A (Ford) Focus on the Cold

I’m sure you’re all aware of the ridiculous cold that has been gripping the midwest for the past three days; even if you don’t live here you’ve probably heard about it from social media, the news, or from other sources. This isn’t just the typical cold we usually get in the midwest — it is something hellish and new that we’re just not used to! Even if people do live in climates colder than what we’ve experienced for a few days they are more prepared for it and that sort of weather is expected where they live.

This is a good learning experience for me because this is the second year of owning my Ford Focus Electric and the first winter where it’s gotten really cold. While it might’ve been cold last year, I don’t have any real memories of anything out of the ordinary; it was an average, mild winter therefore I don’t remember much. This year has put the EV to the test in the cold.

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-24 CELCIUS (-11 F)

Gas vehicle drivers know right away that batteries go to shit in the cold. This is due to the chemistry of the battery “slowing down” so the reactions that create electric charge go slower and the battery delivers less current. Also, the car needs more current to start because the oil (a viscous fluid) becomes really thick in the cold. This leads to people not being able to start their cars. Even if the battery is an average age and still works around 10 or 30 degrees F, it struggles when the temperature is 50 degrees colder!

My coworker asked me how my car does in the cold. Right away I told him that I don’t have to worry about “starting” my car because there is nothing to physically start. Starting isn’t a problem. What is a problem is the fact that while my car doesn’t rely on a powerful jolt from a 12-volt battery to start the engine it does rely on a battery to do everything else, like drive and power the heater. EVs suffer the same battery issues as a gas car does but it isn’t as dramatic as not being able to start the car. The car starts just fine (because it just turns on the electrical power or whatever) but the range is severely limited. As the gas car’s starting battery suffers a degradation in performance so does the EVs main drive battery.

The Focus can drive upwards of 80 or 90 miles in the summer although 70 is a much safer number for me to shoot for. Currently, in the deep freeze that is the midwest, my car’s gauge said yesterday that I can go 27 miles! That’s it. I should note that this is with the heater on, but there isn’t anyway around that really…

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Usually when it’s cold out, but not cold, I don’t use the heater. If the windows start to fog up I will crack my side window and that solves the problem. But in this kind of cold I have no choice but to use the heater! Even if the car can go 36 miles with the heater off I wouldn’t do it because it’s too cold to not use the heater. This isn’t just a comfort thing either; while the car is parked frost forms on the windshield interior and I have no choice but to use the heat to see out the window. I think this is due to snowmelt in the floorboard that evaporates slowly, condenses, and then freezes on the window. That’s the only source of water vapor that I can think of really because I don’t breathe that heavily!

EVs suffer issues just like a gas car would in the deep cold, but the issues aren’t as dramatic as having a car that won’t start. These cars start just fine as there isn’t anything to really “start” but their issues manifest as a huge reduction in range. While my car can do around 80 miles in the summer my range in the severe cold is only 27 miles! This is with the heater on but having it off simply isn’t a viable option. Still, if you simply need to drive a few miles to the store or to work, the EV works great even in the bone-chilling cold.

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