automakers are continually making advances to improve range, but with this information, drivers will be more aware of the impacts varying weather conditions can have on their electric vehicles.”
Previous AAA research has found that interest in electric vehicles continues to gain momentum with 20 percent of drivers saying they would likely go green when considering their next vehicle purchase. With lower-than-average ownership costs, increased driving ranges and the latest advanced safety features, AAA believes there is a strong future for electric vehicles. To help “green” car shoppers make an informed choice, AAA conducts independent, rigorous test-track evaluations of plug-in hybrids, hybrid and fuel-efficient, gas-powered vehicles and releases the results every spring in its annual Green Car Guide.
There are some precautions electric vehicle owners can take during colder and hotter times of year to help offset potential reductions in driving range. AAA recommends drivers:
While electric vehicle range performs best in areas with warm weather year-round such as Florida, Hawaii and California, drivers in other parts of the country shouldn’t be discouraged. Owning an electric vehicle in these regions just requires some additional planning.