iPhone owners will know how much of an impact the cold can have on their battery life. Turns out, electric vehicle owners are facing the same struggle, with a study from the North American AAA revealing driving range can drop by up to 44 per cent in frigid conditions.
Of the five models tested, range dropped by an average of 41 per cent when the mercury dropped to 20°F (-6.7°C). Regardless of which model – BMW i3 S, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and Volkswagen e-Golf – was put under the microscope on a dynamometer in a climate-controlled room, the range bleed was much the same.
So, what's causing the problem? One of the biggest battery leaches is heating. Turning the cars on without any climate control caused just a 12 per cent dip in driving range, while cranking up the temperature in the cabin returned the 41 per cent result mentioned earlier.
Where cars with a petrol or diesel engine can rely on the waste heat created by combustion, electric vehicles need to rely on battery power to drive the climate control. And when it's negative six outside, the driver is likely to lean pretty heavily on the climate control.
"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," said Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering at the AAA.
Battery drain is also an issue in warm weather, albeit a smaller one. In 93°F (34°C) weather, range dropped by about four per cent with no climate control activated, and around 17 per cent with the air conditioner running.
The best way to tackle the problem, according to the AAA, is to pre-condition your electric car while it's still plugged into the mains. Given most plug-in vehicles can have their climate control systems remotely activated, doing the bulk of cooling work while connected to a charger will significantly lessen the load on the battery.
Although it's not such an issue for much of Australia's population, North American EV owners have been battling record low temperatures, with mercury dipping as low as -40°C along the east coast.