Skip to main content

These EV drivers might face challenges getting a reliable charge in very cold weather. Here’s why.

Dead Teslas stack up at charging stations in Chicago’s subzero temps

Tesla owners in the Chicago area are finding themselves in a huge pickle this week with temps dipping into the negative double-digits. As drivers seek fast charging through Tesla’s Supercharger network, the cold weather is so severe it’s preventing vehicles from accepting a charge.

Fox Chicago reported that dozens of Telsa owners lined up and have ultimately abandoned their dead cars. Charging stations aren’t the only areas experiencing this; one Tesla owner hired a flatbed tow truck to take his dead car from Chicago O’Hare airport to a charging station. He might not have realized that dozens more drivers faced the same situation at stations in that area.

Why EVs won’t charge in freezing weather

An EV charge port in close-view with charge nozzle plugged in during winter
EVs might be difficult to charge in cold weather | Susie Hedberg via iStock

EVs don’t take well to charging in subzero temps because their batteries need to be at optimal operational warmth. In most seasons, this isn’t an issue. But in hypercold conditions, the battery must be preconditioned.

Preconditioning the battery allows the system to reach optimal temp. While time-consuming, preconditioning ahead of winter travel allows longer, more efficient trips and can help drivers charge up at public stations.

You can precondition your Telsa battery in three ways

  • Use the Tesla app
  • Via the in-car navigation screen
  • Utilize the pre-scheduled departure feature

According to Tesla’s Model S owner’s manual, “Tesla recommends activating climate settings at least 30-45 minutes before departure (see Operating Climate Controls). Preconditioning times depend on outside temperature and other factors. The mobile app will notify you once your vehicle has reached the desired preconditioning temperature.”

It’s possible the stacks of Tesla drivers stranded at Supercharger stations didn’t precondition their batteries. At this time, Tesla cars don’t have a manual preconditioning procedure. So, at a certain point, a dead Tesla stuck outside in subzero weather simply won’t accept a charge. They’ll have to be towed somewhere warmer, like an indoor setting with a charger.