How Does Cold Weather Affect Hybrid Cars? ~ Hybrid Car Review
Hybrid Car Review: How Does Cold Weather Affect Hybrid Cars?

Friday, December 21, 2007

How Does Cold Weather Affect Hybrid Cars?

Freezing ThermometerMany people are wondering about how cold weather affects hybrid cars. Will the batteries freeze up? (Not likely... unless it's so cold you would expect to have trouble with a normal car battery.) What will happen to my fuel economy? (It will drop.) Is there anything special I need to do to winterize my car? (Yes.)

Cold Weather and Hybrid Car Fuel Economy

As with any car, fuel economy drops when the temperature drops. The problem isn't with the hybrid car, but with simple physics. Cars that are 'warmed up' perform better. Until the engine heats up, the vehicle is not performing at its best. Since the temperature outside is lower, the car takes longer to warm up, which means it takes longer for your car to run at its most optimum level, which means your fuel economy will suffer.

Some suggest block heaters, but I'm not sure the extra cost and hassle is worth it. You just transfer the energy cost to warm up your car from the engine itself to the electrical grid. Unless, of course, you live in an area where even starting a car can be a hassle because the temperature is too low.

One other point; running the defroster can keep the hybrid from shutting down the gas engine when you stop the car at a light. That will also affect your fuel economy.

Snow Car with Skis 1929How to Winterize Your Hybrid Car

Preparing your hybrid car for the cold weather is similar to what you would need to do for a regular car, with a few small exceptions.

Tire pressure is affected by the cold weather, which in turn affects your fuel economy. Keep an eye on your tires. Keeping your tires pressurized affects your mileage more than you think it does. Snow tires may be necessary, depending on your location.

When the gas engine stops (at a stop light, for instance) you may end up getting cold air blown on you. The gas engine produces the heat that gets blown in by the fans. It may take less than a minute for you to go from hot air to cold air, so make sure you keep your jacket or a blanket handy.

You may want to place a front grill block between the grill and the radiator to improve the cars performance. A piece of cardboard can do the trick.

Getting a tune-up may be the best thing you can do for your car before winter starts. Change the oil, check the fluids, etc... You can most likely get these things done at your local repair shop, rather than at the dealership. There's nothing special about changing the oil that would require you to pay extra for dealership expertise.

Car Made of SnowHow Does a Hybrid Car Handle the Snow and Ice?

Some hybrid cars have been built to reduce weight, so be careful when you're driving and the snow is flying. Snow and ice can cause dangerous conditions and it's best to be cautious.


At the end of the day, fuel economy may be your biggest concern when you think about cold weather affecting your hybrid. Hybrid cars are just as able to get you through the winter months as other cars in their class. But just as with all cars, the fuel economy will be lowered. While some of the tricks I outlined above will help, there's nothing that can completely stop it.

Well, other than spring rolling around.

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Anonymous said...

Good article for the most part, but a couple of points need to be corrected.

1)Most hybrids, including the Prius, have electric heaters that allow you to get cabin heat (at least at a low level) when the ICE is off. If necessary, they will also run the ICE to get more heat. Of course you loose MPGs that way.

2) I don't really see the point about vehicle weight, especially since most hybrids don't differ significanly in weight from their non-hybrid versions. For snow, things like skid control (like Toyota's VSC on the Prius) are way more important than weight.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments.

I have had issues with getting cold, and I think the blanket may be a very good idea in case you get stuck (I have been stuck in traffic for eight hours, so my definition of what may be necessary may be different from yours).

I put in the comments about vehicle weight because people expect the car to be heavier with the extra battery weight. But since the rest of the vehicle weight has been reduced, you shouldn't count on that. Either way, hybrids like the Prius or the Civic are still on the lower end of the scale when it comes to weight.

Althogh skid control is nice while you're moving, weight of the car comes into play when you are moving at slow speeds in snowy conditions (Think of side streets that have not been cleared well or your driveway, especially if it's on a hill). Without the extra weight to push your tires down you may get stuck, especially with small tires. That's why even truck owners will sometimes put weights into the bed to help them manuever.

Anonymous said...

How well do these cars work in really arctic weather? I live in Fairbanks, Alaska, and am considering getting a hybrid. But I am required to report to work at temperatures down to 55 below, and am wondering if anyone has operated them at these kinds of extreme temperatures.

Unknown said...

Now that's definitely the extreme in temperature. I would suggest you ask around at and/or Someone there may be facing the same sort of extreme weather.

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