Electric Car Range in Extreme Heat

Electric car driving in extreme heat in the Mojave desert

How far electric cars can travel in extreme heat is a question many people ask. To answer this question, you have to consider several factors. I will go through what factors can impact the distance you can travel on a single charge. I recently took a 495-mile trip from the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Orange, California, in our 2018 Tesla Model X on one of the hottest days on record

Electric Car Models Impact Range

Your electric car will determine how far you can travel. The model you choose will also determine how many miles per kilowatt you can travel. You want to select a light vehicle with an efficient battery and motors to get good mileage. For example, on our road trip, we were driving an older, heavy Tesla Model X with a 75-kilowatt battery and a 237-mile range. Assuming we had normal driving conditions and were not driving fast, our Tesla Model X would be able to travel 3.1 miles per kilowatt of electricity.

Extreme Heat Reduce Range

Electric Car range is reduced by extreme heat. Extreme cold or hot temperatures put additional demands on your electric battery resulting in reduced range. For example, the road trip I recently took had us traveling through the Movaje desert in heat over 120 degrees. Due to the extreme heat, we had to blast our air conditioning, resulting in consuming electricity faster than average. According to AAA, extreme temperatures can reduce battery range up to 41%, depending on your driving conditions and which electric car you own.

Speeds and Driving Uphill Reduce Range

How fast you drive with a gas-powered car affects how many miles you get per gallon. Electric vehicles are no different and burn through their electricity more quickly at high speeds. Since electric vehicles run on electricity, the miles per gallon equivalent is how miles per kilowatt.

Our 2018 Tesla Model X would get 3.1 miles per kilowatt under usual driving conditions. Our road trip conditions were far from typical, however. We had our air conditioning blasting to keep the 120-degree heat at bay. My wife drove 70 to 85 miles per hour, and we had hilly roads. Consequently, due to the driving conditions and heat, the Kingman to Baker portion of my road trip, which was 143 miles ate up 207 miles of my battery. The extreme conditions resulted in an extra 64 miles of electricity to be expended to travel 143 miles. One last point before I move on. My example was not representative of a typical range loss but rather how driving conditions can reduce range.

Braking and Downhill Driving Increase Range

At one point in our Kingman to Baker leg of our road trip, we estimated we would arrive at our destination with nine miles to spare. However, range anxiety crept in as we did not want to get caught in the Mojave desert with spotty cell phone coverage and 120-degree heat. As a result, we reduced our speed the rest of the way to around 55 miles, and lucky for us, we ran into a few downhill stretches of road.

The result of driving downhill is it allows electric cars the opportunity to create electricity. We benefited from the downhill driving and got to Baker with 34 miles of charge left in the battery. The lesson here is unlike gas cars which see worse fuel economy with frequent braking, electric cars’ fuel efficiency improves with braking. Regenerative braking is a technology that takes the friction from braking and converts a portion of that energy into electricity. The result is braking allows you to create some electricity while driving, slightly increasing your range.

Getting Home and Road Trip Lessons

Our 495-mile trip took us 10 hours and four stops to charge our batteries along the way. Our electric vehicle handled the heat like a champ. Several cars were on the side of the road overheating, but our electric vehicle had no issues outside of increased electricity use. In case you are wondering what charging an electric car looks like, let me provide some detail. First, your electric vehicle will give directions to a charging station.

Our Tesla trip planner charging a course through the Mojave desert in extreme heat.
Here is a picture of our trip planner guiding us to the next charging station | Electric Driver image

These charging stations tend to be near the freeway offramps and next to food, restrooms, and shopping. Depending on how many miles you need to replenish, charging can take 20 to 60 minutes. In our case, each stop at the charging station took about 30 to 45 minutes per stop. However, the wait was bearable because, during each stop, we either had a meal to eat, picked up some snacks, or took a restroom break.

In case you were wondering what it cost to charge our car, we paid nothing. We pay nothing for charging because, in 2018, Tesla offered free lifetime charging. But unfortunately, Tesla phased out lifetime charging in 2020, which is no longer available. So now you can expect to pay $.40 per kilowatt of electricity when charging away from home.

 We reduced our emissions on our trip, which felt good, saved money, and had a pleasant, trouble-free road trip.

I hope to have shed some light on how extreme heat reduces electric car range. If you are interested in learning more about electric car ranges and how much it costs to drive, visit Electric Driver or visit our guide on selecting the right electric car for you.

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