Deep Freeze

Cold Weather Can Sap Your Car’s Juice

If it seems like your fuel economy has been lower than normal this winter, it’s not your imagination. Cars, like people, find it harder to get through a cold winter, and that’s especially true for the latest generation of battery-based vehicles, like hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles.

New research by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory finds that some models can lose as much as a third of their fuel economy by the time the mercury drops to 20 degrees. And the colder the weather – or the shorter the trip – the bigger the drop.

Lower temperatures are just one of the reasons. Other factors include:

  • Slippery roads can decrease your tires’ grip. You waste fuel when you’re spinning your wheels;
  • Vehicles are typically designed to deliver their best mileage at highway speeds, so as you slow down on slick roads, fuel economy falls;
  • Vehicles typically use more fuel if they’re in four- or all-wheel-drive.
  • You’re more likely to let your vehicle idle, getting zero miles per gallon, as it warms up.

Then there’s the battery. Even in a conventional vehicle, it’s likely to be less efficient when it gets cold, requiring the alternator to run more frequently. And in a hybrid, plug-in or electric vehicle, a cold battery will hold less energy, limiting range and energy efficiency.

To improve vehicle performance when weather turns frigid:

  • Park your car where it can stay warm, and combine trips rather than making lots of short ones so the vehicle’s engine and fluids warm up.
  • Limit the amount of time you warm up the vehicle; it will heat up faster while driving;
  • Check your tire pressure often. It falls with the temperature.
  • Pre-heat the cabin of your plug-based vehicle so it’s warming up while plugged in instead of while driving, draining range in the process.

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