Life In The Freezer: How A Chevy Volt Drives In A Hard Canadian Winter

We all know that automakers put new car designs through a serious amount of climate testing before they’re given the green light for production, often involving extended test periods in the frigid cold of the arctic.

But what’s it like living day to day through the winter when the outside temperature is colder than your kitchen deep freezer?

Meet Canadian Chevrolet Volt owner Stephen Martel  from Cochrane, Ontario, who headed out earlier this morning morning with a video camera to show the world just what it’s like driving a Volt at -42 degrees Celsius (-43.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

Martel, who braved the frigid 3:30 am temperatures, heads out of his house, hits the pre-condition switch on his Volt’s key-fob, and readies himself for departure.  In its default mode, the Volt uses power form the charging station to precondition the car, but in temperatures this cold the gasoline engine comes on to heat the cabin, as it’s far more efficient than the electric heater at these kinds of temperatures.

After just ten seconds however, Martel jumps in his Volt and takes it out on the road.

Starting with 44 kilometers of predicted range with a full charge, Martel takes us on a little trip around his local area, driving along the snow and ice-packed roads with the kind of road skills you’d expect of someone who regularly drives on the kind of roads that most of us would consider impossible.

Driving with the heating on full and the heated seats to their most powerful setting, Martel covers 7.1 kilometers in his video, (just under 4.5 miles) but returns to his home with a predicted range of around 32 kilometers, illustrating only a loss of just under 5 kilometers of predicted range despite the super-cold conditions.

“Had I pre-conditioned the car instead of leaving after just 10 seconds of the engine running, my range would have been much better,” Martel told us earlier. “Last winter, I drove the car in -49 degrees C temperatures, but my camera froze (and stopped working.) This time, I used my phone and kept it warm in my hand.”

We’ve heard from lots of EV owners in the past few weeks bemoaning the drop in performance of their EVs in the temperate winters of western Europe. And here at Transport Evolved, we too have noticed a marginal drop in range in both our Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF EVs.

But, as Martel demonstrates, while range will ultimately suffer when the mercury drops, the Volt — and we presume other EVs too — will work just fine. In fact, the cars will probably keep going long after you’ve succumbed to the call of a hot toddy and a warm winter stew.

It’s got us thinking though. Can anyone top Martel’s winter wonderland range test? Do you live somewhere colder? Can you snap a video and share it with us detailing YOUR winter commute — or at least what it’s like driving an EV in temperatures colder than a domestic Freezer?

If you can, snap away — and share your videos with us in the Comments below.

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  • Theresa

    It’s awesome! I find very little difference with the temperature change. This has been the coldest Feb. in Toronto, Canada and it’s no problem. Still go months without filling up!

  • Andy

    This article is a PR stunt. My volt in just -17 f has issues if you use the departure based charge setting. (battery heater wont condition the pack and it stops charging at 85% plus locks you out of the batter in some form of ‘limp’ mode) Worse, if you use immediate charging, the pack heater draws 2KW 15min at a time 24 times in a day (12KWh a day) doing nothing more than keeping the battery tepid. Don’t be lulled in to thinking its all roses by this infomercial.

    GM also forces the idle of the engine in temps below 14 (above) for cabin heat (even if the cabin is hot, preconditioned, or turned OFF) WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!

    Say you want the heat, and lots of it! You can crank the 8KW electric heater AND run the gas engine. well, nope! Cant do that either! Once the engine warms up a bit, the the electric heat tapers down until its eventually off, even if your heat is set to MAX you arent allowed access to it. To prevent excessive (battery) range loss. so much focus on the stupid battery range.