There’s nothing better than heading out the door on a cold, dark morning to find your plug-in car sitting there with a clear windscreen, a warm interior and not a single piece of ice or snow to scrape anywhere. And with a bitter arctic wind sweeping across a large part of Europe and the U.S., we’re guessing more EV owners than ever before are thankful for the invention of cabin preconditioning.
Cabin preconditioning isn’t just designed to make sure you never have to break out the ice scraper however. Because the laws of thermodynamics dictate that it takes less energy to keep something at a constant temperature than it does to raise or lower its temperature, preconditioning uses 240 volt electricity from your charging station (if your car is plugged in of course) to warm or cool your car to a comfortable temperature, without using any of the charge stored in your car’s battery pack.
This results in not only a warm cabin, but less energy drain on your car’s battery pack and thus less impact on how far your car can travel.
If you’ve a gadget-obsessed early-adopter, the chances are you’ve already figured out how the preconditioning works in your EV. But if you’re just facing your first winter with your EV — or haven’t looked in the owners’ manual yet — here’s a rundown of how to enable cabin preconditioning on some of the most popular EVs on the market today.
For now, we’ve stuck with cars we’ve easy access to — but if you have a make or model of car we’ve not listed and you’d like to tell others how to enable preconditioning on your car, leave some clear photographs and a description in the Comments below, and we’ll add it to our list!
The first all-electric car to hit the market with on-board telematics capable of remotely turning your car’s climate control on and off, the LEAF has several ways you can ensure you’re never left scraping ice when the mercury drops.
i) First, there’s the Climate Control Timer. Available in all grades of LEAF the climate control timer allows you to program a weekly planned departure time (two different timers on mid and high spec, one on base model) to ensure that your car is preheated when it’s time to leave. On models with a touch-screen centre console, timer departure is accessible from the CARWINGS menu. On cars with just a basic radio unit, the timer is set from the quadrant of buttons to the left of the steering wheel (right of the wheel on RHD cars)
ii) Second, you can turn on the climate control timer from the CARWINGS website. Simply log in to your CARWINGS account using the web address supplied to you when you purchased your LEAF (it’ll be different for each country) and click on the climate control tab to access preheating features.
iii) Finally, you can chose to operate the climate control from the various CARWINGS smartphone apps available for Android or iOS.
While not all European and Japanese versions of the Mitsubishi i-Miev have cabin pre-conditioning, the U.S. market version and certain European trim levels do feature the ability to set cabin pre-coditioning.
Climate pre-conditioning is not set from inside the car. Instead, the multifunction remote control which comes with the Mitsubishi i-Miev can be used to remotely activate cabin heating when needed and if heated seats are left switched on, seat pre-heating too.
Ford Focus Electric:
While the Ford Focus Electric is often overlooked by would-be EV buyers, it offers one of the most versatile cabin preconditioning systems.
i) Like the LEAF, the Focus Electric can be configured to preheat itself ready for a specified departure time — called a ‘Go Time’ from the car’s in-car touchscreen display. This is best for people who leave at a specific time every day and have a fairly predictable schedule, and not only ensures the car is warm but fully charged too.
ii)Using the MyFordMobile website, it’s possible to remotely activate climate control operations on your Focus Electric. Like the LEAF, you’ll need to use the username and password provided to you by your dealership when you purchased your Focus Electric. Those who have the Ford Focus Electric say that the web interface is clear and simple to use — and reliable too.
iii) Using Ford’s official smartphone app, you can log into the MyFordTouch system and set the car’s climate control. This one is particularly useful if you park at a park and ride site with EV charging and want to ensure your car is warm when you get off the train or bus at the end of a busy work day.
iv) Like the Mitsubishi i-Miev, it’s possible to start climate control functions from your car’s remote control, ideal for situations when your car is out of cellphone range but within reach of its own remote control.
Chevrolet Volt (North America):
Thanks to Chevrolet’s OnStar system, U.S. owners of the Chevy Volt have several ways in which they can start their Volt’s preconditioning system.
i) Like the LEAF and Ford Focus, you can set the climate control via the Internet, using the OnStar telematics website.
ii) Similarly, the official OnStar app lets you precondition your car’s cabin remotely, ensuring it’s always warm when you get in.
iii)Finally, a button the key fob lets you remotely start your car to warm it up. Running for fifteen minutes at a time, only two preheat cycles are allowed for each period the car is locked, so make sure you don’t use it unnecessarily or it may not switch on.
Vauxhall/Opel Ampera (European Chevy Volt) :
Because OnStar isn’t yet available in Europe, European owners of the Ampera or Volt have only one option to pre-heat their car’s cabin: the remote start function on the key fob.
While the BMW Active E has cabin preconditioning functionality, it operates a little different to other cars on the market.
Unlike most cars, drivers set the time they’d like the car to start warming itself up, not the departure time. Further, the Active E heats the car’s battery pack up before it heats the cabin, something which can take an hour or more in cold weather.
Once — and only once — the battery pack is at optimum operating temperature, will a value open up in the Active E’s heating system, diverting the hot water just used to heat the battery pack into the car’s cabin-based heater matrix.
While the Tesla Model S can preheat its cabin — (we’d like a Model S driver to give us details on how to do this) the Tesla Roadster has no preheating functionality.
However, as Tesla driver and TransportEvolved tech guru Michael Thwaite jokes, “Tesla sells a range of tasteful blankets!”
C’mon guys: this tiny two-seater has optional doors and optional windows. There’s no such thing as a heater, although you can buy a Twizy-branded ‘Jupe’ to keep your lower half warm in winter. Having driven a Twizy in sub-zero temperatures, we’d suggest a set of knee-high arctic socks and and a very thick pair of gloves may also help you stay warm. But preheating? That’s a warm drink before you leave…
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