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How to Keep Electric Vehicles (EVs) Running in Rural Areas

18 Mar 2024

Cold weather, especially extreme cold weather, can wreak havoc on many vehicles and equipment. The usual culprits are vehicles with a diesel engine where fuel gelling, poor cranking battery condition and underwhelming engine start aids, such as glow plugs, all contribute to unpredictable starting performance. This winter’s cold weather snap in the Midwest, which saw temperatures well into the negatives, drove diesel users to plug in their block heaters, switch to No. 1 diesel fuel and use fuel heaters to keep operations running. 

In the EV world, a similar phenomenon occurs. When cold, the electrolyte in the cells of the battery is less active and will reduce a lithium-ion battery’s capability to store and deliver the desired amount of electrical power. It can affect the speed of battery recharge as well.  All these cold weather characteristics are similar to traditional lead acid batteries; however, lithium-ion chemistry is much more resilient, and the effects are much less impactful when managed properly. 

Our personal vehicle on the farmstead, a standard range equipped Ford F-150 Lightning, was impacted by the recent extreme cold weather, -20F to be exact. In several short trips with a cold soaked traction battery, we saw energy being depleted unexpectedly. In one such situation, the truck was stuck in a snow drift for two hours, with the key on to keep the cab warm. Being stuck in a snow drift is a Nebraska past time, regardless of what’s under the hood.


Once rescued from the drift, the truck drove about 30 miles, then sat in the extreme cold, without being plugged in, for another three hours. From there, it was dispatched to rescue another vehicle by using its onboard 120-volt outlets to power an electric heater to thaw a frozen park brake cable. 

In total, the truck saw multiple stops where the cab and traction battery were cold soaked. We probably drove less than 100 miles and got a low range warning. (Really? Rats! Where did the energy go?) Most of the energy stored onboard the vehicle was used to warm the traction battery, climate control and exportable power (running the external electric heater). 

When we plugged in that night, the truck had 18% battery remaining and, because the energy had been used for things other than driving, the computer only predicted an 11-mile range remaining. Back calculating the math means the computer gave us a 61-mile range total, dismal performance for a 240-mile rated range truck. 

Someone must be to blame, but who? I’m sure those with political biases will have no shortage of answers, but the real blame lies with us as the operator. The Ford F-150 Lightning manual states:


We use our F-150 Lightning like a work truck, it gets no special treatment and is stored in a lean-to with other equipment when not in use. It does, however, have a charger plugged into a welder outlet in that space. 

In all our travels that day in the fridged cold snap, we did not “precondition” the truck, therefore the battery and climate control were starting from scratch to warm up in brutal cold using energy from the traction battery. Preconditioning is a fancy way of saying, use the remote start-like function of your smartphone and derive power from the charger to warm up vehicle systems instead of the traction battery alone. You can program a schedule to precondition if you use the vehicle regularly. 

We tried preconditioning the next day and the results were far better. Starting out in similar negative temperatures, the truck showed 202 miles of range, only a 16% reduction from the factory warm weather rating. 

We can live with that. 

After learning to precondition in the cold weather, I traveled to a close friend’s shop to, ironically, assemble a small block Chevrolet engine for a project car. He said, “how ya gonna plug in, there ain’t no place to charge here.” Not to worry, the charger Ford provided has a 120-volt cord included. While it would take ages to charge up the truck that way, it sure did a nice job preconditioning the vehicle. 

Not being one to give up the debate so easily, he said, “it sure seems inconvenient to have to plug in when it’s cold.” Since he had just plugged in the block heater of his truck and complained about the skid steer not starting even with it on a battery tender, the irony was thicker than gravy on a chicken fried steak. 

As we move into new product releases, such as the Case IH Farmall 75C electric tractor, the New Holland T4 electric power tractor and the Case 580 EV electric backhoe, part of the learning curve will be our version of preconditioning to overcome cold weather woes. 

In the meantime, EV’s in the snow can be fun when Dad’s not looking ... 


Written by Kelly Burgess, electrification specialist for CNH Industrial.

Article written by Kelly Burgess


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.