What Do You Do If You’re Stranded in an EV in the Winter?

Posted on

Recent extreme winter weather across much of the western US—not to mention the brutal snowstorms in Buffalo, New York, that leaving dozens of people dead, some of whom were in their cars, has sparked renewed concern about what happens to electric vehicle drivers stranded in a snowstorm. Will they be able to stay warm and safe in their vehicle for a long time to come? Or should they leave them by the side of the road and try to find safety elsewhere?

We’re here to tell you the heartwarming truth—literally—about your safety when stranded in your EV on the freeway or miles from anywhere in a dire snowstorm.

EV Will Keep You Warm

We first discussed this topic a year ago after a worrying editorial in the Washington Post suggesting EVs are more dangerous than petrol cars for passengers stranded in storms. That’s not true, and we’re calculating to explain why.

The facts are as follows: With the amount of power left in your battery, you’ll stay warm in your EV for hours—even days. If your battery charge was close to zero at the time you were stranded, you may only have a few hours of heat left — just like a petrol vehicle driver stuck with little left in the tank.

As always, if you live in an area with snow or are traveling to where there are unusually heavy snowfalls, it’s best to be careful: bring winter clothes, snacks, water, a shovel to dig a snow cave—no matter what type of vehicle you’re driving . Of course, few of us may be that meticulous. No need to worry.

We Test How Long You Can Stay Warm in an EV

Let’s say you’re in an EV and you’re stranded on the freeway in a blizzard when traffic stops. There is nowhere to go until help arrives to clear the way. How long will your EV keep you toast?

To find out, we tested popular electric sedans and petrol equivalents to see how long each vehicle type can keep you warm. We left the car outside in the average 15-degree Michigan winter weather and set the cabin temperature to 65 degrees with the seat heaters off. Our testers found that a fully charged EV kept passengers at that temperature for nearly two days—45 hours—while a stationary petrol car that started with a full tank ran for 52 hours.

It’s worth noting that the EV in question doesn’t even have a heat pump heating system; if it will last much longer due to its greater efficiency compared to the resistive heating system it is equipped with. Both gas and electric test cars will also likely last longer if they have one or more people in them during the test, because we humans radiate heat too.

As usual, the capacity of the EV battery in question—in this case, 80.5 kilowatt-hours—is directly proportional to the length of time the car stays warm. An EV with only a 24.0 kWh package won’t last two days. those EVs Car and Driver used in testing eats up 1.6 kWh every hour to generate that heat; You can use those energy consumption figures to calculate how long a particular EV can keep you warm in a storm. For context, any modern EV with a range of 200 miles or more has at least 60.0 kWh—enough to generate heat for about a day and a half.

Get to know your Car Heater

Our EV-specific advice on winter heating has two points. First: If you’re buying an EV and there’s an option to add a heat pump for the heating system, consider buying one. A heat pump is like an air conditioner that can run upside down to provide hot air, using the expansion and contraction of coolant to remove heat from the outside air and warm the cabin of your car.

Heat pumps, which are also used in homes, are far more efficient than the resistive heaters that come standard in some EVs. Resistive systems heat wires—like some electric baseboard heaters—to radiate heat. The advantages conferred by heat pump efficiency are mentioned in the study on lost cold weather range at around 7000 EV by Recurrent, a data telematics company.

Keep Your EV Charged

The second tip for winter strand survivors is to make sure your EV battery is fully charged before you leave the house, which is exactly the same advice as telling you to keep your gas tank full before your trip if a storm is imminent. Whether you’re driving a petrol or EV car, you want to take as much energy with you as possible, whether that’s going to be used to power the vehicle or heat the cabin overnight.

The good news is that most of the mileage traveled by today’s EV drivers is refueled through overnight charging at home. Many EVs routinely start each day with a fully charged battery, whereas petrol cars often don’t leave the base with a full tank. They don’t need to—usually. Therefore, EV drivers arguably have a better chance of having their tank nearly full in a storm.

So what do you do if you find yourself stranded in your EV in the winter? It’s the same as if you were stranded in a gas-powered vehicle: sit tight, keep the heat at a reasonable level, and wait for help. And if you have some snacks, eat them. EVs can provide days of warmth and comfort if stranded in the winter—and the same margin of safety you’d have in a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Leave a Reply