Electric cars in the cold: do they still work in Maine

Do electric cars work in Maine’s cold temperatures?

That depends on how you drive, owners say.

PARIS, Maine — Scott Randall checked the gauges as he drove his all-electric Chevy Bolt.

“The car will tell you if you’re driving conservatively or driving aggressively, the colors [on the gauge] will change,” he said.

The way people drive their electric vehicles (EVs) matters, he said, especially in winter. Cold weather can impact the batteries that run the cars, and reduce a vehicle’s driving range.

Randall is the general manager of Paris Autobarn, an independent used car and repair shop that specializes in EVs and hybrids. He said he has seen it on his own car, and that range is one of the first things potential buyers ask about.

“You will [have] in a Chevy Bolt an average range of 250 miles in summer. You will be around the 180-mile range, [maybe] 200 miles in winter. But a lot of that has to do with owner habits and how they drive the vehicle,” Randall said.

The impact of cold weather, however, can come as a surprise for some EV buyers.

David Page told NEWS CENTER Maine he bought an EV in May, and loved the vehicle. But when the winter cold hit in early January, he got an unpleasant surprise.

“When the range dropped from about 350 to 175 and 175 for me just didn’t do it,” he said.

Randall said it isn’t unusual for some EVs to have the range drop as much as 30% in the extreme cold, but that experience helps drivers learn how to manage it.

His first suggestion is to plug the car into a charge whenever possible, always keeping the batteries up and charged to be close to the maximum range. He said that applies to a trip to the grocery store as much as sitting at home.

“We suggest leaving the car plugged in all the time, when you get home for example. It’s like having a gas station at your house so you’re always full.”

He said driving conservatively saves power, and in the right mode, the cars also help charge themselves when slowing or going downhill, through a system called regenerative braking.

Beyond that, Randall said cars with heat pumps use less power than those with conventional car heaters. And since most EVs have seat and steering wheel heaters, he said the larger heater can be turned off or at least turned down.

Randall also said that technology is improving, and EVs are gradually getting bigger battery packs with longer range.

The other remedy, he said, is drivers getting used to their cars.

NEWS CENTER Maine engineer Nate Tinsley said he has been driving an EV for several years and is now far more comfortable with the reduced range than he was initially. And meteorologist Keith Carson, an avid EV owner, points out that gasoline-powered cars also get lower gas mileage when it’s cold.

Both said improving battery technology will make a big difference, but that EVs already are practical for Maine.

Scott Randall clearly agrees. And for those who want to get started in EVs but worry about range, he suggests the plug-in hybrids may be an ideal compromise. The cars, he said, can travel 40-50 miles on a charge, but still have a gasoline engine that can take over for longer trips.

The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles says there are currently fewer than 1,500 all-electric vehicles registered in the state . However, there are more than 19,000 hybrids on the roads.