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Electric vehicle batteries falling short during southeast Michigan's frigid temperatures

Posted at 6:31 PM, Jan 17, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-18 07:16:24-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — From longer charging times to decreased driving range, electric vehicle owners are feeling the impact of freezing temperatures.

"I'm not going to lie like, every day I have to charge," said Adeel Jamal, EV owner.

A Northville resident, Jamal travels daily to Wayne State for school and Dearborn for work. But in the last few days, Adeel has been paying more attention to the mileage.

"Especially in the cold, cause I'm only getting 140-mile range, I usually get 240," said Jamal.

During the frigid temperatures, the 20-year-old has been spending more time at a charging station as it has also taken longer to power up.

"I'm having my meal in my car, working on my laptop.. all while my car charges," said Jamal.

According to a study by Recurrent Auto, all cars lose efficiency in cold weather. However, it's EV drivers that feel the pinch. Depending on the model, on average, an EV's range dropped to around 40 to 70% in freezing conditions, primarily due to low battery efficiency and a high demand for the vehicle's climate control.

A professor at Wayne State University, Dr. Caisheng Wang, says cold weather slows the chemical and physical reactions that make lithium-ion batteries work.

"Those Lithium-ion batteries, there are electrolytes, so it's getting more difficult for lithium ions to move through from one electrode to another," said Dr. Wang.

The good news is that the decrease is temporary. Once the weather warms up, the battery is back to functioning optimally. Dr. Wang says the ideal temperature for a lithium-ion battery is between 68 to 140 Fahrenheit.

As for what EV drivers can do to make their car batteries more efficient in cold weather?

"They have a close-door garage, park your car there. When you turn on your car and see the mile range, if the temperature there, you want to give some safe margin there," said Dr. Wang.

Also,

  • For faster charge, precondition your car by turning it on while charging. 
  • Once on the road, turn down the cabin heater and aim to use seat warmers and a heated steering wheel, as these features use less energy.  
  • Set your EV with a maximum charge setting of 70 or 80%. This way, the vehicle uses the energy from the wall instead of the battery to keep warm. 

Meanwhile, summertime can also be stressful for EV owners. Experts say high temperatures can also damage batteries during charging. The golden rule is to park and charge your EV in a temperature-controlled environment.