Electric Cars in Winter, No Problem!

We have been asked many times how electric cars do in the Canadian winter conditions. Since we live in Victoria BC, where temperatures barely go below zero, we couldn’t comment beyond the scientific facts. I didn’t want to leave it at that and asked our friend Michael Subasic and his wife Tammy to share their Calgary, Alberta, winter experience with the readers of our blog. 

Thank you, Michael and Tammy, for showing that harsh winter conditions and electric cars can – actually – go together. Read below how they deal with up to -35℃ (-31℉).


My wife Tammy and I received our Tesla Model S 85D on March 31, 2015. And we have driven almost 80,000km’s since then through every kind of weather we could find. We drove some epic road trips that covered all 4 seasons, and we have never looked back.

Setting the Electric Car up for any Weather Conditions

Our Model S, called lightRUNN3R (the light runner from the TRON movie) is equipped to handle anything our family of six can ask of it. Tammy and I have four amazing children: Ethan 14, Amelia 12, Samantha 10, and Melissa 8, and we ask a lot from our vehicles, I mean A LOT. We snowboard, bike, camp, and I drive all over Alberta with my job.

winterTesla 3When we ordered the lightRUNN3R, I wanted to maximize range, so we chose the 19” wheels, and the largest battery available at the time, the 85KWh battery. The dual motor option also added some range over the single. Knowing that this car needed to serve us through thick and thin, and through all kinds of weather conditions, we also went with the winter package to ensure everyone would be nice and warm in the coldest conditions Calgary could throw at us, you know, the -35C or so we typically see for a few weeks every winter, and the sustained -20C we see a lot during the winter. We also ordered winter tires that arrived with the car (they fit nicely in the back). I was counting on the All Wheel Drive, along with the winter tires to be able to carry us through all the snow that we see here in Calgary and in the Rocky Mountains we frequently visit to go snowboarding and just sightseeing in the winter.

winterTesla 2Winter in Canada is one of the Biggest Concerns

When we decided we were going to jump in to owning a Tesla, I wanted to make sure it could deal with everything our climate would bring, and the biggest concern where we live is winter. It’s hard on any vehicle, and electric vehicles don’t get a free pass on this one. Most people know that batteries are less efficient in the cold weather, so buying a car that has a BMS (Battery Management System) that includes thermal controls was important. To me it’s like having countermeasures that the car deploys to ensure we have an optimal experience in the winter. It warms the battery, it pre-heats the cabin of the car, all while snuggled in our garage, plugged in while we sleep. This allows us to conquer any winter condition we encountered, and we made it through our first winter with no complaints, and no concerns.

What follows is a bit more detail on our experiences and some of the close calls we had where we arrived with low range remaining. We never ran out of power, we never had to push, and we never had to call a tow truck. Knowing that power exists pretty much everywhere we go, in every home, in every business, and in every farmhouse, gave us more peace of mind. Knowing where all the chargers were, added even more, and using them again and again built our confidence to go anywhere!

winterTesla 1Wind, Rain, Hail, Snow, Slush & Ice – No Problem

The Tesla is a joy to drive, the ride is smooth, ours has the rear facing seat option, so we can carry a total of 7 people in the car; two of them have to be shorter and 90lbs or lighter for the rear facing jump seats. Summer was a blast, and we drove A LOT. Then we planned our first real winter trip in November of 2015 to Anaheim CA, from Calgary. A round trip of 6200KM’s (3875mi). The car handled the trip perfectly, and this was where we saw every weather condition possible. We had sun, blowing wind and leaves, rain, hail, and snow, including some of the worst winter conditions I’ve driven: the Coquihalla in winter. Snow and slush covered the highway 6-8 inches in some areas, and we were out before the snowplows had a chance to clear the buildup.

The Tesla is really built to handle winter. The all wheel drive is unbelievable, it works extremely well. One thing I immediately noticed was that recovery from a skid is different in an all wheel drive vehicle, the car slides a little, for a split second maybe two, and then grabs the road. Initially I would over compensate with my counter steering, and almost inject a secondary slide. Once I picked up on this, I let the car handle the road, and I just focussed on steering, without needing to worry too much about recovery. The car handled the recovery well enough on it’s own. We made it to Disneyland and back on schedule, and made Amelia’s birthday extra special by arriving in Disneyland at 2:30am the morning of her birthday, she got to go to Disneyland on her birthday!

Winter Strategy No. 1: Battery Warm-up

Here is how we survived the winter conditions. Winter tires, and letting the battery be in a warmed up state before leaving. The physics of charging most batteries means there is some heat given off in the process, not much, but enough to keep the battery warm. By plugging in the car, and having it finish charging shortly before we leave on any winter trip, meant the battery was warm, and to further increase our range I would pre-heat the cabin of the car for one cycle (30 mins), sometimes for an additional cycle. This did two things: it heats the battery to a proper operating temperature (more so than just charging does), and it makes the inside of the car toasty warm for everyone. That way when it’s time to go it takes less energy to maintain a comfortable temperature inside. By the way for my family, a comfortable winter temperature is 23C, and tends to get to 25C. On the return trip from Disneyland we had it at 27C through the Rocky Mountains where it was around -20C or so.

Winter Strategy No. 2: Slow-Down

We’ve driven into rural Alberta on curling trips with the kids, and had to deal with a drought of chargers. Life is great when Tesla’s superchargers are on your route, like the Disneyland Trip mid winter, but when your going to Taber Alberta for a curling tournament, there are no Superchargers, so we made do with Level 2 chargers (L2’s). We find these at Peavey Mart’s typically thanks to them and Sun Country Highway for paving the way! We did a nail biter trip, only because we had an unplanned tournament that I wasn’t aware of. We needed an extra 100KM, and we managed just fine using my favourite trick in the driving EV book: slowing down. By reducing my highway speed from 110KM/hr to a reasonable 90KM/hr, and later 70 as we approached Lethbridge on the return from the tournament we made it with a few kilometres of electrons left in the battery. It would have been easier if my navigator (my wife Tammy) didn’t ask me to switch screens from NAV to battery status to make a better video. I missed my turn off, causing a 15KM detour. But we found a new L2 charging stop (thanks to Plugshare), and charged for 20 minutes. More than enough to get everyone to our hotel, and the car to the L2 charger at Peavey Mart in Lethbridge which is 5 minutes from the hotel.

Battery Management

With winter driving, we still charge to 90% every night for the next day. It’s too easy not to, we just plug in when we get home, and head inside. It takes 2 seconds and we wake up to a car that can easily do 275-325KM’s in the Calgary Winter. If I’m doing a longer trip to Disneyland, or Edmonton, or Lethbridge, I will let the car charge to 90% overnight, then when I wake up I use the app to charge it up to 100%. That way, it hit’s 100% just before I leave, (it’s not optimal to let a battery sit for long periods of time at a 100% state of charge), and I have maximum range, and nothing to worry about on my trip. To track my progress and to make sure I will make it to my destination or charging site, I use the Tesla navigation system and trip computer. Along with the rated range display (estimate of kilometres of range in the battery). Then I just monitor those three numbers. What is my distance to destination, what does the trip computer say I have remaining, and what does rated range say I have remaining. This little scanning process gives me peace of mind.

If things are getting close where I will be arriving at 0% or 1%, I slow down. We have never driven in winter without heat in our Tesla, we have in our Nissan Leaf (but that’s another story, and a whole other car). With the Tesla as our primary family vehicle we just can’t go without heat, we have young kids, my wife would kill me, we like to be warm, several reasons really.

Conclusion: It’s so worth it!

And so I’ve decided to do something with all the pictures and movie clips we take during the course of our lives and organize them into daily video logs, or VLOG’s. It’s my way of sharing our amazing experiences with a Tesla, and it helps to answer peoples questions that regularly come up around owning and living with an electric vehicle as amazing as the Tesla. It’s tough to make it all come together to bring a Tesla home. One question that summarizes all of the ones we are asked, is simply “Is it worth it?” and the answer is YES! In fact we love it so much we bought a Model X as well. It will be fun driving it in the winter as well.

Join Michael’s and Tammy’s Road Trip Fun Online

Here are a few links to some of our Tesla winter videos we have made. They show some of the crazy cold situations we have been in, charging from regular outlets over Christmas at Tammy’s parent’s place, to our awesome trip to Disneyland. It was summer there, but we had to cross winter to get there. With this winter coming up in a few months, I’m looking forward to it. One of the best benefits we have realized is that we simply do more, and go more places. The joy of the road trip is back, and it’s cheaper than you think it is… If you have any questions you can find us on Facebook on the Tesla Owners Group, and the Alberta EVAA group as well.

– michael & tammy subasic

Winter Driving Specific Videos: 
tesla0004 Tesla Model S drive home from Disneyland – 3100KM’s https://youtu.be/UlQsc1aw4aM
tesla0005 Model S vs Winter https://youtu.be/HPeBrYpdWo8
tesla0009 Christmas, Doughnuts, Vulcan & Starship Enterprise https://youtu.be/6_8r7LXhgPg
tesla0011 epic L2 curling trip, frozen Tesla! https://youtu.be/BuZ7IfyKtEQ
tesla0015 Tesla Lake Louise Trip https://youtu.be/SGSGEVUZy0k

Our Tesla videos playlist is here:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtJXROl00KmuKbuI0ttmYuKgP_7v5dD21

Our daily videos which sometimes feature Tesla but always feature us having fun (usually with the car) can be found here:
m1kTV Playlist https://www.youtube.com/playlistlist=PLtJXROl00KmsLAtdB048GTgYnmny4H8Am

 

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