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How Long Can An Electric Car Idle With Heat On?

Recent world events and new stories about folks trapped on roadways during extreme weather have many of us wondering how we will manage in the same situation.

If you have a car that runs on gas or diesel, you can run the engine until you’re out of fuel.

However, if you’re in an electric vehicle, your options in the event of extreme weather get smaller.

How Long Can An Electric Car Idle With Heat On? infographic

Idle Time

Leaving your electric vehicle running to keep you warm has a time limit. For example, in a Tesla, running the car at idle to stay warm will start to draw the battery down after just a couple of hours.

Additionally, when electric cars go into idle mode, you may lose interior and exterior lights.

If you are stuck on a roadway and need to stay visible to avoid getting hit in low visibility, you may need to override the idle mode to keep the lights on.

This will shorten the time your battery offers you to move down the road.

Range Considerations in Extreme Weather

Cold Temperatures

A fully charged electric vehicle such as a Nissan Leaf will have more than 230 miles available when you get on the road.

If you live in cold areas of the country and have to leave your car in the cold either overnight or in a parking garage at work, be aware that your available mileage range can drop by up to 50 miles.

Idling to warm up your car was sometimes a necessary act back when engines had carburetors. Modern gasoline-powered engines have injectors and don’t need much warming up.

Electric cars have never needed a warm-up time. If you choose to warm up the car to make it more comfortable for yourself or your passengers, make sure you track the time the car spends idling and recalculate your expected mileage to allow for the limitations that cold weather creates.

In addition to the range limitations brought on by extreme cold, running your heat to warm up the inside of the car can create an extra drain on your battery availability.

man charging electric car in winter

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat can also limit the range that you can drive your electric car. If you do need to drive to work and home each day, try to keep your vehicle out of the sun to avoid heat build-up inside the car; this heat will require you to use more air conditioning to make the vehicle comfortable.

If your region has very high temperatures during the day, consider looking for a shaded parking spot for your electric vehicle to avoid the hassle of a limited driving range and the risk of damaging your battery.

If your commute is fairly short, your batter should be able to keep up, but this type of pressure can lead to damage over time.

Ways to Overcome Limited Battery Availability

In a gas-powered vehicle, using engine heat to warm the air that passes over passengers is not a drain on the fuel supply. However, an electric car doesn’t have this combustion heat to use up.

If you’re headed out for a fairly long drive and want to avoid damage to your batter and not suffer the cold, aim to heat the passengers without warming up the car.

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Dress warmly until your body heat contributes enough to make the car’s interior a bit more comfortable.

Pay attention to pulse points. Keep the following areas covered:

  • neck
  • wrists
  • ankles
  • head

For those subjected to extreme polar vortex cold, make sure you layer before you leave the house.

Fleece fabric against the skin is an ideal way to trap heat close to your skin no matter how cold the air is around you.

If your range is extreme or your battery is low, you may be struggling to keep the defroster on enough to keep down moisture build-up on your windows.

Because extreme temps can also limit your travel range in high summer, you may need to change up when you drive.

For example, you may stay cooler by getting on the road early and wrap up your travels before the hottest part of the day impacts you.

If you must be out during the hottest part of the day, make sure you

  • park in shade
  • dress to stay cool inside the car
  • stay hydrated

The electricity in your AC will keep up on your air conditioning needs. However, if you need a lot of range and lots of AC at idle, you may have to choose one or the other.

Your battery range will be limited during high heat. Running your AC at idle will draw down the battery even more.

The Optimum Temperature

To get the full range from your battery and not freeze or bake in your car’s interior, your car will prefer between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Your car will certainly function outside that range, but you’ll have access to more miles, more heat, and more AC if your car is functioning between 60 and 80 degrees.

temperature gauge showing 60-80 degrees

Don’t Forget Your Starting Battery

It’s also a good idea to pay attention to your lead acid or starting battery. Cold weather can put a lot of stress on your starting battery and it may eventually lose the ability to hold a charge.

Once this goes, you generally need a new starting battery.

drawing an electric car at charging station

Hot weather can also kill a lead-acid battery. Most car starting batteries are sealed, but if they get hot enough they can dry out and lose the ability to regain their charge via the alternator.

It’s not uncommon to need a new starting battery every 2 summers in areas that have extreme heat in July and August.

A dead or dying starter battery will put pressure on your EV battery, especially during extreme temperatures. The first time your car starts slowly, go get the starting battery checked out.

It’s the same battery and technology as is found in a gas or diesel-powered vehicle and getting it replaced is generally not costly.

However, make sure you check your manual so the person who installs your battery doesn’t cause any challenges for your EV battery.

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