Hope you are in a Tesla if you get stuck in a traffic standstill for hours

Drivers wait for the traffic to be cleared as cars and trucks are stranded on sections of Interstate 95 Tuesday Jan. 4, 2022, in Carmel Church, Va. Close to 48 miles of the Interstate was closed due to ice and snow. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A winter storm this weekend is stretching from Arkansas through Tennessee into the Carolinas and moving in Virginia.

The long holiday weekend of this latest storm is an appropriate time to recap responses to the claim made about how electric vehicles would have fared during the Virginia snowstorm earlier this month.

A storm that went from rain to snow had traffic on Interstate 95 at a standstill between Washington and Richmond.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said his normal two-hour drive to Washington took 27 hours during the traffic standstill.

Washington Post editorial writer and columnist Charles Lane wrote in an opinion piece buttressed by an anecdote from a truck driver on Twitter that “If everyone had been driving electric vehicles, this mess could well have been worse.”

Lane based his piece largely on this one tweet. He hedges that gasoline-powered cars were stranded on the interstate as well after they ran out of fuel or their batteries died, but his point was with electric vehicles, it would have all been worse, much worse, apocalypse worse.

A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.

— Alfred Lord Tennyson

And a Facebook post examined by the factchecking site Politifact as a part of a fact checking partnership with Facebook claimed:

“Imagine if half the cars in the traffic jam on I-95 in Virginia last night were electric vehicles. And half of those were to run out of battery power. All those people would be stuck in freezing temperatures without a heated vehicle. And all the cars would be stuck unable to move because you can’t bring a charging station to them. In effect all those electric cars would become road blocks to the gasoline powered vehicles.”

Yes, just imagine.

Politifact investigated a similar claim, except about a traffic standstill in summer heat, made on Facebook in November:

“The post shows a photo of a road packed with vehicles at a standstill and says, ‘Imagine all of these vehicles being electric powered. It’s 93 degrees outside. A major accident has rendered going anywhere impossible for hours. People are running their AC until all batteries go dead. You can’t jumpstart these cars and trucks like a gas or diesel powered vehicle. They have to be plugged in until recharged. The brains behind the EV movement don’t have this figured out. These folks will die from heat, while in cold weather states, people will freeze to death. What do you say to that, Greta Thunberg?’”

Reuters fact-checked claims along the same line in November pointing to an image that it had examples of from May and October.

So how did electric vehicles fare in the traffic standstill on I-95 during the snowstorm?

Dan Kanninen wrote in a blog post responding to Lane’s column with his own experiences in his Tesla Model 3 Standard Range during the snow traffic standstill:

“I am especially grateful that I was driving my EV when I got stuck on I-95. I watched countless vehicles slide across the road, but my EV expertly navigated the ice. While fellow drivers burned gasoline running their engines to stay warm, my EV intelligently directed power solely to temperature regulation—I did not have to inefficiently burn fuel to power my entire engine in order to keep us safe.”

When the standstill eventually cleared, he made it to a Tesla Supercharger with 50 miles of range to spare. And he was driving the Tesla model with the EPA lowest rated range.

What about that post on Facebook that Politifact looked at?

Politifact concluded:

“Cold weather can diminish the range of an electric vehicle that’s moving. But there is no evidence to suggest electric vehicles idling in standstill traffic would have fared any worse than gas-powered vehicles, which need a running engine to provide heat and can run out of gas while idling. 

“Electric vehicles don’t use much energy while idling, and drivers can use even less by using the seat warmers instead of the heating system.”

In its late November look at a similar claim, Politifact noted:

“Electric vehicles use little power when at a standstill, and their climate settings also do not require much power.

“An electric vehicle with a full battery would have enough energy to operate for a day or longer while stationary during a traffic jam, even while using air conditioning or heating.”

What about those image posts that have been floating around for a year that Reuters looked at?

Well, Rueters reported:

“‘Electric vehicles use very little power when stationary,’ David Howey, associate professor in engineering science at the University of Oxford’s Department of Engineering Science, said.

‘The motor doesn’t consume power at zero speed,’ he told Reuters in an email. ‘Only the car electronics and heating/cooling systems use power when the car is stationary, and the amounts are relatively small.’

A typical stationary electric vehicle (EV) with full battery could likely run its climate settings and electronics for ‘at least a day, probably many days’, Howey added.”

Cold weather does affect the range of a moving electric vehicle (and gasoline-powered vehicles to a lesser extent, as well). The potential range loss averages about 20%, according to one study, but varies.

After the I-95 snowstorm, a Tesla owner with a popular YouTube channel, put two Tesla models to the test.

He’s not the only one.

Often-referenced videos on how long the battery will last in cold weather have been done by a Norway Tesla owner with a popular YouTube channel:

The auto manufacturer selling the most battery-powered vehicles, or BEVs, in United States is Tesla, some 79% in 2020. So for Tesla owners, what should you do if traffic is at a standstill that potentially could last for hours on end? 

The most common advice is to use “Camp Mode” and use the car to keep your phone charged and to even watch a movie if you still have cell service. “Camp Mode” explained.

With Camp Mode, you may lose 10% to !5% of your battery over an eight-to-nine hour period depending on how cold it is and how warm you keep the cabin.

Turn the cabin temperature down to 60 degrees (or even 50 degrees if you can stand it) and turn on the seat warmers to stay toasty while using even less battery power.

And, just as you would keep an ICE-gas filled up in inclement weather, keep your EV charged up during a winter trip just in case. More cold weather tips for Tesla drivers. These, too.