Driving in Cold and Snowy Weather


This week it was unusually cold in Chicago for the first half of December. Low temperatures from Dec 8 through the 13th were super frigid. 13°, 1°, -4°, 1°, -2° and 13° fahrenheit from Monday through Friday. That’s darn cold no matter where you live. We also had a five inch snowfall so this was the ultimate test on how the Model S handles the midwest winter. I took delivery in June so this was the first chance to drive in these conditions.

When it’s cold the car automatically begins to heat the battery. Then of course you are driving with the heater on, and perhaps the heated seats as well. All these things combine to impact battery performance and range. During the week I used my app to turn on the heater a few minutes before I left for work as well as when I was preparing to get back into my car to drive home. It’s a terrific feature to enter a warm car but it does significantly reduce range.

Normally I average around 300 Wh/ml. As you can see below during this difficult week the average went up to 421 Wh/ml and spiked above 600 when the temperature dropped below zero.


Halfway through the week I made some adjustments. I turned on my garage heater which helped the battery stay warmer. I also parked further inside of the parking deck at work hoping to save a few more degrees. In addition I drove more slowly, which helps compensate for the increased drain on the batteries.

When it came to driving in snow I was really pleasantly surprised. The weight of the car, over 4,300 lbs. helps with control when the roads have not yet been plowed. The traction control worked extremely well. One tip, turn off the regenerative braking system. You want complete control over the car’s movement. On roads with fresh snow or ice, the regenerative brakes can cause some unexpected slippage. You also lose the benefit of sending energy back into the batteries with regen brakes off, but once the roads are clear you can switch back into that mode.

Tesla now has a subzero weather package available that includes heated wipers, heated washer fluid nozzles and rear seat heaters. This was not available when I ordered my Model S but I don’t believe I need it here in Chicago. If you live further north, you may consider adding this to your design.

Cold Weather Package

I have now completed the seasonal weather cycle in my Tesla. During the summer the filters in the panoramic roof provided great protection from the burning sun and the AC kept the cabin very comfortable. I am extremely satisfied with how my Model S performs in the winter. I’ve not given up anything over a gas car for winter driving. Here’s Tesla’s approach to designing and building the Model S for cold weather.

One more video. Follow a Model S owner as he traverses the deep winter of the fjords of Norway.


This week we were invaded by the Polar Vortex. A record low was set on Monday, January 6, 2014 in Chicago. -15° F air temperature and -40° F wind chill. The high for the day was -10° F. So how did my Models handle this curve ball from Mother Nature?


My experience was that the battery did not drain any faster while driving at -15° F than it did when it was -1° F in early December. Before I left work on Monday I checked my Tesla App and found my interior temperature was 3° F.


I started the heater and it cost me 5 rated miles on my battery range to bring the cabin up to 65° F. Since my commute is short, this was no problem. I entered my Model S and it was nice and toasty. There were a number of people in the parking lot who’s car didn’t start and they got into a subzero cabin. Love this car.


  1. We are thinking of getting the panoramic roof for our Tesla but are not sure if it is a good idea for cold climates (we live in Toronto and this winter has been very cold). Did you notice cold “chills” coming through the roof like Bjorn (from Norway) did?

    1. We’ve had a horrible winter here in Chicago as well. I’ve gone through a summer and now winter and have no issues with the pano roof. Depending on when the car was built, Tesla has an update to help fix squeaks and air leaks. They installed that update on my Model S in February. In my opinion the benefits of the roof far outweigh any downside. You will love the car!

      1. Excellent decision. You won’t be disappointed with the pano roof. The car is worth the wait. Drive on.

  2. Steve, when you say it cost you 5 miles to heat the car ot 65 F. Was that off the remaining range? So if you had 200 miles of range, after heating you were at 195? I have a long commute once per week from Chicago to Sterling, 120 miles. Do you think I will have any problem if it is 20 below like last winter? Eugene

    1. Thanks for reading. Yes it was an actual 5 miles off the battery range. Do you have a 60kw or 85kw battery? If you have a 60kw then you will need to be extra diligent on those super cold days. Top off your charge the night before, use the seat heaters, manage your speed. If you can find a way to charge, even if it’s a 110V outlet, you will have more peace of mind. If you have an 85kw pack then no worries. Hope this helps.

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