Winter Driving

Bhavna and I had a stressful weekend of travel for the Holy Days. On Thursday, we set off in our Acura RDX to pick up our daughter Kiran from her last day at college - she'd completed her undergraduate degree a semester early! We were thrilled to be helping her get ready for grad school, where she'll study Library Science at the University of Illinois.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn't cooperate on Friday: it was a winter storm like no other (a bomb cyclone) that ended up making what should have been an easy trip more challenging than expected due to snowfall and bitterly cold winds that filled the air with snow flurries. We did our best to be upbeat. We didn’t want to dampen the excitement over helping Kiran move onto this new phase in life. We arrived in Oberlin safely and had a quick dinner with Kiran and her friend Fawad.

Friday23 December 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1300 sec,ISO 5000 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR at f/5.6

The morning after arriving in Oberlin, Bhavna and I decided on an early breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Sheffield Lake. The roads were still full of snow and ice. The fifteen-minute drive from the hotel to the Cracker Barrel was nerve-wracking. Our top speed was twenty kilometres per hour.

I had never dined at Cracker Barrel and was amazed that the restaurant was also a store and somewhat of a museum. The proper name is Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Our host seated us in a large room with a large fireplace. The walls were decorated with lots of Americana. While we waited on our food (I ordered grist, eggs and bacon), I walked around "the Americana History Museum", fascinated by the old-timey products and photographs of people. Before we left, we stocked up on classic American candy and soda pop.

Friday23 December 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1180 sec,ISO 5000 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR at f/4.0

After breakfast, we loaded the last of Kiran’s things into the trunk and drove toward Champaign, Illinois. Our route would take through Indiana, stopping near Fort Wayne to fuel up and get something to eat. It was an unbelievably frigid journey, with the weather being nothing more than a multitude of grey clouds and dismal temperatures between -23°C (-9.4°F) to -19°C(-2.2°F). Visibility was, at best, 100 feet which sometimes dwindled to 10! Like sharp knives, the wind cut through our clothes, making refuelling unbearable. New Jersey law requires a gas station attendant to operate a gasoline pump. I missed that privilege.

We had one heart-stopping moment when the Bhavna hit some ice, and the car slid toward the side of the road. She panicked, hit the brakes and overcorrected her steering, and the car almost went into a slight spin. She recovered control, but the anxiety level in the car was intense for the next few miles.

After arriving safely in Champaign, we unloaded Kiran's belongings from the car before enjoying dinner at a nearby restaurant. It was Christmas Eve, so only a few places were open. We found seating at a restaurant just 30 minutes before the kitchen closed.

Afterwards, we checked into our hotel room at the nearby Courtyard Marriott. I looked a bit worn. I think we’ll stay at the Hyatt on our next trip.

We awoke the following day to realise that all the water bottles in the car had frozen solid inside during what little respite we got overnight! I am relieved that we didn’t forget our iPads in the car overnight. The "L" in LCD is for liquid.

The return trip on Christmas Day was stressful since the only thing open was the gas station. We ate junk food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The winds were still blowing, and pumping gas was still an unpleasant experience. But at least the roads were mostly clear of snow and ice.

Sunday25 December 2022 · FujiFilm X-T3 at 1/1000 sec,ISO 320 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR at f/6.4

On the return trip, we stopped every four hours to refuel and swap drivers. Each time we stopped, the gas tank was at a quarter tank (25%) before we filled up. The Acura averaged about 280-300 miles on a full tank.

I was concerned about how we would make this trip in an EV. The EV can lose about 20% of the range in icy conditions. With temperatures below freezing, the cold weather would certainly affect EV range and charging speed. How would the extreme cold affect EV battery life? The thermal management system (within the battery) may limit the charging speeds to keep the battery safe. How much longer will the charge take? The Idaho National Laboratory study found that at 0°C (32°F), an EV battery took in 36% less energy than when the battery management system charged the battery for the same amount of time at 25°C (77°F). This means the colder the weather, the more time the battery needs to charge. How much longer would our 14-hour return drive take? 16 hours? 20 hours?

If we had to sit inside the EV for 30-60 minutes while the battery charges, can we also run the heat? If we keep the EV cabin heating off/low to conserve battery use and sit in our thick winter coats, how much more uncomfortable is that long-distance drive? We saw a lot of stranded motorists. What if those stranded cars were EVs? What different things (stress) do we have to consider with the EV versus the ICE car?

Our hotel did not have an EV charger. Our daughter's apartment (a room in a house) does not have an EV charger. There is no way to warm up the EV while charging.

The Acura RDX got a 450-480 kilometre (280-300 mile) range on a full tank in the extreme cold. Would the average EV still get a 480-kilometre range in the extreme cold?

Author: Khürt Williams

a human, an application security architect, avid photographer, nature lover, and formula 1 fan who drinks beer.

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