Driving an electric vehicle (EV) comes with many nuances. Driving a Tesla is an incredible experience, but an awareness of driving dynamics during freezing or near-freezing temperatures is important. Everyone talks about the insanely efficient Model 3, and it is a big reason why our family invested in a Model 3. However, this conversation is typically operating under the assumption that driving conditions are ideal, or near-ideal.
Anecdotally, ambient temperatures ranging from the low-mid 50’s on upwards results in the most efficient battery operation. Since there are innumerable articles online by much more intelligent people, I won’t go into battery chemistry here. What I do want to discuss is ways other (new) Tesla owners can maximize their revolutionary EV’s performance and efficiency characteristics this fall and winter.
Don’t drive your car “cold”
Range suffers (decrease of up to ~20-30% in my testing!) and regenerative breaking suffers. The colder the ambient temperature, the worse your real-world range and the longer you’ll go without any regen breaking. This impacts not only the overall usability of the car in terms of miles driven, but also its efficiency. Tesla’s battery pack is truly an incredible piece of tech, but is still beholden to performance deficits during cold temperatures. Regenerative breaking, a critical component of Tesla’s efficiency, is typically limited in freezing and near-freezing temperatures.
If you park your Model 3, S, or X in an open driveway, this means your battery pack will essentially be whatever the ambient temperature outside is. When the battery is cold, your car’s performance and efficiency will suffer. No one wants this! Tesla knows this, and has implemented battery warming devices and workarounds in each of their models. However, keep in mind it takes a substantial amount of time before the battery warms to an optimal temp, most people report 30-60 minutes. Translation: it takes a decent amount of time before your battery is at its best operating temperature.
The Tesla mobile app has undergone several iterations, much like the “free” over-the-air car updates. Updates happen just like Apple’s iOS updates; it’s seamless. Preheating your Tesla helps three-fold: your cabin temperature will be toasty, seats automatically warm, and the battery management system automatically begins warming up for optimal efficiency! While it’s tough to remember to preheat every morning, especially if you’re running behind/late for work, make this a habit especially in the “dead of winter.”
Tesla continues to evolve and think of more ways to improve the lives of their owners, including a feature called “Timed Charging.” Simply input your desired charging start time, and the car will initiate charging. This winter, I plan to charge the car in the middle of the night so that charging finishes around the time I’m ready to leave in the AM for work. This will keep the battery warm and toasty, ideal for optimal operating efficiency starting from the morning commute’s first mile. Regenerative breaking will then be able to return energy to my battery pack.
Invest in a “long range” battery and charge up to 90%
In my reading/research, I have not come across any information stating routine charging to 90% is detrimental. Remember, cold winter temperatures can result in temporary range loss of ~30% (in my usage). The reasoning here: you do not want to stall on the highway with below-freezing temps outside. Protect yourself and your car and charge to 90% state-of-charge (SoC). For those with longer commutes, consider investing in a long range battery pack (you’ll thank yourself long-term), use timed charging, and preheating.
If you’re someone who is on the fence about buying a Tesla because you live in the north and experience sub-zero temps, I will tell you that I have driven my Tesla to Vermont ski areas, have a 36-40 mile round-trip work commute, and use it to take care of daily errands, all without serious range anxiety. In case you were unaware, temperatures here in CT routinely dip below freezing in late fall and throughout winter.
Searching the web will result in a litany of ways to “improve Tesla efficiency” in the winter. Ultimately, it boils down to ensuring your battery is warm (within optimal operating temps, managed automatically by Tesla), you’ve charged to an appropriate SoC, and drive like a normal person (avoid the urge to accelerate quickly). Happy driving!!