Chicago Tesla Owners Confronted With Harsh Cold Weather

Some electric vehicle owners have reported having trouble keeping their cars charged in the midst of an Arctic blast sweeping much of the country.

Not only does the cold weather have an effect on how long it takes to charge EVs, it affects their driving range.

Chicago has been a prime example where cars sat in long lines at Tesla Supercharger stations, their owners saying the cold sapped the electric vehicles’ normal ability to charge — and keep a charge. Tow trucks had been called to move cars in some locations.

While all cars are less efficient in the cold, electric vehicles are impacted more because the energy it takes to both power the vehicle and warm the cabin lowers its driving range, according to analysts. Cars parked outside are especially vulnerable.

Other Tesla drivers report no issues.

Christine Maslan, who lives west of Chicago’s Midway airport, says she drove her family’s Tesla for around 80-100 miles on one cold day this week.

"No struggles with starting or charging but I charged at home in our garage," said Maslan, who moderates a Facebook group for Tesla owners in Chicago. "We do get less mileage on the battery in extreme temps which means we have to charge more often" in the cold, she added.

Tips from Tesla and EV analysts:

  • To cope with extreme cold, Tesla recommends keeping the vehicle plugged in, and maintaining a charge of at least 20%.
  • Tesla also recommends that drivers use its “scheduled departure” feature to register the start of a trip in advance, so the vehicle can determine the best time to start charging and preconditioning. That allows the car to operate at peak efficiency from the moment it starts.
  • Once the car is warm and you start driving, use seat warmers, a heated steering wheel and turn down the car heater. These features use less energy and provide targeted heat, saving battery life.

They don’t have these problems in Norway.

Analysts suggest the problems in Chicago may stem from inferior infrastructure.

“This is not a categorical problem for electric vehicles because it has largely been sorted out in other places.”

Some of the countries with the highest usage of electric vehicles are also among the coldest. In Norway, where nearly one in four vehicles is electric, drivers are accustomed to taking steps, such as preheating the car ahead of a drive, to increase efficiency even in cold weather.

While charging in a Norway winter still takes longer than during summer months, it’s less of a problem since the number of charging stations has steadily increased.

Also, the majority of people in Norway live in houses, not apartments, and nearly 90 percent of electric vehicle owners have their own charging stations at home.

Axios, NPR, NYT