Electric Cars Are Your Best Cold Weather Choice

It’s that time of year when I like to remind readers about the advantages of EVs in snow and cold weather. Here’s what you need to know.

1)  No warming up is needed. Just put the car in Drive and go! Also, the cabin will be warm within 1/2 mile because it doesn’t require an engine to warm up first. In my Tesla I can turn on the heat with my phone app a few minutes earlier so the cabin, steering wheel and seat are all warm when I get in the car. Also, when I park the car for brief periods (such as when shopping), I can leave the heater on so it’s warm when I return, .

2)  Your car will never break down, stranding you in a freezing car on the side of the road. The only time you see an EV on the side of the road is if there’s a flat tire or an accident. Stuck in a snow drift? The heater will keep you warm as long as you need, consuming only 3-5 miles of range per hour — and no carbon monoxide!

3)  Because of its low center of gravity and its typical 50/50 front/back weight distribution, an EV handles snow-covered roads really well. My all-wheel-drive Teslas handle much better than my AWD 2009 Lexus RX 400h did in snow, aided by its standard traction control and stability control.

https://www.carvana.com/vehicle/1529040Accident-free, 7-day return policy.

4)  Used EVs are your best buy. Older AWD Tesla Model S’s can be bought, undamaged and running like new, starting around $40,000. And older Tesla Models S and X come with transferrable lifetime free supercharging coast-to-coast when purchased privately instead of from Tesla.

5)  There are still federal and state tax credits and various rebates to be had. For a full list, visit www.electricforall.org/rebates-incentives.

Here’s Why the Public Will Not Accept Driverless Cars

I have written before about why I think driverless cars should never be allowed, but this time I’m going to suggest why the public — you — would likely reject the idea.

During the transition to a driverless car, you’ll get to experience, as I already do, some of the features required for a car to drive itself. Those features include traffic-aware cruise control and lane management dependent on multiple cameras, radar and numerous sensors. I have been using those features on my Tesla for quite a while. 

The first thing to recognize is that a self-driving car will always err on the side of caution. Here are just three examples: Let’s say you’re driving a city street with parked cars but no line between the travel lane and the parking lane. Every now and then your car will mistake a parked car for a stopped car and simply stop.

Or you’ll be driving along and a car coming the other direction with make a left turn in front of you. Erring on the side of caution, your car will abruptly apply the brakes even though it’s clear to you that braking was not needed.

John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, introduces driverless car

Or you’re driving on a road with no bike lane, but there’s a cyclist cruising along at 10 mph and no room to pass without crossing the yellow line, which your car won’t do. You car slows to 10 mph.

My Tesla knows the speed limit on all roads based on GPS information, but 1) sometimes the GPS information is wrong, and 2) sometimes there’s a lower speed limit in effect for school zones or construction. Your self-driving car will plow through those areas, totally oblivious!

Wildlife poses a special problem. As a human, you know to slow down if an unpredictable deer is next to the roadway. You driverless car doesn’t have that judgment.

Think of all the times you depended on exchanging eye contact or body language with another driver to know whether to yield or not yield. Think about two lanes merging into one, or about another car being driven erratically. Think about going off road. Think about anything other than driving on a dedicated highway with other driverless cars.

Think about seeing someone in distress on the side of the road or within sight of you. Think about witnessing an accident. Your car will want to leave the scene of the accident rather than stop.

Think of when the painted lanes have disappeared due to wear and only a human could figure out where to go. Or lines that have not been removed completely when new lines were painted.

Red light runner hits Waymo van in Arizona (ABC 15 photo)

In Golden, where Hwy 6 crosses Colfax Avenue, it’s not a 90-degree intersection. If I’m in the left lane traveling west through that intersection, my Tesla consistently misinterprets the dashed guide lines for the left-turn lane next to me and swerves into eastbound traffic thinking that it’s a left curve. Fortunately, I have my hand on the wheel and make the immediate correction.

I hope by now you have gotten the impression that self-driving software can not anticipate every conceivable (or inconceivable) situation and could lead a driverless car into desparate situations.

Your Car Battery Could One Day Be Your Home Backup Power

Perhaps you, like me, have considered investing in a home battery system — not to go “off grid” so much as to survive blackouts. Simply having solar does not give you such protection, because when the grid goes down, your solar panels do not generate electricity. That’s required by power companies, because they don’t want you pumping electricity into downed power lines as their technicians work to repair them.

Personally, I’m holding out for a future in which the energy stored in my EV batteries can be tapped to power my home during a blackout.  There’s a term for this called vehicle-to-grid, but a more accurate term would be vehicle-to-home, since it would be done in isolation from the grid.

Because I have two EVs with combined battery capacity of 170 kilowatt-hours, I have a lot of stored power available to me at any time, even if those cars are not fully charged.  For example, 100 kilowatt-hours can provide 5,000 watts of household electricity for 20 hours.

There are commercially available inverters for creating a 120-volt outlet in any car, either gas or electric, but inevitably some automaker — probably Tesla — will create an interface that allows for the electricity stored in one’s EV battery to be tapped for household use during a blackout.

Several electric trucks are going to hit the market in 2020 and beyond, and each will have 120 and possibly 240-volt outlets for field power, which is a good start. You could run an extension cord to power critical home appliances. 

Winter Is When Electric Vehicles Really Shine

You may think this claim is counterintuitive, but consider the following:

Electric cars never need to warm up. Get in, put it in drive and go! (In Teslas, there’s not even a “Start” button.) Moreover, your cabin will be warm in less than 1/2 mile, because it doesn’t depend on an engine warming up.

You’ll never break down.  There is hardly anything to fail. Remember, it’s just a battery and a motor (or two).  You’ll never stall and you’ll never need a boost. There are only 50 moving parts in an electric car. What can fail? I like to tell people that the only time you’ll see an EV on the side of the road is if there’s an accident or a flat tire or the driver needs to duck behind a bush.

With their low center of gravity and 50/50 front-to-back weight distribution, electric cars handle better and more safely on wet or snow-covered roads. The battery in most EVs is mounted underneath the cabin. My AWD Teslas perform better in snow than my AWD 2009 Lexus RX 400h did. Here’s a 11-minute YouTube video of all three Tesla models being test-driven on Tesla’s Alaska test-track:

Imagine the worst winter scenario, where you get stranded in the snow and need to survive overnight or longer in your car. An EV is perfect for that situation, because you won’t have to stop and start your gas engine to keep warm and worry about carbon monoxide poisoning. The EV will lose less than 5 miles of range per hour to keep you warm. And it won’t matter if your car is upside down. If you charged your car beforehand, you’ll have long-term warmth.

One of my favorite EV features is the ability to leave the climate system on when I go into a store or meeting on a frigid (or super hot) day. When I return to the car, it will be at 70 degrees.  If I’m going to be in a long meeting, I can turn on the heat or A/C using my smartphone app as I’m leaving the meeting room and know that the car will be comfortable by the time I get in it.

As I wrote last month, the best deal in electric cars is a used one. According to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), my good-as-new 2015 Tesla Model S 70D has a private resale value of $33,402. That is crazy.  I paid $93,000 for it new.

Some Reflections on Our 4,800-Mile Tesla Road Trip

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my 50th reunion at MIT. What I didn’t say in that column was that Rita and I drove there in our Tesla Model X. After the reunion, we drove north to visit my sister Susan in Maine, then into Canada to explore Quebec City. Returning from there, we drove past Toronto the morning after their NBA victory, noticing many “We the North” banners. Over a 16-day period, we drove 4,800 miles strictly on battery power, stopping at gas stations only to clean bugs off the windshield.

This was our second cross-country trip in the Model X.  The first one was to Seattle a year ago.  Four years ago we drove to Connecticut and back in a Tesla Model S.

People always ask whether it was hard finding charging stations. No, that’s never an issue in a Tesla, because when you put a destination in the navigation system, it identifies the Supercharger locations along the route and directs you to them like any other destination and tells you how long to charge to reach the next one. These locations are usually adjacent to the highways you’d travel anyway, so it adds little distance to the trip, and the charging sessions are rarely over 50 minutes. Best of all, since we enjoy lifetime free supercharging, the electricity was free. The only cost of the trip was the wear on the tires, various tolls, food and lodging.

I used the Tesla’s self-driving feature constantly to maintain my desired speed and to stay in my chosen lane. Cruise control is automatic, slowing down based on the vehicle ahead of me and maintaining a safe separation. These features make driving far less tiring and far safer. The car would alert me if it didn’t sense my hand on the steering wheel for 30 seconds, which is a good safety feature.  I wish you the same opportunity.

EV’s: Yes, They Have Lower Range in Winter, But Consider the Offsetting Benefits

Maybe you saw the coverage last week of the American Automobile Association’s warning that electric cars lose up to 30% of their range in very cold weather. This happens because the battery in an electric car is also used to warm both the cabin and the battery itself. This loss of range matters more, of course, when EVs have only 100 miles of range than in the newer electric models with over 200 miles of range.

Having driven EVs for seven years now, I can report that an EV is, in fact, the best car for winter driving. Here are just a few reasons:

You’ll never have trouble starting your car. It’s a battery and motor! Turn it on, put it in drive and go — no warming up. Also, you can warm up the cabin before you unplug. Even if you don’t, the cabin will be warm in less than a mile.

You’ll never stall or get stranded. And you’ll never break down. There are only 50 moving parts in an AWD Tesla. The only time you’ll find an EV on the side of the road is when it has a flat tire or has been in an accident.

You won’t have to gas up in the cold. Think of your EV like your smartphone. Plug it in at night and you always leave with a full charge in the morning.

It handles better in snow. An AWD EV has a 50/50 front/back weight ratio and a lower center of gravity, which translates to great traction.

If stranded in a blizzard, you’ll have heat. Even if your EV is upside down in a snow drift, the heater will keep you warm, burning only 5 miles of range per hour. And no worry about carbon monoxide poisoning!

Talk to any EV owner to learn more. If you don’t know one, call me!