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Do Electric Cars Handle Better in the Snow?
Electric cars are a mixed bag in the snow, and it depends a lot on the model and vehicle design. Early hybrid cars, which were over-reliant on computer traction systems, were difficult to drive in the snow—especially if the driver couldn’t turn the traction control off.
Modern electric cars are a vast improvement, and they’ve come a long way in the last few years. These vehicles handle very well in the snow, as their battery packs give them a low center of gravity. Advanced traction control systems have also made a difference and now don’t impede experienced drivers who need to spin the wheels to move on packed ice roads.
How Do Tesla Cars Handle on Icy Roads?
Tesla leads the pack with snow handling, and it utilizes highly developed traction and stability control systems to help the driver stay safe on snowy roads. However, it’s not quite as easy for any driver to enjoy good handling in a Tesla. It requires a bit of knowledge about the car and a few strategies to overcome poor conditions.
All-Wheel-Drive Tesla Snow Performance
All-wheel-drive, or AWD Teslas, perform best in the snow. These vehicles can use all four wheels at different speeds to optimize traction. In fact, some owners swear that AWD is absolutely necessary if you live in an area with frequent or heavy snowfall.
It’s easier to drive an AWD Tesla in the snow than a rear-wheel-drive or RWD model. This is true for most cars, as RWD tends to offer the worst snow performance overall. This is especially true for high-torque electric vehicles, as they can easily spin their tires if the driver isn’t extra careful.
Is Tesla AWD Better than Conventional 4WD in the Snow?
This is a common question with a not-so-simple answer. We should begin by noting that all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive are not the same. 4WD systems are part-time, meaning they’re designed to be driven in 2H most of the time. 4WD shouldn’t be used on dry pavement, as the transfer case and differential is clunky and not designed for solid road surfaces.
AWD, on the other hand, is designed specifically for the road. It’s always on, and it can adapt to turns and run on dry pavement without binding or damaging the system. On dry pavement, icy roads, and light snow, Tesla all-wheel-drive is the clear winner.
But in deep snow, four-wheel-drive wins—and by a lot. Most 4WD vehicles have a higher profile and high ground clearance, and they operate independently of traction control. A Tesla could easily get stuck in deep snow, sink, and the driver will have to fight the computers to get the wheels to turn.
Someone driving a standard 4WD truck or SUV can turn off all traction control, throw it into 4H, and blast out of the rut. They can also choose low-range 4WD or 4LO and allocate most of the power to the front wheels for crawling out of a rut. You can’t always free yourself from deep snow in a 4WD, but it’s a lot more likely than in a low AWD sedan or SUV.
Rear-Wheel-Drive Tesla Snow Performance
However, all hope is not lost for owners of rear-wheel-drive Tesla vehicles. All Tesla vehicles come with advanced traction and stability control, and the driver also has a say in whether or not these systems are used. Most of the time, you’ll drive with these systems on—but if you’re stuck in a parking spot and need to spin the tires to get out, you can change vehicle modes to get over the icy hump.
Driving a RWD Tesla in the snow requires extra care. It’s not as bad as driving a RWD pickup in the snow, as at least the Tesla has a good amount of weight centered low and keeping the wheels in traction. Many people would agree that driving a RWD Tesla in the snow is like driving a V8 Dodge Charger or Challenger—go easy on the throttle, and slow down long before you actually need to stop.
Regenerative Braking Issues in the Snow
Regenerative braking can give drivers an awful fright when driving on icy roads. Traditional cars with an automatic transmission provide little deceleration resistance, and manual transmission cars can be precisely controlled by the driver. Teslas with regenerative braking automatically slow down, which can cause the car to abruptly slide when you don’t intend to apply much brake pressure.
Tesla Snowflake Icon and Regenerative Braking
Thankfully, this won’t be an issue for most people. Tesla designed the system to automatically limit regenerative braking when the temperature drops below a certain point, which reduces the likelihood of unintentional sliding.
However, this may not be helpful on warm days after a snowfall or when there’s still ice on the road. In these conditions, the car might not notice that the road is still slick. Unfortunately, Tesla cars don’t allow their owners to turn off regenerative braking. But there is something you can do to avoid car-induced traction loss.
When regenerative braking isn’t automatically limited by the snowflake icon, simply ease up on the accelerator more gently than usual. This will allow you to slow down gradually and prevent the car from applying the load all at once. Alternatively, you can reduce regenerative braking under ‘Driving Settings’ on some Tesla Models.
Best Tesla For Snow Driving
Not all Tesla vehicles handle equally in the snow. Choosing the right vehicle can help you stay safe in the winter and also make driving less stressful when the weather turns foul. Here are three of the best Tesla vehicles for winter driving.
1. Tesla Model 3
Choosing the best Tesla for the snow wasn’t easy, but the Model 3 is the winner by just a hair. So why is the Model 3 the best Tesla for winter driving? For one, AWD is standard—which means every Model 3 driver has power to all four wheels when traction gets dicey.
Like all Teslas, the Model 3 keeps its batteries low to the ground and under the floor. This is great for snow driving, as it evenly distributes weight to all four wheels and adds stability to the center of the car. This prevents the ‘pendulum effect’ and prevents the car from spinning out like most front-engine RWD vehicles so readily do.
Additionally, the low profile of the Model 3 makes it easier to control in the event of traction loss. Model 3s also comes with advanced traction control, which reduces the likelihood of having a problem in the first place. All in all, the Model 3 is an ideal electric snow vehicle and perhaps the best on the market today.
2. Tesla Model S
The Tesla Model S is one of the company’s most popular vehicles. AWD isn’t standard, but it’s available and a very popular option. Many people wouldn’t recommend getting RWD if you live in the snow—it’s worth shelling out the extra cash to get AWD if your roads freeze. But with AWD, the Model S is almost the perfect snow sedan.
The Model S is heavier than the Model 3, despite not being a whole lot larger. This can greatly improve snow handling, as the vehicle is more reluctant to lose traction even on icy surfaces. However, you’ll need to use more care in braking and deceleration, as your stopping distances will be longer.
Additionally, many Model S cars have a greater range. This is important, as regenerative braking is reduced or eliminated in cold weather, and thus efficiency drops. You’ll have more time between charges, more power to run the heater, and an overall better driving experience in a Model S with a larger battery.
3. Tesla Model Y
The Tesla Model Y is the company’s flagship AWD SUV, and it has very good snow handling characteristics. This vehicle is more capable than the Model 3 and the Model S, and it has an exceptionally long driving range. Additional cargo space makes it practical to store tools and tire chains—all things you might need during a snowstorm.
The Model Y has standard AWD, which makes it a top contender for snowy weather. It also features Tesla’s traction and stability control systems, which are specially tuned for the larger body and stance of the Model Y. The safety of this vehicle is excellent as well, and its size helps give drivers some peace of mind when navigating snowy roads with big trucks and Suburbans.
The Tesla Model Y has a very low center of gravity. However, it has a higher profile than the Model S and Model 3. As a result, this vehicle will be more sensitive to the wind—which can be a terrifying experience for drivers on icy roads. Still, it will outperform other boxy SUVs in poor conditions.
Tesla Snow Driving Tips
There are a few strategies and parts you can use to make snow driving safer and more reliable in your Tesla. First and foremost, invest in a good set of studless winter tires. Studded tires aren’t usually the best choice for Teslas, but they can work if you need the extra traction.
Winter tires can improve your wet weather acceleration, reduce stopping distances, and make it easier to get out of iced-up parking spots.
Additionally, you can use Track Mode to get yourself unstuck from a snowbank. This isn’t recommended by some Tesla authorities, and it’s dangerous when driving on the road—but it's a possible temporary solution should you so choose.
Track Mode will allow you to spin the tires if traction control is making it impossible to get any momentum. Just be careful with the accelerator and turn on traction control again once you’re out, as you’ll need it on the road.
While driving, avoid rapid acceleration or braking. This is extremely important if you don’t want to start sliding in unintended directions. Also, be gentle when you take your foot off the accelerator, as regenerative braking may still be enabled.
Also, be sure to take into account extra energy usage during the winter. The heater uses a lot of power, and the lack of regenerative braking will reduce your range compared to summertime driving. This will likely cause a change in your schedule, as it’ll take some time to get used to the reduced range.
So don’t panic if your Tesla suddenly seems to lose capacity as winter rolls around. It’s perfectly normal, and it will return to previous levels once temperatures rise and the pavement dries out.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding