If you’re interested in buying a new electric vehicle (EV), you probably have several battery-related questions, including wondering, “does running the A/C lower my EV range?” No one wants to get stranded with a dead battery on a hot summer day or snowy winter evening.
The short answer is yes. Running the A/C or cranking up the heater will impact the range of your EV. However, several different factors contribute to how the temperature will affect things. From where you live, the model of EV you drive, how new it is, and more.
Basically, it’s complicated. Newer vehicles like the Tesla Model Y and Polestar 2 EV have an improved heat pump that’s far more efficient, meaning cold weather impacts are less than ever before. Here are more details regarding the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) and EV range.
EV Batteries Are Like Humans
Before talking about electric vehicle range and how the weather may impact things, it’s important to know why. Electric vehicle batteries are like humans and operate at their best during the same temperature range as people.
Cold temperatures slow down the chemical reactions in battery cells, reducing driving range and increasing charging times. And on the other end, heat causes charging speeds to decrease.
The ideal range is around 40-110 degrees F. Anything too cold or too hot will deliver less than optimal performance. Hot or cold temps can affect driving range, battery life, charging times, and more. As a result, EV batteries have built-in heating and cooling systems that help maintain the best operational temperatures.
How Does A/C Affect EV Range?
During warm summer months running the air conditioner in a gas vehicle will lower your MPG, which happens in an EV too. However, it’s not nearly as bad as some people would have you think. I’ve seen comments online that the AC will lower an EV range by 50%, which is not true, especially on modern electric vehicles.
For example, in 2019, research from AAA suggested that when outside temperatures reach 95-degrees F during the summer and AC is used in a vehicle, the driving range can decrease by around 17%. And while that’s certainly not good, it’s not awful, either. The EPA estimates that gas-powered vehicles can lose upwards of 25% while using the AC.
However, in a comment to The Verge, a Tesla spokesperson disputed AAA’s findings and suggested that based on real-world data from the millions of Tesla cars on the road, users won’t experience a decrease anywhere near 17%. Tesla claims that at 95-degrees Fahrenheit, using the AC will only lower your Model S range by roughly one percent.
Obviously, that’s a drastic difference, and the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The AC lowers the MPG in a gas car and does something similar on EVs.
And while your first instinct is to roll down the windows, that’s not much better. Aerodynamics and drag can also lower driving range, so most manufacturers suggest rolling the windows down at slow speeds. However, at speeds above 55MPH, you’re better off rolling them up and using the air conditioning.
So, while using the A/C certainly won’t cut your EV’s range in half, it’s still something you may want to consider on your summer adventures or next road trip.
How Does Using the Heater Affect EV Range?
The bigger problem for electric vehicles is the cold, where most owners end up using the heater and heated seats to get toasty.
In the same AAA study linked above, the company suggests using the heater in an electric vehicle can kill your range by upwards of 41%. That’s on the high end only under extreme conditions on a specific vehicle, so don’t let that number concern you.
For example, over half the new cars in Norway are plug-in EVs, and their results are far more promising than what AAA is saying. According to the Norwegian Automobile Federation, harsh winter temperatures and heater use may lower battery range and efficiency by around 20%.
Tesla, the leading EV manufacturer, has an entire support page dedicated to cold weather best practices. It covers things like winter tires, pre-heating the battery before charging, and warming up the car at home before hitting the streets.
Additionally, Tesla says to use seat warmers to keep warm, as they use less energy than the cabin heater and will improve range. If you need the cabin heater, feel free to crank it up. Tesla has disputed AAA’s report that temps under 20-degrees F can lower the range by 41% and said that owners wouldn’t experience a decrease anywhere remotely near that high. Still, the company didn’t share a number to ease drivers’ minds.
The battery analysis firm Recurrent released a study at the end of 2021 that details cold weather and EV range. According to its findings, results vary for each model, and older EVs like the Chevy Volt can experience a big loss of range. However, newer vehicles from Tesla, Audi, and Nissan are much, much lower, often under 10%.
In closing, most electric vehicles experience some loss of driving range in hot or cold weather conditions, and your mileage will vary based on the conditions. The same thing goes for gas-powered vehicles on the road today.
With modern EVs, it’s not a drastic difference like 40%, but it is something owners should keep in mind while traveling. Plus, as EV and battery technology continues to improve, so will the driving range.