Electric Vehicle Performance in Extreme Heat

“Once it gets above 85 degrees, lithium-ion batteries do see accelerated aging and degradation,”

Liz Najman, lead researcher at Recurrent

If you’re in the market for an electric vehicle, it’s important to consider how extreme heat can affect the battery’s lifespan. While EVs can handle high temperatures, prolonged exposure can accelerate battery degradation. This means that the battery’s life may be shortened if the car is frequently driven in hot climates. Additionally, DC fast charging can also contribute to battery degradation, so it’s important to use this feature sparingly. 

It’s important to keep in mind that EVs are still relatively new technology, and there is ongoing research to improve battery performance in extreme temperatures. As always, it’s important to do your research and talk to experts before making a decision.

Surviving a Family EV Road Trip in the Heat

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 explore what factors 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. Your model 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 drove 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 could travel 3.1 miles per kilowatt of electricity.

Extreme Heat Reduce Range

The Electric Car range is reduced by extreme heat. Extreme cold or hot temperatures put additional demands on your electric battery, reducing 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, 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 being expended to travel 143 miles. One last point before I move on. My example did not represent a typical range loss but how driving conditions can reduce range.

Braking and Downhill Driving Increase Range

At one point from the 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 that electric cars’ fuel efficiency improves, unlike gas cars that see worse fuel economy with frequent braking. Regenerative braking is a technology that converts some of the energy generated in braking into electricity. So 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. Our electric vehicle handled the heat like a champ. Several cars were overheating on the side of the road, 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 details. First, your electric vehicle will give directions to a charging station.

These charging stations are near the freeway offramps and beside 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 $.50 per kilowatt of electricity when charging away from home.

Checklist for Driving in Extreme Heat

 We reduced our emissions on our trip, which felt good, saved money, and had a pleasant, trouble-free road trip. In summary, here is a list of some tips to consider next time you drive an electric vehicle in extreme heat:

  • If your electric vehicle has the preconditioning feature, use it. The preconditioning feature allows you to cool your vehicle while still charging.
  • Plan your travel route to include EV charging stations. Factor into your planning that driving in the heat may expend more electricity.
  • Drive at moderate speeds to ensure you get the most out of your battery charge.
  • Run the air conditioning at moderate temperatures to conserve electricity.
  • Avoid using unnecessary features that can further drain your battery.
  • Carry a water supply and snacks to ensure you are well-hydrated during the trip.
  • Lastly, ensure your mobile phone is fully charged for in case you need roadside assistance during a trip.

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

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