Home » Electric Cars Lose Lots Of Range In The Winter. Here Are Two Silly Solutions Involving A Special Suit And A Partition

Electric Cars Lose Lots Of Range In The Winter. Here Are Two Silly Solutions Involving A Special Suit And A Partition

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“OH MY G-G-G-GOD” shivers you friend as he walks in the door, lips blue and icicles hanging down from his nose. He looks sort of like Jack Nicholson’s character at the end of The Shining. I mean, it’s winter in Minnesota, but he just got out of a car and walked in from a parking garage (or “ramp” as they say in the Land of Prince). There is no logical reason why your colleague should be this close to hypothermia in civilized suburbia, until you remember one important detail: he drives an EV and he hates charging his car.

If you don’t own an EV you might be unaware of the biggest enemy of these eco-friendly machines: the cold. Sub freezing temperatures will reduce your range significantly, and aside from battery warmup, what will drive your mileage off of a cliff is running the cabin heater (or, to a lesser extent, the air conditioning). Internal combustion engines have a lot of disadvantages; they actually send tremendous amounts of heat energy out the exhaust pipe and into the engine block/coolant, but at least that warmth eventually transfers through the vehicle, and the heated fluid of the cooling system can be used for free to keep driver and passengers warm in winter, requiring only a low-current-draw squirrel-cage fan to help push that heat into the cabin.

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Tests have shown that running the heater in an EV can reduce range as significantly as 41 percent (based on a 2019 study, so things have hopefully gotten slightly better since then). What’s worse is that many of the range calculators in these cars don’t always that into account, which is the reason why you might have had to pick up your friend recently at some random parking lot while he waited for a flatbed to take his 4,000 pound paper weight to a charging station. “I REALLY thought I could make it home” he said, wondering why AAA couldn’t just put in a gallon of electricity. Heat is also a factor in cutting your range down, even if it isn’t as drastic; air conditioning is better in terms of power draw, but the aforementioned tests found that A/C can still take around 17 percent off of your range.

Tesla apparently recommends using the seat heaters as much as possible instead of the electric heating-elements-and-blower cabin system to preserve range, basically telling you to tough it. Tesla and others offer a heat pump, which warms the cabin much more efficiently than, say, a PTC thermal-element-style heater:

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David Tracy was discussing this idea on Slack the other day, trying to use the brilliance of the Autopian hive mind to find an answer. Obviously, the REAL answer is more EVs with heat pumps and also more with enough capacity to give you range AND heat (or air conditioning) simultaneously, but we know it could be years away before that’s affordable. Besides, even when these things are capable of 1000 miles of range, the climate control will cut that distance down regardless.

An answer — albeit admittedly a slightly absurd one — for now seems to be reducing the amount of space required to heat or cool, because let’s face it: Most of the time cars do nothing but transport the driver and maybe a front passenger. The tighter the enclosed space, the easier it is to maintain a desired temperature. I’ve read that a few people in an igloo at arctic temperatures can bring the inside up to fifty degrees or more; such is the power of warm blooded creatures in an enclosed space. You also know how your mom said to KEEP THE DOOR TO THE GUEST ROOM CLOSED WE DON’T NEED TO HEAT AN EMPTY ROOM. One answer is pretty clear: partitions.

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I’m not suggesting two-by-fours and drywall. I’d propose a collapsible partition that could easily be deployed to cut off either the rear seat area or the cargo area/third row in SUVs. The mechanism I think might work is similar to what you’ll see in the back windows of luxury cars: the electric sunshade. These devices feature a rolled-up screen and “scissor action” arms that pivot up to raise the shade.

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If we substitute clear vinyl for the screen material, we could use the same system. Note on this Tesla Model Y how the rolled up screen would live just ahead of the rear seat cushion.

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Deploying the partition could be done via a button or a screen in front; note that we would design the door panels to have flat surfaces to line up with the partition and keep the gaps as minimal as possible.

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The same type of system could be used for the cargo area/third row, though in this case it might deploy downwards from the ceiling.

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Or, if there is a cargo cover, the screen could rise out of that, not unlike the roll out “dog screens” that exist on cars like the station wagon that I recently sold to somebody that should know better.

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What’s another idea? How do we keep individual occupants cool or warm without having to fill a giant space with conditioned air? Astronauts regulate their temperatures in space with climate controlled suits, as do race drivers with something called a Cool Suit that circulates chilled fluid through a grid of tubes attached to what looks like a t-shirt.

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There are battery powered heated jackets you can purchase now to keep you warm, as well as heated socks that my always-cold spouse claims to have changed her life.

Such jackets or suits could be used inside your EV. While the heating element coat would work, I think the chilled-fluid thing will be too difficult to make a connection without water dripping. We could, however, install plumbing in a jacket so you can plug it into a heating/cooling outlet in the car and let the air from the climate control system give you a Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man cocoon of comfort with just a fraction of the HVAC’s energy. I’m seeing air outlets on the console that you could hook up with you buckle your seat belt (and a power plug if the suit has heating elements); there would be tubes to connect the suit that pull out of the left or right pockets (so it could be used if you are a passenger or driver).

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[Editor’s Note: You can get something similar if you own a Jeep Wrangler:

It’s called the “Lava” Jacket. I prefer just using 12V thermal elements in the jacket, but this is fine, too, I guess. -DT]

Better yet, these suits or jackets could be worn outside of the car and emblazoned with your vehicle’s logo to show the world status level, like keeping on a lift ticket from a cool resort. I’m sure we’ll see Ferrari EV suit wearers that really own Civics. Oh, and I don’t doubt that the air inlet for Tesla vehicles will be totally incompatible with heating/cooling inlets on other makes. I like the idea of the air inlet being down low so that you might get the effects of the old “ball cooler” under-the-steering-column vents in American cars.

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In typical Autopian Slack fashion, the brainstorming started to go off the rails a bit. Jason argued that one solution to not having too much space to heat or cool really means having less car to begin with, and he isn’t wrong. Still, he’ll have a hard time convincing many buyers to purchase a phone-booth sized Chinese car, so a legitimate solution to keeping EV drivers and passengers comfortable needs to be found.

You know, we never had this problem with our 190,000 mile hand-me-down 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass, did we?

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What Is The ‘Correct’ Amount Of EV Range? – The Autopian

 

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Ivan256
Ivan256
9 months ago

Diesel powered auxiliary heater.

No seriously. Plumbed right into the coolant loop. The amount of diesel used relative to what you would use powering an ICE car is negligible. If you’re really worried about it you could spend extra and get an ethanol heater.

There is no reason we have to be 100% electric. The last 0.5% has questionable cost/benefit.

AMGx2
AMGx2
9 months ago

I drove with my coat on and wearing gloves when it’d be snowing. You don’t need to warm your car to 90F. After a short while that coat and the gloves will feel fine and if you set the temp to say 60F you’ll survive just fine.

I also don’t understand how a heater element of say 2 kW can decrease range so much. Unless people open their windows while driving through icy conditions?

Maybe they don’t recirculate the air, so new cold air constantly enters the car, requiring it to be heated, after which it’s being vented ; melting polar caps and drowning polar bears.

Sklooner
Sklooner
9 months ago

We used to put a plastic partition in our VW van to keep the heat in the front for Alberta winters, it did have a gasoline combustion heater but it was scary. I see a guy driving a Ural in Edmonton year round he has a plug in electric suit for winter

Frackle
Frackle
9 months ago

Having owned a tesla with a broken heat pump that took a month and a half to replace in the winter (in fairness, they had to fly a guy up to Juneau, Alaska), I can attest that the range was excellent without heat.

FrozenNorth
FrozenNorth
9 months ago

Wouldn’t it make sense to insulate the car better? Aerogel or something?

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
9 months ago
Reply to  FrozenNorth

It adds weight and decreases your range year round

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
9 months ago

Can’t they do something with making sort of an “air cocoon” settings on the car and fans in the cockpit where you can pick how many are seated and have the warm airflow (in a very controlled environment) centered around the passenger.

What about inflatable air pillows in the lower parts of the passenger seat and rear cargo hold that both insulate and reduce the space that needs to be heated.

Pre-warming the car on the charger in the morning and maybe passive solar greenhouse effect design for daytime hours. Even cars not designed for it warm up quite a bit in daylight, even on cold days.

Also, in the Proudluddite tradition, Candles?

Last edited 9 months ago by ProudLuddite
Small Fact0ry
Small Fact0ry
9 months ago

Ahh, the partition. Any other Autopians who are a cargo-van connoisseur will know this as hanging a heavy blanket behind the seats. The sound deadening properties in the wintertime are always welcome as well…

TJ Heiser
TJ Heiser
9 months ago

I like the partition idea. I once owned a Ford E-100 cargo van in up in the Frozen Tundra of Wisconsin, completely uninsulated in the back. I built a frame and used shipping blankets as an separator that helped keep the front toasty and warm.

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
9 months ago

EV owner in Maine. Can confirm, they kinda stink to own in cold climates. We use our unheated garage with charger to preheat the car in the morning. You can set the car to heat up while plugged in without using the batter charge. So when you go out at 7am to the 24degree garage the car is 70degrees inside and then you have a heated steering wheel and seats for the short drive. Beyond that they are crap. The drive home is cold since it was parked outside in -5 all day and you WILL need to use the heater/defrost at some point since the outdoors has moisture to deal with.
Plug in Hybrid would be better for cold climates. And with the battery pack from my crappy Kia EV you could build 50 PHEV packs. That saves more fuel/reduces carbon than one owner in an EV. Since we only buy used vehicles, I’m looking to get a PHEV in 2026 if prices ever drop enough to make sense.

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
9 months ago
Reply to  MikeInTheWoods

EV6 or Niro?

MikeInTheWoods
MikeInTheWoods
9 months ago
Reply to  Zeppelopod

Neither, we bought a used 2016 Soul EV. Cheap when used, One of those compliance/early market EVs

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
9 months ago

I had a ’70 VW van. In Colorado. It was air-cooled and heat was mostly just a concept, so I built a wall behind the two front seats. It helped . . . a little. What helped, more, was driving around in full ski gear, including a stocking cap and insulated mittens.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim Zavist

Growing up with multiple air-cooled VW vans in the Rockies, this is the way. As kids we didn’t realize most other people didn’t get fully bundled up just to climb in the car, but in an “ignorance is bliss” mentality, we didn’t mind either.

Opa Carriker
Opa Carriker
9 months ago

I liked the system in my 55 Chevy. Push the lever one way, cooler; push the lever the outher way, warmer. Knob with 3 positions for air. Einfach!

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

Another thing that could help EV range in winter is a battery preheater like an engine block heater. This could run while the car is on a charger or off a convenient 110V outlet to get the battery to optimum temperature.
Riffing off the heated suit, Makita makes several jackets that run off 12V or 18V power tool batteries so you can stay warm without adding load to the car.

Ivan256
Ivan256
9 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Ford EVs do this. It is a significant range increase in the winter if you’re pre-conditioned vs not.

Jb996
Jb996
9 months ago

Clearly the answer is a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTGs).
Years of heat, no fuel refilling nor exhaust gases. They’re carbon neutral !!

I don’t see any problems…

Last edited 9 months ago by Jb996
CRX89
CRX89
9 months ago
Reply to  Jb996

Like a pacemaker battery, but for your car!

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
9 months ago

Or could add a small fuel powered heater like #vanlife. The fuel could even be a thing sold at charging stations like DEF is at gas stations. Like how PHEVs run the engine when temps get too cold.

Michael Rosenquest
Michael Rosenquest
9 months ago
Reply to  Fuzzyweis

As much as I love the silliness above, I think this is the real answer.

Contemplated this a lot on a Xmas road trip last year in my Ioniq 5 where I suffered a 20-25% loss in range due to the cold and wind.

The Ioniq 5 has a heatpump, so the car usually does pretty well in colder temps with efficiency in the 2.5-2.8 m/kWh range on the highway, but the Xmas eve bomb cyclone brought temperatures at or below zero, with sustained head winds that absolutely sapped our efficiency down to 1.8-2.0 m/kWh.

With no heat to pump, we were relying entirely on the resistive heating to keep the battery and ourselves warm and the windshield, cameras, and sensors clear of ice.

Seat heaters help a little, but I think what EVs really need is an isopropyl alcohol burning stove, either as an accessory you can mount somewhere in the cabin (with a fitted window vent) or integrated into the car itself, maybe in place of the tiny useless frunk in the Hi5.

Iso is cheap and easy to get, burns clean, releasing just CO2 and water, and lasts pretty much indefinitely in a sealed container.

I picture an accessory that could mount at the base of the windshield, directing heat up to keep the windshield clear and back for the passengers, with an exhaust vent fitted to the passenger window.

While that takes care of the cabin, the car could devote charge to keeping the battery warm and sensors clear.

Scottingham
Scottingham
9 months ago

I’ve thought about this a lot too, and I like the isopropyl for the fuel. The main problem with it inside the cabin is that it puts off a lot of water vapor. It’d quickly get steamy inside.

I think put in line to the air intake and let it vent to atmosphere would be pretty nifty.

David Muse
David Muse
9 months ago

I’m a long time EV hobbyist (since the 1970s). This article (and many like it) are based on a misconception. It’s true that cold EV batteries don’t perform as well as warm batteries. But cold batteries can get warm!

If you take a short trip in an EV with cold batteries, you’ll notice that you’re getting very poor efficiency from your car.

However, if you take a long trip, you’ll notice that your battery can recover, and performance gets back to normal. Pulling hundreds of amps warms up batteries with time.

Your battery range doesn’t matter so much for short trips, because you will soon be home again to plug in. And the problem isn’t nearly so severe for long trips. So this concern, while real, tends to be exaggerated.

Experienced EV drivers know that they can mitigate any range loss by preparing for trips. Time your charge to end right before you leave, so the battery is warm. And warm up the cabin while the car is still plugged in.

When I do everything right, I only lose about 10% of range on 20 degree days.

SuperNova
SuperNova
9 months ago

As any good Canadian would know…it’s time to break out the Eberspacher VW Gas Heater and retrofit my Tesla….Winter….is coming.

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
9 months ago

I still think the Mercedes Air Scarf would work well in EV’s. A lower power heater and fan to gently blow warm air on your neck could go a long way.

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
9 months ago

Heating a small area is where it’s at. I had a single cab Chevy S-10. It had the same heater as bigger vehicles so that tiny cab was warm in no time.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
9 months ago

I hate that “just use the seat heaters” argument. When was the last time a heated seat kept your windows from frosting? If it weren’t for the need to see outside, my heated seats are actually pretty effective in our relatively mild winters. However, there’s no way that would work in February in a plains state with bitter cold and blowing snow.

One thing that I think you miss here is that partitioning will not necessarily help because the thermostats don’t turn the heater on and off, at least not in my Bolt. It will adjust the speed of the fan, but will not turn the heater off when the target temp has been reached. Don’t know why that is, when there is an automatic defrost function that does turn the heat & AC on and off when conditions warrant. I suppose you can turn the heat off when you get toasty, but then your windows fog up again.

In my typical use case, I just don’t worry about it. I can charge at work for free, charge at home as needed, and don’t often drive beyond my range limits. On those occasions when I have taken it on a road trip, the highway speeds used a much higher percentage of the available power than the climate controls did so it actually became a non-issue. Power needed for traction varies with speed but HVAC is pretty constant so the more demand for motive power there is, the lower a percentage the HVAC takes. I’ve actually found that cold outside temps have a bigger impact on battery capacity than any usage by the heater when it comes to highway driving.

My Goat Ate My Homework
My Goat Ate My Homework
9 months ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

Rob, frosted windows are no problem. These cars drive themselves.

Ivan256
Ivan256
9 months ago

There is zero correlation between how a car is powered and whether it can drive it self.

You can have an ICE car or an EV… and still neither can drive itself. Either can pretend to though.

Drew
Drew
9 months ago
Reply to  Balloondoggle

Windows can be solved with the heated windshield, similar to what is done with rear windows. A few cars already do this, but it could become more popular as an efficiency boost.

That guy
That guy
9 months ago

Milwaukee tools already have a nice battery powered heated jacket or sweater available

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
9 months ago
Reply to  That guy

they make a nice vest as well. Fits easily under another jacket, very effective.

Unclesam
Unclesam
9 months ago

Since we’re all phev-pilled here, maybe the real solution is to look at steam power. My tankless water heater is 96% or 97% efficient, so surely that heat exchanger concept can be scaled up to provide direct motive power or used to generate electricity in a Rex setup. That heat could be bled off into the cabin like a conventional ice car on cold days or to keep the battery within the optimal thermal window

Zeppelopod
Zeppelopod
9 months ago
Reply to  Unclesam

I very, very much want to see The Bishop cheerily stoking a coal firebox in full steampunk regalia. “Ey wot, chaps, she’s nearly up to temperature!”

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