If you are looking to purchase an electric vehicle while living in a cold climate, you are probably concerned that it might use a heating system that is slow and that will reduce your driving range by drawing on the battery pack power.
You might even wonder if they have a heater at all since car heaters use the heat from the exhaust to partially warm the cabin and an electric car does not produce exhaust.
Do electric cars have heaters? Yes, electric cars do have heaters. They use a heat-pump heater that does not require a lot of energy to warm the interior of the cabin. The heat pump creates heat by compressing air from outside of the vehicle. The compression forces the molecules closer together within the air which raises the temperature.
How Does the Heater in an Electric Car Work?
The heat pump heater in an electric car uses less power than the conventional car heater. Conventional car heaters use the heat that is created by the exhaust system to heat coolant to warm the engine and also to heat the cabin.
Here are the steps that the heat pump follows to heat the cabin of the electric vehicle:
- Atmospheric Air – It draws in air through the front of the vehicle via piping. Since this air is cold, it will have to be heated in some fashion.
- Air is Compressed – The outside air is then compressed. When you compress air, it will speed up the molecules since there will be less space. This heated air is sent to the cabin. The compressed molecules will become hotter which heats the air. This is how a diesel engine is able to ignite its fuel and air mixture. As the cylinder closes, the compressed air becomes so hot that it ignites the fuel.
- Cold Cabin Air is Routed to Compressor – Besides heating the exterior cold winter air, the compressor will also warm the cabin air. The cold air that is in the cabin area is sucked out and sent to the compressing chamber. It is compressed to heat the air and then it is sent back into the cabin.
- Cooled Air from Cabin will be Evacuated – Once the compressed warm air cools down, it will leave the cabin and exit via the front of the electric vehicle.
This system of heating requires a low amount of energy because of the exchanges that it is making.
Do Teslas Have Heaters?
Teslas do have heaters, but they use resistance heaters instead of heat pumps. A resistance heater has a series of coils that heat up. It operates in a way that is similar to the coils in a toaster.
When a Tesla is plugged in, the heaters are actually powered directly from wall power so that they do not use up the battery power. However, once on the road, the resistance heaters are supplied power by the battery.
This type of heating is fine unless you are stuck in traffic. The resistance heaters will use up about 5 kWh of battery power that is drained at a constant rate. It does not fluctuate even when the car is on the highway.
In other words, you may use less of the power of the battery when driving in the city, but you will have to deal with the draw of power at 5 kWh by the resistance heaters.
If you were to be driving on the highway, you would use more of the battery power to reach 65 mph, but the heater will still only use up to 5 kWh.
The Efficiency of Car Heaters in Electric Cars
Many people are worried that an electric car will not be efficient in cold weather because the heaters will use up all of the battery power that is stored. It actually is not that way. The heat pumps work very efficiently and they do not cause a huge drain on the electric power that is stored.
Also, the heating is fast since it does not rely on the heat from the exhaust as with a conventional car.
Nevertheless, there are companies that are developed even more efficient methods to heat an electric vehicle. For instance, researchers from Fraunhofer are developing a system that uses a coated film that can create a radiant heat that is broad.
The film is made up of CNTs (conductive carbon nanotubes) that quickly provide heat. The film is added to the inner trim of the car doors which will heat up the armrests almost instantly. The way that it works is heat is generated when electricity scrabbles the nanoparticles causing them to move faster.
This instant heat, when compared to the heat made by resistance heaters, such as is in a Tesla, is faster. A resistance heater heats just the area around the copper wiring. The CNT film heats more of the interior of the car since it releases more heat.
The film will probably last longer than the resistance heater that does not cool fast. The film will reduce its heat output right away when the car is turned off.
Besides the development of the CNT film, another advancement has been the project called Horizon 2020 XERIC. These researchers claim that their system will reduce by 50 percent, the electricity needed in electric cars to heat the interior. Their system has three functions: heating the inside, cooling the air, and removal of humidity.
What is amazing about this project is that this tech can be used even in conventional vehicles which will reduce the amount of gas used. Reduction in exhaust levels is needed to improve the health of our environment.
How efficiently does the Volt Heat the Seating?
The chevy volt actually heats the passengers quite well. It uses the resistance heaters that use some of the battery power, but the actual seats become warm quickly.
I have noticed that if I wish to save on gas in my hybrid, that turning down the heat and turning on the other heated devices is a big plus. The same principle applies to the Chevy Volt even though it is an electric car. The seats become warm for the driver and the front-seat passenger.
Another electric car, called the Nissan Leaf, heats the steering wheel. When the steering wheel and the seats are heated, it makes you feel warm all over which allows you to reduce the hot air that can be blown around if you wish to use the climate control system.
The lower you set the climate control system, the lower the electricity consumption will be in an electric car. When you use less electricity. you are increasing the driving range between charges.
Electric Cars Must Heat the Battery Also
Besides heating the cabin in the electric car, you need to aware that an electric car must heat up the battery pack. It needs to be at a certain temperature in order to function efficiently. So, not only are you heating the seats, and steering wheel in some cases, you are using some of the electricity to heat the battery itself.
Most electric cars use a fluid system to heat the battery pack. The second method is to use some of the electricity in the battery to heat up the cells. Research has not concluded if this will degrade the cells.
Are Electric Cars Comfortable in a Cold Climate?
Electric cars are comfortable in cold winter. It is true that the electricity will be used up faster during the winter months, but at least you will not have to waste your money on gas. Gassing up during winter is never fun especially at smaller gas stations. You will need to remove yourself from your cozy car to pump gas.
An electric car is more comfortable than a conventional car because it heats up faster. A fossil fuel car needs to wait until it can obtain enough heat from the exhaust and heat from the motor before it can send warm air into the interior of the car.
The exhaust-free electric car uses in most cases a heat pump that can quickly heat air by compressing it.
What I have noticed is that I feel comfortable in my hybrid quickly just by turning on the seat warmers and activating the heating for the steering wheel. After a few minutes, the cabin is hot enough that I can remove my jacket.
Even though my hybrid uses the gas motor initially during winter to heat the car, combining it with the heating of the seats and steering wheel speeds up the overall time it takes to heat the inside of the car during the coldest winter days.
The Tesla heats the cabin quickly during these frigid winter days and nights. It uses resistance heaters but it also is programmed to heat the car in advance. It will predict when you are probably going to use the car and it will heat the interior beforehand. So, you are most likely going to always be comfortable in your electric Tesla.
What Can You Do To Keep Your Electric Car Warmer?
Something that is advisable is to keep your electric car under a carport or within a garage. I keep my Sonata hybrid plug-in under a carport during winter and the interior is never terribly cold. It is also easier to prepare it before driving away because there is less snow and ice buildup on the windshield.
By keeping your electric car sheltered from the cold, not only will the interior stay warmer, but the range will be higher. When the cells in the battery pack are dealing with severe cold, they will not store or transfer power at the same rate. In other words, you are going to enhance the driving range by keeping your electric car in a garage or under a carport.
What About the Comfort During the Winter in a Leaf?
The Nissan Leaf is fine during the wintertime. It has heated seats and the steering wheel is also heated. The wrap on the steering wheel is leather and it heats quickly. Also, the seats in the front are heated.
Get Used to Preconditioning your EV to Make Sure that the Cabin is Warm
Something that others do all the time with their conventional vehicles is to use a remote to turn it on so that it will be toasty warm once you are ready to drive.
Why not condition yourself to do the same with an electric car? It actually will not use the power from your battery to do so. It will use the electricity from your outlet if your car is plugged in.
I use a remote system to turn on my Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Plugin. You can even check to see if the steering wheel heater is turned on remotely.
Can Electric Cars Use Portable Car Heaters?
You can use a portable car heaters to heat the interior of an electric car, but be very careful when selecting a heater. If you were to use a space heater in an electric car that was too powerful for the cabin, you could be dealing with a fire hazard. For instance, if you have it facing the side, it might be too close to fabric that is flammable.
Also, if you were to use a portable heater that was AC powered, you will need an inverter to switch the DC power from the battery into AC. Personally, I would highly recommend that you do not use a heater unless it is designed for car use. A big giveaway is that it is DC powered.
A DC powered car heater that is smaller can receive power via the cigarette lighter in the electric car or perhaps a socket that is 12v. However, this type of heater is not powerful enough to give off a lot of heat.
You will need to purchase a larger portable car heater if you wish to create enough heat to make a difference in the cabin temperature. These units need more power and they most likely will need to be connected directly to the battery to achieve the right amperage.