As extreme cold swept the nation in the winter of 2023-2024, electric vehicle (EV) owners found their cars weren’t working as well or charging as quickly. Tesla charging in cold weather can indeed be more challenging. Charging stations and EV batteries work less efficiently in sub-freezing temperatures; they’ve even stopped working in sub-zero temperatures. Cold weather can also reduce the driving range of a new or used Tesla. We’ll look at why this is so, what you can do about it, and answer common questions.

How Does Cold Weather Affect an EV Battery?

Electrical vehicle batteries use a chemical process to store energy. The colder they get, the more their performance is reduced. The reason lies in how the battery works. When it charges, lithium ions in the battery’s cathode transfer to the anode. These ions flow less efficiently when the battery is cold, reducing its capacity.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) found that, on average, an EV’s driving range decreased by 12% at an ambient temperature of 20℉ compared to 75℉. If you think turning the cabin heater on will help, think again. The increased energy demand can result in a 41% decrease in battery range.1

How to Make Tesla Charging in Cold Weather Easier

You can reduce some of the impacts of cold weather on your EV. If you’re driving a Tesla on a frigid day, here are ways you can improve performance:

  • Pre-Heat the Battery: Pre-heating an EV battery enables it to charge more quickly. In most EVs, this occurs automatically. You can also plug your EV into a charger as soon as you get home while it’s still warm.
  • Park Indoors: Leave the vehicle in a heated garage or under a car cover. This will keep the battery warmer than the ambient air. It will function better and less energy will be needed later to warm things up.
  • Pre-Heat the Cabin: We’ve already said using your cabin heater can decrease driving range. But in extreme cold, turning on your car’s heater can warm up the inside while it’s charging. You don’t use battery power to run the heater when the car is plugged in. Or instead, you can turn on the seat heaters (if your car has them), which use less energy.
  • Fill Your Tires Correctly: Know the correct tire pressure and check it often. If your tires are underfilled, resistance will increase when you’re driving. Using more energy to move forward reduces battery range.
  • Don’t Drain the Battery: Don’t let the battery charge fall below 20%. It’ll require more power just to warm up enough to start charging. Depending on how low the temperature is, you may not be able to charge even if you’ve plugged the vehicle into the charging station.
  • Use Eco-Mode: If your EV has an eco-mode, turn it on. It reduces the car’s energy requirements. While this sacrifices performance to some degree, you may be able to get more out of the vehicle when it’s very cold.

Which Electric Vehicles Are Affected Most by Cold Temperatures?

According to tests by AAA, the following EVs were significantly affected by cold temperatures. Here’s a look at them and the reductions in range at 20℉ (with the HVAC off and the HVAC on):

  • BMW I3s: -20.43% / 50.3%
  • Tesla Model S 75D: -11.3% / -38.1%
  • Chevrolet Bolt: -10.12% / -46.4%
  • Nissan Leaf: -10.27% / -31.3%
  • Volkswagen 3-Golf: -6.86% / -36.10% 2

Can Cold Weather Damage My EV?

The effects are generally temporary as EV systems regain their original charging and discharging abilities when temperatures warm up. Keeping the vehicle warm has the same effect as if the outdoor temperature was equally warm.

What’s the Ideal Temperature Range for an EV Battery?

The ideal operating temperature range for an EV battery is between 68℉ and 86℉. However, the temperature at which it’s at maximum efficiency depends on the model. While cold is generally detrimental to battery performance, extreme heat can also be. 

What If I See Steam During Tesla Charging in Cold Weather?

If an odorless steam rises from the front of the vehicle during cold-weather charging, this is generally not a cause for concern. Some models have a heat pump that causes this steam.

Find a Used Tesla for Sale at Hawthorne Auto Square

Electric vehicles are rapidly gaining popularity despite their limitations in cold weather (all cars perform less efficiently in the cold). At Hawthorne Auto Square, we have high-quality, low-mileage vehicles at affordable prices. Each has passed a rigorous inspection, but a 30-day, 1,000-mile warranty is included (an optional extended 6-month warranty is available). Our used Teslas are in demand because they have fewer mechanical parts to break down, use innovative battery and self-driving features, and their batteries can last 300,000 to 500,000 miles. 
Whether you’re looking for a used Tesla Model S, Model 3, Model X, or Model Y in Los Angeles, contact us or call (866) 707-7664 for transparent pricing, information on financing options, and to schedule a test drive.