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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winter Driving In A Tesla

Tesla Model S in the Snow, Image via caricos.com

Tesla has released firmware version 2017.50 and it has new cold weather features. We'll show you tips that work with this new firmware and tips that you can use in any electric vevhicle.

Old man winter's here and it's cold outside. The cold weather and road contions have impacts on driving regardless of the fuel source. In an EV, winter conditions have range impacts. If you want to maximize your winter driving range, there are some smart things that you can do in a Tesla to make winter driving comfortable and to maximize your winter range.

1. Preheat Your Car

Climate Control in Tesla App
Using the Tesla app, you can preheat your car while it is still plugged in. This allows the cabin to heat up using wall power instead of battery power, leaving more of your battery energy to move you down the road. You might even pre-condition 4 or 5 degrees above where you'd like it normally to further delay the use of battery power for the climate system once you are on the road.

It takes a lot less energy to maintain a warm temp than to raise the temp, so this tip pays off and now you get to step into a nice warm ride. #winwin

To use this tip, you must keep your car plugged in. Occasionally, new EV owners worry that leaving their car plugged in will damage the battery or cause a memory effect. With Teslas, the saying is "A plugged in Tesla, is a happy Tesla." There is memory effect concern with modern Lithium batteries. If you plan on leaving your can for any period of time, set the range down into the "Daily" region and keep it plugged in. This allows the car to draw power whenever it needs it for various thermal maintenance and connectivity actions.

1b. Scheduled Preheating

As I write this, there is no option to schedule a reoccurring climate control event in the app, but a major overhaul of the Tesla app is expected in 2018 and this is an oft requested feature so I would not be surprised to see it arrive soon. There are 3rd party apps available today that will allow you to pre-heat on a fixed schedule if this is a must have for you and you don't want to wait.

2. Pre-Heat The Battery 

Starting with firmware version 2017.50, Tesla added a new feature to precondition the battery. It might be more accurate to say that the app now displays this to the user since the car has had this feature for several years, but now the driver can see the battery temperature state.

When the battery is too cold, it is limited in many ways. It cannot charge or discharge at its full rate. This limits acceleration and regen. With limited regen, energy is wasted rather than recaptured and your range will be reduced.

When temperatures are near freezing and the battery would benefit from preconditioning, you'll see the snowflake icon and a blue region in the Tesla app. The blue region shows the portion of the battery capacity that is currently not available due to the cold temperature. To start the preconditioning, just turn on the climate control system. Climate control only takes a few minutes to heat or cool the cabin but warming the battery takes about an hour, so plan ahead when possible.

Using this feature will allow you to regain the blue region of the battery and increase your range and performance.

Just like Tip #1 above, to maximize range, make sure the car is plugged in.

3. Heated Seats

Model X 6 Seat Config w/ Subzero Package
If you live in a region that has a notable winter season or you just don't like being cold, it's worth it to get the subzero package when you buy a Tesla. It adds heated seat, heated wiper blades, heated washer nozzles, headed mirrors, and a heated steering wheel.

Heating the seats and the steering wheel is a much better way to stay warm than heating all the air in the cabin. Depending on the outside temp, this may be all the warming that you need.

4. Snow Tires & Alternatives


The above tips have been about keeping you warm and maximizing range. This tip is about keeping you safe. Winter driving can be dangerous. Make sure you use adequate traction control for the conditions and slow down as needed to maintain control.

If you live someplace with harsh winter conditions, then you should likely get winter tires and carry chains. Tesla sells traction devices that are made to fit their cars in their "shop" website.

I am fortunate that we only have a few days each year of snow and ice. On these rare days, I can generally work from home so I usually don't have to drive in the snow unless we're headed up to Mt. Hood for some skiing fun.

Even though snow and ice driving are not part of my typical routine, it's better to be prepared. I don't want to stranded if there is a surprise snowstorm while I'm out of the house. If we need supplies or there's an emergency, I want to be able to drive in winter conditions. To cover this case, I carry a set of AutoSocks in the car. These are light and easy to put on. They slip over the tire like a shower cap. Much easier to put on than chains and they work far better than I thought they could.

I'm not sure that you'd want to use them on a 100-mile skip trip, but they'd work great for a trip to the store on a cold winter's day. You can pick up a set here.

5. Smart Climate Control

When it's cold in the car, you might be tempted to crank the heater up all the way. Tesla's cars have powerful heaters that can bring the cabin temp up to 80F/27C quickly. This is usually a waste of energy. Instead of setting it on HI, just set it to the temp that you want, such as 72F/22C and let the HVAC system do its thing. This will avoid the overshoot that will likely occur if you are manually controlling the system.

As we mentioned in tip 3, make sure you are warming your seat when you're cold. If this is not enough, this can be supplemented with the cabin heater. You might notice that you can leave the HVAC temp a little lower than you normally would when you have your hands and buns already warm. This might also mean that all you really need to do is warm your feet, so you can direct the HVAC air to just that region.

If you turn on Range Mode in your Tesla, the HVAC system power is reduced. This can help in this case, but it is generally needed if you follow the tips above to preheat, seat heat, and use a smart temp.

6. Chill Mode

Depending on the options that you buy with your Tesla, you'll have 2 or more acceleration modes. They are: Standard, Chill, & Performance/Ludicrous/Launch. When you are driving on snow and ice, gradual acceleration is a good idea. Chill Mode acceleration can help keep all the tires gripping. Traction control certainly will still kick in as needed, but Chill Mode can help you lighten your foot a little and prevent you from needing it as often.

Chill Mode also seems to engage the regen a little slower, this means it can help when slowing down as well as when accelerating.

7. Driving Speed

Speaking of chilling, now that you have the cabin, battery, and seats warmed up and the climate control set just right, it's time to drive.

If you want to increase your driving range, one of the simplist ways is to slow down a bit. Drag is a function of the square of velocity, so even taking 5 MPH off your speed could have a notable impact on the range. When you are driving on ice and snow, slowing down is a good idea for safety too. Here, you have the additional benefit improved range.

8. Route Planning

Know Before You Go: As always, when traveling in an EV, make sure to allow for a margin of error on your routine planning and charging. You don't want to get stranded. Especially in the winter, road closures are possible and you may have to take a detour. Make sure you have enough charge to get to your next stop. If you have an app like PlugShare, it can help you find a place to grab a few extra killowatt-hours if the unexpected happens and you need a charge.

Anytime you stop and plug in, make sure to preheat the cabin and seats again before you unplug and get back on the road. If you've been driving and charging, the battery pack should not need to be warmed up again.

9. Clear The Snow

Snow Brush and Ice Scraper
If you stop to charge, this is also a good time to clear the snow that has likely accumulated on the car. Snow and ice can block the sonar sensors and can add drag to the car. I like to carry a brush-scrapper combo like the one shown above. The brush is great for the snow and the scraper for the window ice. You can get one here in blue or red to match your car (assuming it's blue or red :)

Bonus Tip 

The side view mirror defrost does not have its own setting. They are enabled when the rear window defrost is turned on.

Wrapping Up

I hope these tips help you stay warm this winter. Have a nice cup of cocoa when you make it to your destination. Be sure to wear a good coat, hat, and gloves for the trek. Drive Safely.

This article includes Amazon Associates links.
I'm Long Tesla

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