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EV Owners Deceived Once More: Winter Exposes Flaws in Charging Infrastructure

The commercials make it seem so easy, right? Cruise down the highway in your brand new EV, stop at a convenient charging station, plug in for a few minutes, and be on your merry way. But what happens when reality doesn’t quite match all the hype? Well, this is a situation some Tesla owners found themselves in when a sudden snowstorm transformed the local Tesla Supercharger station into an EV graveyard, leading Fox 32 Chicago to call the vehicles nothing but “dead robots.”

The story unfolded in early January of this year when Chicago got hit with a deep freeze, leading to Tesla owners facing a nightmare scenario. Temperatures dipped into the negative double digits, and with them went the ability to charge their vehicles at Tesla Supercharger stations. Rows of Teslas were stranded, with batteries refusing to cooperate. Owners like Tyler Beard waited for hours with his Tesla refusing to take charge. “3 hours yesterday, 3 hours today, still at 0%,” Beard told the news outlet, fuming with frustration.

This wasn’t an isolated incident, though. Stations across the Chicago area saw long lines of EVs with frustrated owners and even abandoned cars on the sides of the highway. Chalice Maelle, another Tesla owner, had to call a friend for a ride after her car simply wouldn’t charge, no matter how hard she tried. The situation was so bad that one onlooker called the scene a bunch of “dead robots.”

So, what caused this meltdown? As you might have guessed, there is more than one factor at play here. The main culprit behind this meltdown was the combination of frigid temperatures and the inherent properties of lithium-ion batteries, the technology that powers most EVs. Unlike gasoline engines, which are generally unaffected by cold weather, unless things take a turn for the extreme, lithium-ion batteries lose efficiency as temperatures drop.

This is why you often see EV manufacturers like Tesla measure the maximum range of their EVs under optimum conditions. This isn’t an issue specific to Tesla, though. Poor performance during cold weather is a common issue for all electric cars, and this is due to an inherent issue at the atomic level.

Unlike gasoline engines, which are essentially glorified furnaces that burn fuel to generate heat and drive the engine forward, electric vehicles rely on the delicate dance of lithium ions within batteries. When the temperature plummets during the winter months of the year, at the heart of every modern EV battery lies the lithium-ion. These tiny warriors are responsible for shuttling energy within the battery by moving through an electrolyte solution, a kind of special sauce that allows them to flow freely.

But here’s the rub: this electrolyte behaves like honey. So when it’s warm and sunny, the honey is nice and runny, allowing the lithium ions to zip around efficiently. However, when the temperature drops, the electrolyte thickens, becoming more like cold molasses. This sluggish movement of lithium ions significantly affects their ability to efficiently transfer energy, reducing both battery capacity and charging speed seemingly overnight.

Imagine trying to run a marathon in knee-deep snow. That’s what happens to lithium ions in a cold battery. The lithium ions aren’t the only ones to take the blame, though. Battery operation is a complex tango of chemical reactions, and just like any good party, these reactions prefer a warm environment.

In the cozy comfort of moderate temperatures, these chemical reactions occur just as they were designed to do, allowing the battery to generate power to drive your EV forward. But when winter throws a wrench into the works, these reactions become sluggish, limiting the battery’s ability to generate the power needed to propel the EV or accept a charge at its full potential.

Cold weather also takes a toll on the thermal management systems of EVs. These systems essentially act like climate control units for your batteries, pumping coolant to maintain a comfortable environment and keep them operating at their maximum potential. During the summer heat, they help dissipate excess heat. However, during cold weather, these systems have to work double-time, diverting energy from powering the car itself towards heating the battery.

Sure, it keeps the battery warm, but it also uses up a lot of resources. This additional energy consumption can further reduce driving range, essentially giving you fewer miles on a single charge. But why does Tesla’s Supercharger network seem to suffer the worst whenever the weather takes a turn? Well, it all has to do with their underlying infrastructure.

Every EV owner loves the convenience of DC fast charging. Who can say no to plugging in for a quick top-up on a long journey? But here’s the thing: while it’s a lifesaver on a sunny day, it’s not as cold-friendly as the older, slower Level 2 charging. DC fast charging generates heat internally within the battery, which can be beneficial in cold weather, helping to counteract the sluggishness of lithium ions.

However, extremely low temperatures can overwhelm this internal heating. To protect the battery from damaging itself, the battery management system might limit charging power or even prevent it altogether. In extreme cold, it prioritizes the health of the battery over a quick charge, ensuring your EV lives to see another spring.

You might hate the battery management system for doing this in the heat of the moment. But now that you know what goes on under the skin, you have something more to think about. The powertrain is far from the only thing holding EVs back from reaching their full potential during the winter. Tires are another piece of the puzzle, and the frigid temperature can wreak havoc on their grip and performance.

Did you know that the seemingly innocent act of driving with standard all-season tires on your EV in the winter can be a recipe for disaster? Traditional all-season tires are formulated to provide a balance between performance in warm and cold weather. However, the magic ingredient in these tires, natural rubber, stiffens up significantly as temperatures drop.

All around your EV, imagine chewing gum on a hot summer day compared to a cold winter one. In the cold, the rubber loses its elasticity and becomes harder, reducing its ability to form around the road surface. This translates to a significant decrease in traction, especially on slippery winter roads filled with snow and ice.

Not only that, but the hardened rubber also increases the EV rolling resistance, which, in simpler terms, is the force required to keep the tire rolling. In EVs, this translates to a decrease in efficiency, meaning the battery has to work harder to overcome this additional resistance, ultimately reducing driving range.

So not only are you more likely to get stuck on a snowy hill, but you’ll also be using up more battery power trying to get there in the first place. If you’ve been paying any attention to the rubber on all four corners of your EV, you might have already noticed that all-season tires typically have tread patterns designed for a variety of weather conditions.

However, they often lack the deep grooves and tiny slits that are crucial for winter driving. These act like claws, digging into snow and ice to provide grip. Without them, your EV becomes like a figure skater on a smooth rink – graceful to watch but terrible at getting anywhere safely.

In addition to eating up the range, the combination of reduced traction and longer stopping distances on winter roads with standard all-season tires creates a potentially dangerous situation. The hardened rubber and lack of proper tread design significantly increase the distance it takes for an EV to come to a complete stop, especially on icy surfaces. This can be the difference between a safe stop and a collision.

Switching to winter tires might seem like the most obvious solution. But if you don’t keep an eye on them, the tires may deflate quickly due to the freezing weather and decrease your range by up to 20%. Underinflated tires have a larger contact path with the road, meaning more surface area is dragging against the pavement. This increases rolling resistance, requiring the battery to work harder to overcome it and ultimately reducing your driving range.

To put things simply, EVs need a lot more tinkering and care to keep them running optimally during the winter than your average gasoline-powered ride. If you aren’t ready to put up with the hassle, it’s better to wait for the tech to evolve. While no one can deny that EVs offer a clean and technologically advanced driving experience, winter exposes its limitations. Cold temperatures can reduce battery efficiency and range, and standard tires become less effective on icy roads.

This January’s fiasco in Chicago highlights the need for awareness. However, automakers like Tesla promise that the science behind these challenges is being addressed by advancements in battery tech and winter-specific solutions. Ultimately, the choice between an EV and a gas-powered car comes down to priorities. EVs are a compelling option if you are ready to commit to them. But for those who prioritize nothing but absolute convenience in all weather conditions, waiting until EV battery technology gets more robust might be the wiser decision.

Issues with EVs are not just limited to the United States, however, as the sales figures of these futuristic rides are flowing down the drain all across the world. Want to learn more? If so, like this video and also subscribe to our channel.



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