Your electric car: in tiptop shape for winter
It’s time to get your car ready for this harsh season. An electric car has many plus points compared to combustion-engine vehicles (starting will always be smooth and instant, however cold it may be), although it also has a number of special features. Here are some ideas so you can enjoy being behind the wheel as much as you do the rest of the year.
1 The battery
Batteries don’t need any specific maintenance whatever the season, although ranges tend to decrease slightly when it is very cold. Warm weather is good for the chemical processes that cause electrons and electric currents to flow. That’s why performance tends to dip during cold periods of the year. Electric vehicles are usually fitted with heaters that turn on when temperatures fall below 20 or 15 degrees centigrade (depending on the model) to ensure the right temperature for the battery is maintained.
Obviously, these heaters need electricity to work, and tend to be one of the main reasons for the slight decreases in range. It’s always advisable to check the heater works before winter comes, because it will have to work overtime.
One of the big advantages of an electric car is its efficiency: around 95% of the power is harnessed to move it. Putting this into context, a combustion-engine vehicle only uses 50% because the other half is lost in the form of heat.
This explains why petrol or diesel cars are better able to maintain engine temperatures at the right level. Their heaters also use this residual heat to warm the vehicle’s interior. Electric motors are far more advanced, wasting practically no energy and so heat up far less. Their heaters rely more on electricity; another reason why ranges drop when compared to other, warmer seasons.
Nevertheless, there are some tricks to heat your car without using up so much of its battery. You can, for example, pre-heat the interior before getting in when it’s still plugged in to the grid. Many models offer this function and some can even be pre-programmed.
However strange it may at first seem, specialists recommend turning on the heated seats (if your car has them). Although they also draw power from the battery, they consume much less than the heater – which has to heat the entire interior – and therefore the range is hardly affected.
These are especially important at this time of year. They are the contact point between the car and the road, and the tarmac is often damp at the very best, but may also be covered in water, snow or ice. Extra special care must be taken when driving an electric car because they tend to be fitted with low-friction tyres to save energy. In some cases, their rolling resistance can be up to 20% lower than that of normal tyres.
On a damp surface, this could mean reduced grip if the tyre is not well designed. Careful tyre choice is therefore especially important. It should also be born in mind that the high engine torque (power sent to the transmission) of electric cars goes directly to the wheels, unlike in a combustion-engine car. This results in far quicker acceleration, but also means tyres are subject to greater torque from the off.
Some brands such as Michelin already design tyres especially for electric cars, which factor in all their specific characteristics and thus offer better grip and safety while also reducing torque and rolling resistance. It is better if you choose one of these models in the winter for better grip. And if you already have some fitted, remember: the tread must be intact; if the depth is less than 1.6 millimetres you must change them immediately, not only because that is the law but above all for your safety.
4 To see and be seen
You must take the same care here as with any of the other points. According to experts, visibility decreases by up to 30% in winter: there is less light, it rains more often (or harder), and car windows steam up easily, not overlooking the chance of driving into fog.
Check all your electric car’s lights are working. There are more than you may think: running lights, dips, headlights, brake lights, reverse light, indicators, and rear and front fog lights. As there is reduced visibility at this time of year, it is essential that other cars can see you well. You must check that the lights not only work but are also the right brightness. Also check the position of your headlights; if they are too low they won’t light the road properly, and if they are too high they can blind other road users.
5 And crystal clear
The windscreen can be your best ally at this time of year… or your worst enemy. If you want the former to be true, ensure it is as clean and clear as possible. If it steams up to easily, don’t delay: head to a garage and ask them to change the dust filters so that the air can circulate properly.
Check the windscreen blades are in perfect condition and have enough rubber. It is crucial that they wipe off all the water if it is raining or clear the screen of dirt, especially at night. One small smudge that doesn’t seem to be a problem during the day can obstruct your view when it gets dark Always make sure your screen wash and anti-freeze levels are topped up.