Cold Weather Driving in my Model S: Year 2

My Tesla Model S Laughs in the Face of Winter

This is the second winter driving in my Model S. The last Chicago winter was the worst one in 40 years. I posted my experience last year about this time. Now for the follow-up.


November was unseasonably cold, but December was actually quite nice. A number of 40 and 50 degree temps right up until the end of the year. We’re now in early January and the cold has hit us squarely between the eyes. Single digit temps during the day and sub-zero at night for the last week. Snow has not been much of an issue, but I’m sure it’s coming.

So, how does it feel moving into winter number two? Am I dissuaded from owning my Model S? Fine questions indeed.

Clearly one must adapt driving habits in the winter, but that’s true of any car. You don’t let your gas tank get too low in cold weather, so likewise, in a Model S, you watch the battery range much closer and take steps to reduce risk.

My Kw/ml average exceed 820 this week. That’s well above the 300 I get during the other 9 months of the year and a little higher than I saw in last year’s Vortex weather. Since my daily commute is short this additional energy usage doesn’t impact me in the least.

With my iPhone app I can start the heater of my car and warm up the cabin to a toasty 70° before I arrive at my car which I park in an open concrete parking structure. No issues with the door handle operation, any of the software processing or electronics.

As far as driving snow, I continue to disable the regenerative braking feature which helps when the roads have yet to be plowed or I’m in a public parking lot. As with any car the best advice is slow down and be vigilant.

Drive on.


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.