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You lose what? Ford F-150 Lightning cold-weather EV range loss

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The temperatures have started to drop dramatically in the Midwest, and we’ve been experiencing several sub-30 days in Chicago. It was during one of these cold snaps that I got a Ford F-150 Lightning to test. And, of course, it didn’t fit in my city garage. So, this turned out to be an excellent opportunity to test cold-weather EV range – especially when you can’t plug it in overnight or park it in a garage to keep it “warm.”

Yes, cold weather effects EV range

The test vehicle had the extended range battery, which is estimated to get up to 320 miles of range. However, since I was using public chargers, I was never able to get it up over 90% of a charge. Sure, 288 miles of range is still pretty solid.

But here’s the thing, in the time I had and charged the vehicle I never (read: never) saw more than 243 miles of range. At 90%. And that was when I first got it and temperatures were above 32 degrees. More often than not, I couldn’t get it above 233 miles of range.

When I went on a 190-mile road trip to Indianapolis, 233 miles of range was more like 160 miles. And that was definitely not enough to get me from Chicago to Indy.

I assumed my heated seats and climate controls would be eating into my range, but that really only accounted for 4 to 5% of the power usage. The actual act of driving itself ate up 80 to 85% of the range – and how I drove didn’t matter. I drove out to Indy like I normally do (fast and aggressive) and then set the cruise control at the speed limit and let Blue Cruise do the work on the way back. I lost just as much range both ways.

In the cold weather, the battery just has to work harder to warm up and make the vehicle move. And in the F-150 Lightning, that means you’ll have less than 72% of the total range you should have.

cold-weather EV range

But you’re supposed to plug in overnight

On the first day of the test period, a friend came over to check it out, and we sat in the vehicle for an hour pushing buttons and talking about the truck. We probably ate about 10 miles of range. And when I shut it off, I got an interesting message: “Outside air temperature low. Plug vehicle in when not in use.” That’s all good and well if a full-size truck fits in your garage.

But since it didn’t fit in mine, I had to park on the street for a week. And there were two days I didn’t drive it because I was at the LA Auto show. I lost 10 miles of range just by letting it sit, and then when I started driving it, it dropped 14 more miles of range immediately. Then I used 9 miles of range to drive 6 miles. So, it’s more like a 27-mile range loss just from sitting.

When I reached out to Ford Motor Co. for an explanation, Emma Bergg, director or EV communications, reiterated it’s important to plug in when not in use while it’s cold out because this helps keep the battery warm.

Since this wasn’t possible in my case, Bergg said the battery temperature dropped and thus so did the efficiency of the battery. So, the state of charge didn’t change, but the efficiency did – thus the distance to empty (or the range) is going to be less.

There’s also something else interesting going on when it’s cold. According to Bergg, when the internal fluid of the battery is cold/sluggish, the energy is being used to push/shove the liquid and not to move the truck, so the range appears to drop, even with the same state of charge.

So, how do you get the most range when it’s cold?

Other than plugging it in or parking it in a garage – the top two things that help with cold-weather EV range – Ford offers six other tips to get optimal range:

  • Precondition your vehicle using departure times to warm the battery while plugged-in.
  • Use the heated seats and steering wheel as primary heat to reduce energy consumed by HVAC.
  • When charging, turn off the heater or lower the temperature enough to remain comfortable. (Especially when using DCFC)
  • Brush any snow or ice off the vehicle before driving to eliminate extra weight and drag.
  • Keep driving speeds moderate in cold temperature as high speeds use more energy.
  • Ensure your tires are at the proper pressure.

A lot of that is commonsense, but bears repeating.

The bottom line

Your cold-weather EV range is going to be less. Full stop. That 320 miles was always only an estimate, and it changes depending on driving style and driving conditions. So fast-starts and cold weather matter. Even if you do have a garage and can plug in, you will still experience range loss in an EV when it’s cold outside – you just won’t cut your range in half.

This all tells me a couple things. First, you really shouldn’t own an EV in the Midwest if you don’t have an at-home Level 2 charger. Second, it’s still going to be really hard for most people to make the switch to EVs because the range and infrastructure just aren’t there to easily accommodate long commutes and road trips – especially in rural areas.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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7 Comments

  1. NRK December 4, 2022

    Jill: Welcome to EVs. Give it a couple of years when you only get 95% charge and two more down to 90%. I am eight years into EV ownership and get about 85% charge in summer and down to 50% when it is below freezing… nrk

    Reply
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      Jill Ciminillo December 5, 2022

      Yeah. Infrastructure really needs to get in place faster. Range isn’t as big of a deal if you know you have a place to charge at every highway exit.

      Reply
  2. Charles December 7, 2022

    Yes I thought that cold was the issue when my lightning only started to max charge to 240. Infrastructure def has to improve. Wish I sold the truck

    Reply
  3. Julie December 7, 2022

    The West wasn’t won by people who stayed close to the gas stations. We got our Lightning three weeks ago and absolutely love it. It does take planning and learning and some adapting but this country is good at that. We just need more charging stations out there to fill the gaps!

    Reply
  4. Dennis Brown December 7, 2022

    Great article. This is why I’m waiting five years before I’ll consider an EV. Technology for batteries is changing rapidly and things will be better by then.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous December 7, 2022

    Ford wanted to be the first to market out of the big three. Gm / ford / dodge. They needed to add a heat pump to these trucks…. They really did a disservice to their customers. When the new Silverado EV and the dodge ram revolution come out and they have heat pumps, and loose way less range than the lightning…. It’s really going to make Ford look foolish. A lot of those loyal ford fans will feel let down / betrayed

    Reply
  6. Adam McCarthy December 26, 2022

    I’ve owned my F150 lightning Lariot since July. Every full charge was never less than 282 miles and as high as 314 miles. Call the average 298 miles consistently. Since the last software update a month ago I can’t get more than 243 to 248 miles at the most fully charged. I’ve spoken to the battery and technology divisions at Ford in Detroit multiple times. They just keep telling me to give it time and it will work itself out but that hasn’t happened yet. The effect was immediate. A day after the software update, I charged overnight and the mileage range has been in the 240‘s. It’s never climbed higher than that. The weather was not that cold at the time of the software update. Here’s the rub though, the charge bar on my dashboard did not reduce with the software update. It still seems pretty accurate but. The digital range is a big drop since the update. Frustrating.

    Reply

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