‘No way to charge this battery’: This Tesla owner got stranded on Christmas Eve because his Model S failed in the cold — here's why EVs can struggle when temperatures plunge

Electric cars have been gaining popularity in America.

In 2022, sales of fully electric vehicles totaled 807,180 in the U.S., making up 5.8% of all vehicles sold, an increase from 3.2% in 2021, according to market research firm Motor Intelligence.

While sales are red-hot, the cold weather brought by the arctic blast has delivered a blunt reality check to some EV enthusiasts.

Domenick Nati from Virginia, for instance, tried to charge his Tesla Model S ahead of the Christmas holiday but encountered some problems.

“I tried to charge it at my house, it won’t let me. So there’s no way to charge this battery or let it warm up in the cold,” Nati said in a TikTok video.

He then took the car to a Tesla Supercharger station and plugged it in but it failed to charge again.

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The vehicle showed a message that the battery was heating and the car had a range of 19 miles at 1:11 pm.

“3:03, almost two hours later — battery is heating, 19 miles,” Nati read from the vehicle display with frustration later that day.

The temperature was reportedly around 19°F, or -7°C, at the time.

Nati’s video — described as “Tesla S will not charge in the cold. Stranded on Christmas Eve!” — has now amassed roughly 113,000 likes on TikTok.

Here’s a look at why it can be challenging to own an electric car in the winter — and how you can overcome it.

Range reduction

There’s a term called range anxiety, which refers to the fear that an EV might not have enough battery charge to reach its destination. To resolve the issue, manufacturers are now making EVs that have much longer ranges than before.

But you still want to be cautious when the weather gets cold.

According to motoring membership giant AAA, cold temperatures can substantially reduce the range of electric car batteries.

The organization found that at 20°F (-6.7°C), the average driving range of EVs fell by 12% if a car’s cabin heater was not turned on. The driving range would be reduced by 41% if the heater was on full blast.

“This means for every 100 miles of combined urban/highway driving, the range at 20°F would be reduced to 59 miles,” AAA said in the study.

“When colder temperatures hit, AAA urges electric vehicle owners to be aware of a reduction in range and the need to charge more often to minimize the chance of being stranded by a dead battery.”

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Longer charging time

Cold temperatures can not only reduce an EV’s range, but also affect its charging time.

The reason is that the electrochemical reactions inside the battery take place more slowly at lower temperatures. And EVs’ battery management systems also limit the charging rate to avoid damage to the battery.

A study by the Idaho National Laboratory found that when the temperature drops to 32 °F (0°C), an EV battery took in 36% less energy than when the battery was charged for the same about of time at 77°F (25°C).

“This indicates that the performance of [Direct Current Fast Charger] can largely vary across the United States due to the variation in regional climate,” the study said.

Tips for the winter

Simply put, batteries don’t like cold temperatures.

Anna Stefanopoulou, director of the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, points out that batteries “are like humans” and “are weak when they are cold.”

“Our recent work shows that at low temperatures, you cannot charge,” she adds.

“At cold temperatures, it is important to have plenty of energy left so you can start. Don’t think that being near an outlet to charge will get you out of trouble.”

So if possible, park your EV in a garage. And instead of depleting your EV’s battery, always keep an eye on the battery level and plan to charge before it gets too low.

If you want to go on a long road trip in freezing weather, it’s important to plan ahead. Because cold temperatures can reduce an EV’s range and increase its charging time, you might want to plan for more frequent stops and find more charging stations along the way.

“As long as drivers understand that there are limitations when operating electric vehicles in more extreme climates, they are less likely to be caught off guard by an unexpected drop in driving range,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering.

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This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.