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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's sNOw Problem!

I got a call from an ActiveE driver today who had concerns about driving his ActiveE in the snow. Since he got his car last spring he didn't have the chance to drive it in the snow so today would be the first time with a storm bearing down on the Northeast.

His questions were mostly about what to expect as far as range. As my previous post went into detail about, it's really not possible to give someone a definitive answer on it. Will he be stuck in traffic for three hours in the storm? Will the snow be an inch deep or will his car have to push its tires through 6 inches of frozen, range robbing resistance? If you suspect you may have a problem, my advice is don't take a chance - it's just not worth it. These snowy conditions do make an interesting argument for getting the optional range extender on the i3 though. It's there just in case you need it and if nothing else it provides piece of mind in adverse weather conditions.

However with reasonable preparation and not pushing your range limit, driving the ActiveE in the snow is really no problem at all. I've driven mine in a few snowstorms now and here are my suggestions for safe winter ActiveE driving:

First, and this applies to all cars not just electrics, is make sure you have good rubber between you and the road/snow/ice. This is the single most important thing you can do to improve your safety when driving on snow covered roads. Get winter tires if you live in areas where you'll be driving on snow and ice covered roads, they make a huge difference and also make sure they are properly inflated. BMW sells a winter tire for the ActiveE, though I'm not sure what brand it is. The part number is 36-11-2-295-628 and any dealer can get them for you. I also recommend Bridgestone Blizzak LM-25 RFT (run flats), and Nokian Hakka winter tires (excellent in snow but are not run flats). The ActiveE tires are 205/55 R16 and you can expect to pay between $160 and $175 each for a good winter tire.

Use Eco Pro mode when driving in the snow at all times. Eco Pro mode reduces the power to the wheels and while it's not a good thing for drag racing, it is a good thing for driving in the snow and ice. Less torque will keep the tires from slipping and keep the traction control from constantly needing to intervene. 

Use the preconditioning feature whenever possible. This won't help your traction, but it will help extend your range and you may just need those extra 3-5 miles to make it to your driveway one day. It's better to have a warm battery and a fully charged car before you begin your journey rather than have the thermal management system draw from your battery to warm things up.

Keep extension cords in the car, the longer the better. In the winter I keep 150 feet of 12 gauge extension cords in the car at all times. 150 feet is enough to reach the street from most houses. If worse came to worse I would ring a strangers doorbell and ask if I could plug my car in. As embarrassing as that may be, I'd feel worse if I had to also ask for an extension cord. At the very minimum keep a 100 foot extension cord in the trunk just in case. If you find yourself in need of an emergency charge, first try to find a food establishment. They will most likely allow you to plug in and you can at least sit inside in the warmth and grab a bite to eat to kill time. While it wasn't snowing at the time, I had to do this once already and found a Burger King that was happy to allow me to plug in.

I know this should be self evident, but drive slowly! If you don't go too fast you can use the regenerative braking to do most all of your slowing down. I've found the regen to be very effective for driving on snowy roads. The regen slows the car down in a very controlled manner, even better than when using the friction brakes. The traction control and the regenerative braking system seems to communicate well with one another. I've done testing where I drove my ActiveE down a steep, ice covered hill and abruptly pulled my foot off the accelerator so the car would go into full regen in an attempt to try to make the wheels lose traction and skid but they didn't. Instead the car gradually slowed down like it is supposed to and never lost traction. I could feel the traction control working though, as it worked with applying and disengaging the regen to keep the tires from skidding.

It's perfectly safe to charge in the rain or snow
Finally, and I've had people ask me this in the past, yes you can charge the car in the snow. Modern electric cars like the ActiveE are designed to charge in the rain or snow with without any safety concerns. You should obviously use common sense though. If you see a connector is soaking wet or the charging pins in the connector is filled with frozen ice do your best to clean it out and dry it off before you use it. This shouldn't be an issue if the connector head was properly returned to its holder before you used it, but I've seen the connectors laying on the ground in front of charging stations plenty of times. If the connector isn't returned to its proper holster it can be exposed to the elements and you should check it before you plug it into your car.    

So make sure you have good tires, use Eco Pro mode and preconditioning to help extend your range, keep a long extension cord handy just in case and drive slowly. Following these tips you should have no problem driving your ActiveE through the winter in all but the worst storms!

BTW, this is my 100th post on this blog! I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read it and especially those who have commented. Your interest is what keeps me posting! Have a Happy New Year and let's all hope for an electric 2013!  


  1. Thank you for the very helpful Tips Tom, I forwarded this post to my Wife who has been driving our ActiveE on a regular basis.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Hi Airton! Happy holidays and I hope to meet up with you again soon. I'll be hosting another ActiveE meet up as soon as the weather warms up in the spring so stay tuned!

  3. Keeping the car in a warm garage is also helpful. The batteries don't get frozen overnight in the elements. pre-conditioning can only do so much

  4. Congratulations on your 100th post Tom. I have been reading since the MiniE days and have really learned a lot form your blogs. Thank you for your dedication

  5. Hi Tom
    Excellent post. As to snow tires I've been trying the Nokian Hakka Rs and they've been very good. By the way they do come in run flats in a few sizes, one of which is the Active E's tire size. Like all runflats they add a bit of weight.
    Happy New Year

    Tom L

  6. Thanks for the info Tom. When I first got the car last year I looked into the Hakka's and couldn't find the run flats. The ActiveE doesn't have a spare tire on board so as much as I really don't like run flats, I think it's better I have them. Thanks for commenting and Happy New Year to you also!

    Edwin: Thank you, much appreciated and Happy New Year to you also!

  7. Cool pix of the shark fin. Congrats on the 100the post and please keep them coming. I check every day to see whats new :)

  8. Hey Tom, you recently hit 100 thousand all electric miles, and now 100th blog! Way to go! What's the next milestone in your sights? Thanks for all your posts and input. It's very helpful and fun to read.
    Congratulations on 100!
    Ed B

  9. Hi Ed! Actually this is my 100th blog post on this blog. I did about 200 posts on my MINI-E blog before transitioning into this one when I turned the MINI-E back in. It's been a fun ride, thanks for following and have a Happy New Year!

  10. I should know that, I have read them all! Happy New Year Tom.
    Ed B

  11. These electric cars are still worth it even if they aren’t able to perform well during the winter. It's because there is a lot more time to drive them on fair or even rainy weather compared to other cars which most likey stall and sputter during the winter.

    Cody Strub

  12. I found this blog nice and it was good to read that we can profitability make use of recycled items by selling them, it’s worth appreciating.

  13. Too bad the Active E forum is no longer available. I was hoping to get some information about the replacement tires for my ActiveE. I have heard if tires are warn out BMW will charge for replacing them. In which case I might as well shop around.