Cold weather is zapping electric truck range

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Updated Dec 16, 2022
Ford F-150 Lightning Alaska in snow with trees and the sun in the background
Ford has tested its electric F-150 Lighting in Alaska and reports that cold weather driving can result in significant range reduction.
Ford

If you told a fleet manager that their trucks are going to lose 20% of their fuel just sitting in cold weather, they’d probably saw you cleanly in half with a laser beam stare.

If you told a driver that they would need to forego using the cabin heater inside their freezing electric truck and instead warm up with a heated steering wheel and seat, they may start looking for another job.

Laser beam stares and concerned drivers aside, the reality is as more EVs hit the road, range loss in cold weather and combatting same are stirring up serious concerns among EV users.

First up is the unavoidable and unfortunate reality of range depletion in an EV’s powertrain battery when subjected to cold weather. Norway, which has some very frigid winters along with the highest adoption rate of EVs among all nations, has plenty of data showing the impact of cold weather on EV batteries.

While sitting unplugged out in the cold an EV can lose up to 20% of its range, according to the Norwegian Automobile Federation.

[Related: Volvo delivers electric trucks to Ryder]

In a statement regarding cold weather impact on its EVs, Ford writes in part that low temperatures can result in "a significant reduction in range, which is normal." (See their full statement at the end of this article). 

The North American Council for Freight Efficiency has been engaged in cold weather commercial EV testing that runs the range from electric cargo vans to electric Class 8 regional haulers. 

"We’ve not published any data yet," NACFE executive director Mike Roeth told CCJ. "Directionally you lose 10% range for every 10 degrees under 30 degrees Fahrenheit."

The AAA Automotive Research Center in Southern California found that EV range "dropped 57 percent...when the temperature was held steady at 20°F."

Recurrentauto.com, a site dedicated to all things EV, reports that “some EVs can lose up to 35% of their range in freezing conditions, but each model performs differently…” Reporter Jon Witt refers readers to a chart showing cold weather impact on several different electric cars.  

Electric pickup and van users concerned about the cold

As more electric trucks and vans make their way into the market, users are reporting similar findings. In a viral video posted this week on YouTube’s Hoovies Garage, auto reviewer Tyler Hoover points out range loss in his electric Ford F-150 Lightning while traveling in chilly temperatures above freezing.

Hoover said he began a cold trip in his Lightning Lariat with 149 miles of range, which then dropped 75% after only 64 miles. The truck had been parked overnight outside unplugged, which Ford does not advise. 

“It’s 37 degrees outside and we have 37 miles of range remaining,” Hoover says moments before his eyes bulge at the thought of losing range to cold weather. “We started with 149 and we went 64 miles so that’s 120 miles of range in 60 or so miles outside. Towing nothing. It’s just cold outside. What?!”

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Pickup and SUV reporter Jill Ciminillo writes in an article for pickuptrucktalk.com how an F-150 Lightning she reviewed in Chicago lost a large portion of range due to recent cold weather.

“In the cold weather, the battery just has to work harder to warm up and make the vehicle move,” Ciminillo states, "and in the F-150 Lightning, that means you’ll have less than 72% of the total range you should have.”

The Rivian R1T has taken hits on range as well in cold weather. In a post on rivianforums.com, a Rivan R1T LE owner describes losing range in freezing Michigan. To play it safe, Doug, who also goes by the forum name fastwheels, keeps the truck at a max winter range of 200 miles, which is 36% below its EPA rated range of 314 miles. The truck was fully charged before the chilly trip and charged up again for the second leg of the journey.

“Between a 18 mph headwind and sub 20 degree temps the range definitely takes a hit,” writes Doug. “At 75 mph, 50% of range consumed for 114 miles. The next leg with lower speeds consumed 61% of battery capacity for 134 miles.”

Doug goes on to say that his “max winter range is about 200 miles (less if traveling at higher speeds and/or in snow) before charging to give me a comfortable range reserve.”

A cold weather efficiency review of the Rivian R1S, an SUV that has the same powertrain as the R1T, left YouTube's Out of Spec reviewer Kyle Conner feeling less than impressed. A trip analysis window on Rivian’s display showed that a 57-mile ride on Interstate 25 in Cheyenne, Wyoming had an efficiency rating of 2.08 miles per kWh at 37 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“Wow, very inefficient here in the cold,” Conner says while pointing at the numbers on the screen. “Not impressed by that efficiency at all.” 

Eariler this year, a Rivian van driver at Amazon told theinformation.com that the EV lost 40% of its range when using HVAC.

'Significant reduction in range' in the cold is 'normal'

Both Ford and Rivian have offered tips for managing EVs in the cold.

Ford’s advice published late last month advises Lightning users to park the truck overnight inside a garage out of freezing weather; keep the pickup plugged in overnight during freezing weather to help keep the battery warm; and instead of using the HVAC system to warm up the truck, they advise using the steering wheel and heated seats to save on range.

[Related: Winter battery management key to EV winter performance]

Ford also advises that when charging, especially when using DC fast-charging, to “turn off the heater if possible, or lower the temperature enough to remain comfortable.” It’s a tip that doesn’t go over too well with Hoover.

“So when you’re waiting to charge your car, be as cold as you possibly can so it charges quicker. Really?!” Hoover asks chuckling.

Range reduction in cold weather doesn't come as a surprise to Ford which has tested its EVs in extremely cold environments, including Alaska. “Temperatures below 40°F cause the electrolyte fluid to become sluggish, limiting how much power is available to discharge and how quickly the vehicle’s battery can charge. As F-150 Lightning customers across the United States and Canada begin their first winter with their new electric pickup, Ford wants to help make them aware that in low temperatures they could see a significant reduction in range, which is normal," Ford writes in statement on the controversial topic. 

Regarding extreme weather impact, Rivian states on its website that its “thermal control system is designed to maintain proper battery temperature in any weather, including the bitter cold. Preconditioning the battery to heat it up in the winter and cool it in the summer allows for maximum range in these conditions as well.”