Driving an electric car has a lot of advantages — skipping the gas station and cutting air pollution being 2 of the most obvious. But electric vehicles (EVs) do present one major challenge: limited range. Electric-only cars can go an average of 60 to 100 miles between battery charges. This is not typically an issue, since the majority of American drivers travel less than 40 miles a day. But extreme temperatures can cause EV range to drop substantially.

How temperature affects electric car range

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, electric cars consume more energy on extremely hot or cold days, which can reduce EV range by as much as 40 percent. Drivers are also more likely to crank up the heater or air conditioner when its freezing or scorching out, which can drain the battery even faster. So if someone is used to going 100 miles between charges, they may find themselves running out of power after just 60 miles instead.

Drivers in regions known for very high or low temperatures, such as Phoenix or Minneapolis, can expect an overall reduction in vehicle range. But extreme temperatures have become more common throughout the U.S., due in part to the El Niño weather system that’s brought severe floods to the Midwest and contributed to the East Coast’s balmy Christmas. El Niños happen about every 2 to 7 years, and this one is particularly strong. It already helped to make 2015 the hottest year ever recorded — and it may make 2016 hotter still.

Well, at least we won’t be freezing our electrodes off, right? Not necessarily. Despite the overall warmer temperatures, El Niños can also bring colder-than-average winter weather to the South.

So what’s an electric car driver to do? Lowering your air conditioner can help. So can using your seat warmers instead of your car’s heater. Keep an eye on the weather and watch for extreme high or low temperatures. Drive at a moderate speed (the higher your mph, the faster your battery drains) and take a moment to find the charging stations along your route before you start your trip.

Related link: Discover more ways to increase your EV’s range

New advancements in electric vehicle batteries

The 60-to-100-mile average range limit may be a thing of the past soon (well, soon-ish). Universities and companies around the world have been working hard to create a battery that offers higher capacity without increased size, weight, or expense. In September, the Bosch technology company unveiled their new solid-state, lithium-ion concept battery, which they claim will offer double the range at a reduced cost. They aim to have a production-ready version available in less than 5 years.

Meanwhile, chemists at Cambridge University made a breakthrough in lithium-air battery technology, potentially leading to the development of a super battery with 5 times the energy capacity of current batteries. (They feel another 10 years of work will be needed before the system is commercially viable for cars, however.)

Researchers at 2 U.S. universities have also been developing wireless, in-road charging stations that recharge vehicles as the cars pass over them. (In August of last year, the UK announced plans to test one such system.)

In the meantime, EV drivers who are turning down their heater to expand their car’s range can be warmed by the knowledge that their ride is good for the environment as well as their wallet.

Whatever type of vehicle you drive, make sure it’s covered by top-notch car insurance — especially during this year of crazy weather. And check out our El Niño Survival Guide for useful tips on handling any storm.

Smart technology | Car tech


about Ellen

Ellen has spent many years as a professional wordsmith, helping to shed light on such topics as world travel, cargo pants, and the porosity of bath tiles. As a freelance copywriter for Esurance, she brings her boundless curiosity to the world of insurance. Outside work, she can be found cheering on the San Francisco Giants, hiking in the Oakland hills, and (barely) resisting smuggling penguins home from Antarctica.