Cold weather driving tips for electric vehicles

There are steps we must all take to improve our driving experience during winter months, regardless of how our car is fuelled. However, it is well known that electric cars are particularly susceptible to extreme weather conditions.

This is because battery-range is put under extra strain through the extra use of lights and heating systems during this time. 

But, it is also because the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars are temperature sensitive. Peak performance of EV batteries is 15 - 26 degrees Celsius. 

When natural temperatures are outside of this, both charge time and range can be impacted. This is because modern EVs are equipped with temperature control technology, but this takes quite a bit of energy to power.

Tesla are one of the UK's leading EV brands. Their pioneering model, the Tesla Model Y, was the world's best-selling electric vehicle of all time in Q1 2023

It's only right, then, that Tesla have released a comprehensive guidance to owners on how best to look after electric cars during cold weather. 

Although specific to current Tesla models, some of these tips will also be useful to other electric car drivers during colder months.

Driving tesla model 3 in winter

Tesla cold weather tips

The extra demands on electric cars during winter months mean we should expect to see increased energy consumption. 

To maximise the range of an electric car during cold weather, Tesla advise taking these extra steps:

Warm up the car before departure

When plugged in, you can conserve the energy of your Tesla by ensuring it is warmed up before you depart. 

  • Scheduled departure - ensures your car is warm and ready for your journey when you are: Tap 'Charging' > 'Scheduled Departure' > 'Schedule' > 'Depart At'
  • Preconditioning - preheat and defrost your car through the Tesla app: Open the Tesla app and tap 'Climate' > 'Turn On'

What does the snowflake on Tesla mean?

A blue snowflake alert will display next to your displayed range when your battery is cold. When present, it means that some of your energy store will stay inaccessible until your battery temperature increases. As well as reduced energy accessibility, battery power and regenerative braking may also become limited while the snowflake alert is displayed. 

The battery of your electric car will warm most effectively when charging, when driving or preconditioning. The Tesla snowflake alert will disappear when your battery reaches sufficient temperature. 

Use built-in navigation

When undertaking longer journeys in cold weather you are advised to use your in-vehicle navigation system. When you do, your Tesla will automatically pre-heat its battery before arriving at superchargers to reduce charging time. 

Improve range efficiency

Conserve energy using these methods while driving throughout the year, but particularly so when using your Tesla in cold conditions.

  • Activate Range Mode in your Model S or Model X:  only do so when your battery has reached optimal temperature.
  • Moderate your speed
  • Reduce sudden acceleration
  • Lower your cabin temperature once your preferred temperature is reached and use seat heaters to maintain warmth.
  • Ensure correct tyre pressure

Moderate use of the Tesla app

Checking on your car via the Tesla app uses energy. This is because your car rouses itself from sleep mode in order to communicate vital updates. When energy conservation is your priority, moderating your use of the app will preserve your energy supply.

Stay plugged in

Keeping your electric car plugged in when it isn't used will ensure you have optimum energy levels at all times. This is especially so when it is cold as energy is in higher demand. Charging also helps your battery stay at optimum temperature, so your vehicle will be ready to go when you are.

Tesla model 3

Tesla snow and ice tips

These tips will help you and your Tesla tackle icy conditions.

Reposition your wipers and mirrors

Protect your wipers and mirrors from snow or ice.

  • To put wipers in service position:
  • Tap 'Controls' > 'Service' > 'Wiper Service Mode' > 'On'
  • To deactivate mirror auto fold:
    Model S and Model X: 'Controls' > 'Vehicle' > 'Mirror Auto-Fold'
    Model 3: 'Controls' > 'Quick Controls' > 'Mirrors' > 'Mirror Auto Fold'

Defrost your vehicle

Clear important areas of your car of snow and ice using vehicle controls.

  • To activate defrosting: Tap 'Climate' > Defrost icon
  • To tackle frozen windows: Melt ice with the Defrost feature in your Tesla app
  • Frozen charge port: Use either the Defrost feature or activate preconditioning (on HI)

Clear important surfaces

For safety and efficiency, ensure these elements are clean and clear before embarking. these steps might seem obvious, but they are always worth remembering. 

  • Frozen door handles:

Bump the handle with the end of your fist until the ice is broken - we'd recommend wearing a glove to avoid injury.

Also, it's now possible to unlatch the driver door on the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y using the Tesla App. So if your handles are frozen shut, touch and hold one of the quick controls that show below your car on your home screen which will open the 'Customise Controls' view. Then drag and drop 'Unlatch Door' to one of your quick control spots. You'll now be able to unlatch the door with a single tap.

  • Frozen mirrors:

Manually open and close your mirrors to restore automatic mirror fold.

  • Autopilot Sensors and Cameras:

Carefully wipe all sensors and cameras to ensure optimum performance.

  • Exterior Lights:

Changes in atmospheric conditions can cause condensation within exterior light lenses. This is normal and will clear naturally in time.

Tyre tracks in snow

Tyres and Accessories

Winter Tyres

Equipping your Tesla with winter tyres will enhance performance, safety and control on snowy roads. You can also consider purchasing tyre chains if local regulations allow their use.

Washer Fluid

Ensure your washer fluid is refilled and refreshed for colder temperatures. This is to maximise efficiency as the de-icing agents in washer fluid can evaporate over time.

Tyre Chains

Tyre chains provide an additional traction when driving in snow or icy conditions. 

However, there are certain restrictions placed on when and how you can use tyre chains in the UK. It'll be detailed in your vehicle's handbook on whether your car can have snow chains fitted or not. 

You'd also need to make sure that the route you're going to be driving is completely covered in snow, you could damage the roads if snow chains aren't actually required which could get you in trouble. 

Check out our fantastic Tesla Model Y lease deal

Alice Poole

Alice Poole

Alice applies her extensive test drive experience and her passion for motors to bring you informed and characterful articles and vehicle reviews.