Category Archives: Winter Driving

Another Tesla road trip in progress…

This trip is NY to FL. At some point the trips wont be noteworthy as everyone will be making them (at least Model S owners).

This one is driven by a Green Car Reports driver. Its funny how, on his very first leg, he’s learned the low-temperature lesson that every EV driver has to cope with.

Update: There are two more reports on hist progress: Here and here.

After reading these reports a couple of statements stood out to me:

As I drive, I keep careful track of how the range display compares with the actual miles driven.


Once consumption settles down, I do my now-standard comparison of rated mileage decay vs real mileage traveled, and find it’s right at 20 percent.

His mental calculation of “rated mileage decay” and “real mileage traveled” is right on my dashboard in my Focus Electric! Its called status. It is the difference between the range to empty at the beginning of the trip and the current calculated range to empty (I discuss it more in this posting). Do we have a feature on our Focus Electrics that is missing from a Tesla Model S…it would seem so.

Brutal cold…Is it spring yet?

Its been what, over a week, since I last posted about winter driving issues? LOL

The next week or so is going to be almost as cold as the polar vortex was (granted we didn’t actually get the core of the polar vortex earlier this month–just a small eddy from it).

Yesterday the temps were in the single digits; this morning the news said -5 F (the car said 0 F–in either case simply cold). By now I’m already accustomed to the range loss and only expect the car to go 50 miles or less on a charge. The challenge in this really cold weather is how to keep the occupants (mostly myself) warm whilst still maximizing range. I’ve written before about my coworker’s solution (the 12V heated blanket); he has now added to his 12V accessories: a 12V window defroster (this item also uses less electricity than the car’s built in heater). The 12V defroster doesn’t help when the temps fall into the single digits and colder though–it only clears away a small “hole” in the frost.

So far all of my experiments have been attempting to use different settings on the climate control and some RainX anti-fog towlettes. My current results: In the deep cold its best to just hit the “Max defrost” button and let that run for 30-60 seconds and turn it off than any of the other settings, and the jury’s still out on the RainX anti-fog: I have one treatment on it and the window still fogs up a bit. This morning I did use a small lap blanket; just the blanket combined with the seat-heat works quite well to keep me comfortable.

Ford really does need to come up with a better heating solution than the one currently in the FFE–at times it uses more power than the drive motor!




Turning the corner on Winter…

Well now that that stretch of nasty weather is behind us. Just as a refresher: Here in SE Michigan over the past week we’ve seen some of the worst winter weather in a decade. Almost 2′ of snow (which in and of itself isn’t that bad) combined with temperatures well below zero (-15F I think was the lowest temp I saw in our city). I think its safe to say that my FFE has seen the worst winter weather that it will see during the time that I’m driving it.

Most EV drivers in the northern climates wonder about that first winter with the EV:

  • How much range will I lose?
  • Will I be able to go without using heat?
  • How much additional electricity will be used by the heater?
  • What about keeping the windows clear, how much will that cost?

I haven’t really noticed a huge loss of range simply due to the cold. The guess-o-meter still reads around 70 miles of range in the morning when fully charged (in the summer I would frequently see 100 miles. I know that this isn’t a very accurate measure of actual range but the value at a given time–say first thing in the morning when fully charged–will reflect the power consumption for the previous day’s driving). Now if I have to use the heater at all during my commute the power consumption spikes dramatically (If I have to use the heat for the drive in I can double my power consumption).

Overall I’m still very pleased with the car. The winter “power loss” is about as I had expected from my research before I got the car. I’ve developed the following habits to cope with the cold with the FFE:

  • Use the go times to precondition the car to the highest temp setting for the morning commute in
  • Use the defroster on “Lo” to clear the foggy windows occasionally (when 20F or above, have to use heat for colder temps)
  • While at work park the car where it will get the most sunlight to keep it somewhat warmer
  • Clean off as much snow as possible–if you don’t it will stay there
  • When overnight temperatures are less than about 20 F or so garage the car (better for the batteries and when its that cold out the precondition has a hard time getting up to temp)
  • Remote start the car about 5 minutes before the return home commute when temps are colder and sky is overcast

You’d think that a small car like the FFE wouldn’t do very well driving around in all the snow and ice. Not so, after the recall fixes the traction control on the car has just been amazing. I’ve driven through some snow piles that I thought for sure I’d be getting stuck in. The car just drove through them like they weren’t even there. Slick ice, no problem–it just creeps along over the ice until it finds some pavement with a little more traction. Its kind of interesting: you hit a very slick spot and the car just slows down–like it knows better than you how to get through the gunk–then when it finds even the slightest bit of traction….you’re off! (You can even drive over the slick spots with the accelerator floored! Just be careful though because you’ll be off like a rocket as soon as the car gets traction again.)

My coworker did come up with a good suggestion for Ford to improve the climate control: Allow a defrost+re-circulation setting. This would take air from inside the cabin and blow it on the windows to defrost it. There is no CO danger like on an ICE car–since the car doesn’t make CO (the only source of CO2 is the passengers). This feature would also use less electricity if the driver did want to heat the air as the air in the car will be warmer than outside.

After all its only 33 days to spring training!


More nasty weather and cold coming….brrr

Watching the snow falling as I type this…the first big winter storm for 2014 and the coldest temperatures around here since something like the 1990s! (Monday’s low is supposed to be -16F! Tuesdays will be a balmy -6F.)

I think Monday & Tuesday will be the first two days I opt to leave the EV in the garage and drive the truck to work. I’m all for experimenting but I think I’ll leave my experiments for when the temps are on the positive side of the scale. Although I may find that simply leaving the car in the garage overnight will be enough for it and still drive it to work–its the trip home that will be the killer (the commute in I have the go time set so even if the car is in the garage it still will warm itself up to 85F. The commute home, on the other hand, is after the car has sat all day in the parking lot at work without being plugged in and thus has cold soaked…brrr.

Stay safe out there–and warm.


That squeak of really cold snow!

A quick post this morning and another winter weather observation:

If you saw my other post about our first big snow storm of this winter (affecting a lot more than just Southeastern Michigan) you’ll know that we got something like 8″ + of snow.

This morning, though, is a little different: The storm is gone, most of the roads are clear, it was warm enough for the salt to work. The temperatures overnight, however, were down into the single digits. At these temperatures road salt is less effective, and any resulting water on the roads turns to ice or an icy slush.

My observations here aren’t about that. You know when the weather gets really cold snow starts making that squeak as you walk around in it. Now imagine four feet stomping down holding up 3000 lbs on that squeaky snow! Yes with the Focus Electric being such a quiet car, driving around in squeaky snow results in a cacophony of that squeaky snow noise inside the car. I was a little surprised at how noticeable it was from inside the quiet car.

The things you notice when you don’t have the noisy internal combustion engine dominating the ambient sound field.


Not every day is a good day for EVs….

I’m pretty sure my EV blog has now become a winter weather blog! LOL

For those of us in Northern climes having a backup vehicle for your EV can be essential on some days. Like today, we woke up with about an inch of snow on the ground with another four inches expected to fall over the course of the day (strangely enough, places further south are expected to get double that snowfall). On days like these I usually revert back to my old daily driver:
The big bad F-350

Yup sitting there behind my ultra efficient Focus Electric is our big bad, Darth Vader like, black F-350 with a V-10 gas engine in it. On a good day this thing gets 11 mpg. (Yes one of the reasons for getting the FFE was to reduce the monthly fuel expenses–went from $350+ for the black beast down to $40 for the FFE!)

Now, mind you, we have a perfectly good reason for having the F-350 towing monster:
Truck n Camper

We’ve taken this guy all over the Eastern portion of the US (yeah in this configuration 8 mpg is very optimistic). I’ll be happy the day you can get an all-electric F-350 that can pull 30,000 lbs and still have 200 miles of range!

So, for today, I think the EV will sit in the garage and later I’ll go out and have fun in 4×4 mode. Happy trails….

Update: 12/15 We did end up getting around 6″ of snow. You could tell that it was snowing faster than they could plow it (at least for the residential streets). Driving around is kind of interesting: If you find a rut down to pavement you’re ok.

Took the FFE out to see how it would handle it. It handles the snow pretty well. Once you’re above 10 mph or so it only modulates power to the wheels (instead of using the brakes). This works out quite well–even better than an ICE as the motor responds to the traction control commands quicker than a gas engine would. You simply point it in the direction you want it to go and hit the accelerator–the traction control will determine the best speed to go at (even if it is only 3 mph–you just have to be prepared for that!).


Long trip planning, the Tesla way…or is it the EV way?

I found this article quite interesting for a few reasons (take some time to go read it…I’ll wait):

  • The current lack of Tesla Super Chargers on the east coast forces the driver to plan a bit more–like having a Focus Electric, or a Leaf (or any other <100 mile range BEV)
  • The driver comes to the conclusion at the end that is better to be more efficient than to rush (determining that driving slower and using less electricity actually saves time in the long run)
  • His reported “burn rate” for electricity is really not much higher than the FFE “burns” (300+ Wh/mile in the cold with the heater running, ~270 Wh/mile in milder conditions without heat from the article).

The ability to quick charge the Tesla does make for a much nicer experience when taking a long drive. In the above article he gets 190+ miles for 45 minutes of charge–short enough that a simple stop for dinner fills it up. I certainly hope that the next generation of EVs (FFE included) has a provision for fast charging (the J1772 Combo Plug option is already available on the Chevy Spark, and Ford has pledged to support it on future BEV and PHEV vehicles).


Another weather related observation

Here is an interesting thought/observation: If you keep your EV outside in the winter (as I do) you’ll often wake up to a bunch of snow piled up on the car. In my case, during weekday mornings, the car will heat itself up and melt off some of that snow–mostly the snow on the windows. Snow on the roof and hood typically will stay.

Here is the thing: If that snow is the slightest bit sticky and you don’t clear it off it will stay on the car. EVs don’t generate all the excess heat like an ICE vehicle does that would melt the snow off the hood (and most likely the roof as the heater will be run continuously throughout the commute). Since we’re driving with the heat off most of the time to extend the range as much as possible the cabin doesn’t stay warm during the commute and heat the roof.

The net affect of all this is that any snow on the car will stay there until its physically removed (scraped off, car wash, etc.). If left to accumulate that snow could have an overall negative impact on range–snow weighs a lot.
Snow on the car in the cold


The weather outside is frightful…?

Well, ok, unusually we in Southeastern Michigan just got a slight dusting of snow–nothing like out East received this past weekend! Did you see that Lions/Eagles game??
Lions vs Eagles

Wow! Nevertheless we got enough snow to make driving out appear to be very treacherous but the temperatures are such that (high 20s F to 31F) salt works very well at melting anything on the roads.

That combined with the fact that it is still early in the winter driving season means that people are driving in their “ooh its winter have to drive slow” mindset. This results in traffic going about 10 mph lower than the speed limit on most roads (with that one occasional driver with an SUV who is impatient and attempts to go fast around everyone).

The effect on the EV driver of everyone driving 10 mph slower..LESS energy use! This morning I only burned electrons at a paltry 250 Wh/mile rate (on a typical morning my rate is usually around 270 Wh/mile). This is almost comparable with summer numbers.

There were a few streets, side roads mostly, that haven’t been salted yet and had enough snow to make them slippery. How did the FFE drive on those roads? Pretty good actually. It would seem that the traction control attempts to reduce power to the motor and use the brakes to keep the wheels from slipping. So far I’ve found the FFE to be about equal to its ICE brother in snow handling (The FFE would seem to have a weight advantage being heavier, but the ICE version has better all-season tires).


Some numbers on the cold

Last night I took some data down on how much electricity the car used overnight while charging (should have done this in the summer months as well!).

To start with I recorded my power usage for the day (at least what the car thought it was using, this value corresponded with 59% of the battery remaining):
Trip meter display

These numbers are somewhat typical for my daily commute. Ironically this commute was on a rather cold day with just under 1/4″ of snowfall overnight. Preconditioning the car combined with everyone’s cautious driving caused me to only use 7.2kWh of electricity! These past few cold days I’ve been using closer to 8kWh of electricity for my 31 mile commute.

Right when I arrived home I grabbed my meter reading (the car’s EVSE has its own meter):
Meter reading 1

At the time I plugged it in the outside temperature was 35F and thus the car stated “Waiting to charge” with my normal start time of 1:00am. As the evening went on the temperature dropped–when it hit freezing the car switched from waiting until 1:00am to waiting to start at the current time–it was starting its warming/trickle charge cycle.
This morning I recorded the meter right before driving away (with no preconditioning, outside temp: 20F):
Meter reading 2

So overnight the car used a total of 10kWh to keep itself warm, and charge up to 100%. Thus 7.2kWh of that went into the battery along with some burned up in the charger due to the charging efficiency (according to the EPA charging efficiency is roughly 80%) which would be about 2kWh. This leaves about 1 kWh used overnight to keep the car warm. (I’m being purposely vague here because I don’t know the exact efficiency of my EVSE + car combination. Doing the math directly yields 1.36 kWh which is close enough to my 1 kWh value.)

The numbers above align rather nicely with the daily average power consumption reported by my electricity provider. The daily averages per month also seem to be reflecting the additional power usage as the temperatures drop:

  • September: 9.9 kWh/day
  • October: 10.1 kWh/day
  • November: 12.8 kWh/day

Around here the temperatures took a dive in November which is reflected in the numbers. There are other factors in those numbers as well: In September and early October we were driving around a bit more each day due to various school/sporting activities (which may be the reason that there is only a 0.2 difference between September and October).

At this point, with our early blast of arctic air, I’ve been very pleased with the performance of the FFE–I was expecting a much greater drop in total range as an affect of cold weather.

Update: Power required for a precondition. Prior to driving the car across town for Thanksgiving I had set it up to precondition to 85F. This was the perfect opportunity to measure how much that takes. Before the car started the meter looked like this:
Power meter
Just before leaving I grabbed a picture of the meter (when the car was done preconditioning):
Power meter
Thus the car used about 5kWh of electricity to warm itself up from the ambient 25F.