Ask Eartha: Can I drive an electric car in cold weather?

There are plenty of incentives to explore when it comes to electric vehicles.
Courtesy photo

Dear Eartha,

Can I drive electrically in cold weather?

On any given day in Summit County, you’re sure to see electric cars cruising the roads, which yields a simple answer to this question: yes, they can be driven in the cold. In fact, there are currently 861 electric vehicles (EVs for short) registered in the province, which is an increase of 266% from 2021. If electric cars didn’t work in the cold, our neighbors certainly wouldn’t buy them.

The Norwegians wouldn’t do that either. Despite average winter temperatures of about 20 degrees FahrenheitLast year, electric vehicles made up more than 90% of new car registrations in Norway. Average winter temperatures in Summit County are not very different, so why worry about cold weather?

Empty batteries are free

Whether it’s in your phone or even your gas-powered vehicleIt’s no secret that batteries don’t like the cold. When it comes to electric vehicles in winter, the chemical reactions in the batteries slow down, which reduces the amount of charge they can hold and, as a result, the vehicle’s range. Turn up the heat and defrost further strain the battery. Tests by Consumer Reports have shown that electric vehicle range can be reduced by 25% to 50% in winter (Short trips with frequent stops resulted in a greater decrease in range. By comparison, gasoline-powered cars can see their fuel efficiency decrease up to 24% at temperatures below 20°C).

This may sound daunting, but it’s important to remember that most of us don’t drive hundreds of miles every day. The average American drives just 40 miles per day, and the average range of new electric cars sold in the US is almost 300 miles.. How does this all translate to life in Summit County? I asked several local EV drivers for their thoughts on navigating the snow and cold. This is what I learned.

Start and charge

A common concern of people who do not have a garage is that it will be difficult to start an electric car in the winter. Not so, according to local owners who leave their cars outside overnight.

“I’ve never had a problem starting the car in the winter,” said Breck local Beth Groundwater. “Some of the charge is used to keep the battery warm at night,” but that’s not significant.

Adrienne Isaac agreed. She doesn’t have a garage at her Dillon Valley home and hasn’t had any car problems “in the morning — or after a day of skiing.”

Charging takes longer in the cold. And everyone I spoke to recommended saving the battery by preheating the car while it’s still plugged in – if you can charge it at home, of course. This is a huge benefit for Frisco resident Jessie Burley, who enjoys getting into her warm car without the associated emissions from idling.

Range anxiety

These local EV drivers confirmed that the range decreases in colder weather. Kasey Provorse of Frisco noted that the amount of range lost really depends on where you drive.

“You lose quite a bit of range when you climb a mountain pass,” she said.

On the other hand, through regenerative braking“You also get quite a bit back when you descend a mountain pass.” For longer journeys, she uses an app that tells EV drivers where and how often they need to charge..

Tearing through the snow – and myths

My EV driving friends reminded me that electric cars are heavier than gas cars because of their battery packs. That gives them more pulling power the snow. Silverthorne resident Karn Stiegelmeier explained that “driving an electric car in the winter is actually not much different from any other car. You need good winter tires!”

Are there any challenges to driving electric cars? Naturally. Adrienne wishes there would be more EV charging at multifamily properties around the province. But there are countless benefits. Charging at home costs Kasey about $3 per month. And both Xcel Energy and the High Country Conservation Center offer discounts to install home charging, which makes topping up with electrons a lot more convenient. Plus state and federal incentivesincluding incentives for those with lower incomes, offer steep discounts on the upfront cost of electric vehicles.

The last word?

“Don’t make your car decisions based on worst-case scenariosJessie advised. “Think about what you do every day. You probably drive to and from work, do your shopping, etc. That’s where the EV excels.” Yes, even in the cold.

Ask Eartha Steward was written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Send questions to Eartha at

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