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Are Teslas Reliable in Winter?

BY: Chris Brown
Man charging electric car at home

As the world gradually transitions to renewable energy sources, the adoption of e-vehicles is on the rise, and Tesla has been leading the charge. Their range of electric cars is known for combining sleek aesthetics with groundbreaking technology, but while they perform well in the summer, how do they hold up when the temperature drops?

Depending on where you live, winter performance could be a dealbreaker when considering your next e-vehicle. To help you decide what’s best, let’s look at the science behind battery-powered vehicles during winter, whether colder weather affects their range, handling/traction changes, and other common winter issues faced by Tesla owners.

The Science Behind Batteries and Cold Weather

Batteries used in electric vehicles rely on chemical reactions to store and release electricity. Without going too deep into the technicals, most electric and hybrid vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, which work when lithium ions move from the anode to the cathode. Cold weather slows this process, restricting battery performance and reducing the usable range. The bigger the battery, the bigger the potential for energy loss.

For the same reasons, charging speeds (even from rapid chargers) may be slower. Tesla openly admits that extreme weather can result in reduced charging speeds at its Supercharger stations, and the same is likely to be true of other networks, too.

To make matters worse, electric car batteries also need to work much harder during the winter months. There’s no heat from an engine block like in a traditional gas or diesel vehicle, so much extra energy is spent keeping you and the car warm — ultimately draining an impaired power source even faster.

Tesla’s Range During Winter

So, should Tesla owners be worried? Not really. The brand has made a bunch of great upgrades to its vehicles, improving thermal performance and cabin conditioning. These features should be enabled automatically, so you don’t need to do anything other than get in and drive.

Because of these and other innovations, Teslas have an impressive range even when things get very, very cold. In January 2023, Norwegian auto magazine Motor.no tested 29 electric cars in cold temperatures, and Tesla came out on top. Not only did the Model 3 drive further than any of its competitors but it also lost just 16.4% of its claimed max range (which is 333-mile EPA est.).

Handling and Traction in Winter Conditions

Colder conditions usually mean snow and ice, which is bad news for handling and traction. Thankfully, though, Tesla cars are specifically designed to perform in such conditions. To prove it, they carried out a series of tests over in snowy New Zealand, pushing the adaptive traction control to its limits.

In addition to this incredible technology, some Tesla models have all-wheel drive, meaning they can distribute power across all four wheels. Doing this makes each tire less likely to lose traction in slippery conditions.

Reviews from Tesla owners are glowing, with one comment on YouTube reading:

“I drove my Model Y Performance through a section of highway that hadn’t been plowed in a few hours by the city during a Wisconsin winter. Despite having some winter tires on, I started to slip a little bit, and could feel the car in the beginning stages of a spin-out.

The car’s aggressive traction control took over, and alternated spinning some of the wheels on the left and right depending on which direction the car was facing. So while it seemed like I was going to spin out, the car did everything in its power to prevent that, and eventually I was able to right myself and continue driving.”

Common Winter Issues Faced by Tesla Owners

Teslas are certainly better than most when it comes to winter performance, but that doesn’t mean owners don’t face issues when temperatures drop. Most commonly, Tesla drivers have reported issues with door handles, windows, and charge ports.

For example, the door handles of the Model 3 are embedded inside the door, and you need to press on one side for it to pop out so you can pull on it. Once you pull, the window slides down slightly so that you can open the door. In colder weather, however, many owners report that the handles can be tricky to pop out, and when they eventually do, the window doesn’t always come down. The problem also extends to the charging port door, which sometimes freezes shut.

Tesla’s Built-in Features for Winter

A forward-thinking automaker like Tesla isn’t going to forget something like built-in winter features. The current Tesla models include some super helpful tech for when temperatures drop:

Preconditioning

The preconditioning feature is a lifesaver during winter. Trigger it via the Tesla app pre-journey and it will bring your battery up to the optimum temperature. This prevents the car from limiting features such as full power output and regenerative braking to preserve the safety of the cold battery. Preconditioning can also be used to bring your cabin up to a toasty temperature before you buckle in.

Defrost Feature

Another feature you can trigger from your Tesla app is the Defrost function, which will remove ice from your Tesla’s exterior and windows. No scraper is necessary.

Temperature Warnings

A blue snowflake icon will appear on your touchscreen and the app if your battery is too cold for full power and ideal range. This is when feature limiting will kick in, so ensure you’re sufficiently preconditioned, and the snowflake icon (plus any restrictions) should disappear.

Over-the-Air Software Updates

The Tesla team is constantly writing and rewriting code to improve the functionality of their vehicles. These software updates are applied automatically “over the air,” so you can only expect your Tesla to get better at handling winter weather as time goes by.

5 Tips for Winter Car Care

Winter can be a tough time for cars of any kind. Here are a few key winter car care tips, including some suggestions specific to Tesla vehicles:

1. Stay plugged in when you aren’t driving.

Maintaining a charge level above 20% protects your Tesla from the harmful effects of colder weather.

2. Drive slowly and carefully.

Driving slowly will not only help you maintain control of your vehicle and avoid collisions, but it will also reduce energy usage.

3. Take advantage of Scheduled Departure.

Using Tesla’s Scheduled Departure feature can help you save significant energy at the start of your trip. Once you’ve specified your departure time via the Tesla app, your vehicle prepares by determining the best time to start charging and preconditioning. This ensures that peak efficiency and performance are available from the moment you start driving without impacting battery charge levels.

4. Switch to winter tires and check PSI.

For driving on snowy or icy roads, it’s recommended that you install winter tires for optimum performance, safety, and control. You can also add snow chains in more extreme conditions. Tire pressure is reduced in colder weather, so make sure to check PSI and ensure it’s up to the correct levels. Underinflated tires may have increased traction with the road, but this actually reduces handling and puts more strain on your engine/battery.

5. Invest in an extended auto warranty.

No matter how great your vehicle is, there’s a lot that can go wrong during winter. Investing in an extended auto warranty or vehicle service contract lets you drive with total peace of mind — knowing you’ll be looked after should the worst happen.

What Is an Extended Warranty, and Why Should I Get One?

Put simply, an extended car warranty can save you serious money on the cost of car ownership—it can also be a huge help if you break down on the road. But to give you the full picture, we should start at the beginning.

Every vehicle rolls off the production line with what’s known as a factory warranty, also known as a manufacturer’s warranty. This effectively acts as the manufacturer’s promise to repair or replace any part that fails due to manufacturing fault for a predetermined number of years/miles traveled. How long this lasts will completely depend on your manufacturer, with some being much more generous than others. Whenever the expiry date hits, however, you’re out on your own—making you, as the car owner, financially responsible for any future repair bills.

If you want to continue enjoying warranty coverage, your first option is to invest in a traditional extended warranty. These are usually sold via your dealership or directly from the manufacturer, and they keep protection active beyond the factory warranty.

While this might sound great initially, this type of warranty has some major flaws. First of all, they’re generally quite expensive. Secondly, all work must be carried out at an authorized dealership (which isn’t ideal if you break down hundreds of miles from one). And perhaps most importantly, an extended warranty must be purchased while your factory warranty is still active. Leave it just one day late, and you’ll no longer qualify.

For these reasons, the vast majority of people prefer what’s known as a third-party vehicle service contract. Third-party providers are incentivized to offer almost as comprehensive coverage at an even better price point, usually throwing in some pretty great perks to sweeten the deal. You’re free to have repairs carried out at any certified auto shop, and as long as you meet your provider’s eligibility criteria, almost anyone can qualify—active factory warranty or not.

It’s worth pointing out that warranty coverage and mechanical breakdown auto insurance are very different beasts. Sure, they’re both designed to save you money, but a warranty specifically protects you from repair bills incurred as a result of mechanical breakdown, while auto insurance looks out for you after a collision or other such incident. They work great together, so investing in both is highly recommended.

Keep Your Car Protected Whatever the Weather

Cold weather or not, you can never predict when your car might break down. What you can be sure of, however, is that it will happen at the most inconvenient moment possible, leaving you stranded at the roadside hundreds of miles from home. The only way to drive with total confidence is with an extended warranty watching your back — and Endurance is your top choice.

Since opening our doors way back in 2006, we’ve helped thousands of drivers protect themselves from unexpected repair bills, earning the title of America’s most trusted provider in the process. We offer a wide range of plans for an even wider range of drivers, with something for casual commuters, rideshare drivers, luxury car owners, and almost everyone in between. We pride ourselves on our unrivaled eligibility and flexibility, so if our base plans don’t quite meet your needs and budget, we’ll be more than happy to customize a plan that does.

As well as top-quality coverage, we also offer some of the best benefits in the business. Every Endurance plan comes with standard 24/7 roadside assistance, trip interruption costs, and rental car reimbursement. On top of that, all new Endurance customers get a year’s free access to our Elite Benefits package, adding on tire repair/replacement, key fob replacement, total loss protection, and much more.

Across the web, we’re rated by industry experts as the best protection money can buy—but don’t just take their word for it. We also have thousands of five-star reviews from happy customers on sites like Trustpilot.

If this sounds like something you’d like to hear more about, our award-winning customer service team is ready and waiting. Call us at (800) 253-8203 for a free, no-obligation quote. You can also shop online for an instant price quote.

Read more helpful articles on our extended warranty blog, including auto expert tips, provider comparisons, and vehicle reviews.

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