Frigid temperatures gripping the Midwest this week have exposed major weaknesses in electric vehicles, resulting in dead batteries, charging failures, and stranded drivers. As temperatures plunged below zero, many EV owners found their cars unable to hold a charge or even turn on.
Battery Drain Leaves EVs Immobile
Lithium-ion batteries powering EVs lose significant range in cold weather. Thermal management systems attempt to warm batteries while driving, but parked EVs can freeze solid overnight.
As Tim Stevens from CNET explains:
“The colder a battery gets, the less energy it’s able to hold and the more internal resistance builds up within. This reduces both range and performance.”
Most EV owners in northern states rely on garages or wall connectors to keep batteries warm when parked. But the recent cold snap has proven extreme enough to defeat many thermal protections.
Owners across the Midwest reported waking up to find:
- Batteries too cold to even turn the car on
- Range indicators showing zero miles remaining
- Warning lights about limited propulsion power
With temperatures not expected to rise above 10 degrees Fahrenheit this week, many EVs will remain immobilized for the foreseeable future.
Overwhelmed Charging Stations Leave Drivers Stranded
Many EV drivers tried charging their vehicles to restore battery range, but found charging stations similarly overwhelmed.
Across metro regions like Chicago, charging points have been packed with dead EVs awaiting a charge:
|Target, 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza
|Whole Foods, 1550 N Kingsbury St
|Mariano’s, 3030 N Broadway
Such excessive wait times have left many drivers stranded, as their vehicles may not retain charge long enough to reach the next available charger.
Others found chargers entirely inoperable in the cold. Hardware can freeze or connections fail to engage properly at temperatures below -10 degrees F. Reports indicate 30-50% of Chicago Superchargers never dispense charge.
With more brutally cold nights ahead, EV charging infrastructure seems unlikely to meet demand. Drivers relying solely on electric transport may have limited mobility until the cold snap passes.
Automakers’ Claims Tested
The dismal cold weather performance threatens to erode consumer confidence about EV capabilities. Until now, most automakers described their EVs as capable in winter conditions.
Nissan claimed its Leaf could handle temperatures as low as -13 degrees F. But this week, Leafs accounted for nearly a third of dead EVs at Chicago charging stations.
Tesla similarly assured buyers their vehicles would retain over 90% battery capacity in sub-zero temperatures. Instead, dozens of Teslas have required towing after batteries discharged completely overnight.
|Max Cold Rating
|Min Reported Failure Temp
|Tesla Model 3
|Ford Mustang EV
Engineers clearly overlooked factors allowing batteries to fall below stated minimums. Consumer advocates now urge all EV marketing reflect real-world limitations exposed by this cold snap.
Government Action Demanded
The struggling EV owners have begun demanding infrastructure improvements to prevent future crises.
Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) called the EV failures “completely unacceptable” and vowed to introduce legislation increasing investments in cold-weather charging research.
The Chicago City Council plans an emergency session to address permitting delays for new charging locations. But any capacity increases remain months to years away.
In the near-term, many officials instead suggest limiting EV sales to maintain reliable mobility for existing owners.
Ongoing Cold Means More Trouble Ahead
With temperatures remaining below 20 degrees for the foreseeable future, conditions will only worsen as more EV batteries discharge fully. AAA estimates at best a 50% range reduction in 0 degree weather – a threshold Chicago may not exceed for over a week.
Most owners lack any backup transportation options if their EV becomes immobilized. Rental cars are in short supply across the Midwest given the widespread transportation issues. This threatens to leave scores of Chicago commuters without reliable vehicles throughout the cold snap.
In areas accustomed to winter extremes, like Canada and Scandinavian countries, EV infrastructure may prove better equipped to handle heavy charging demand. But this week’s troubles in Chicago raise real questions if expanding EV adoption remains practical across large sections of the United States.
Automakers clearly need to invest more in cold weather testing and infrastructure must grow to support increasing demand. Until then, EV reliability will likely falter whenever the mercury plummets.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.