Skip to content

Fuel Efficiency in Cold Conditions: Why It’s Worse & How to Improve

  • by
  • 5 min read

Last Updated on: 7th September 2023, 12:45 am

You may have noticed different fuel usage in cold or warm weather, but why is this? In this article, I’ll explain why fuel economy is different in warm and cold climates.

In cold climates, the fuel efficiency of a vehicle might drop by as much as 12%. This is due to the fact that cold engines use more fuel than those that have been warmed up. In cold conditions, even the first 6 miles of a trip consume more fuel than they would in a warmed up engine.

Cold temperatures and winter driving conditions may dramatically impact your fuel efficiency.

In city driving, a typical gasoline car’s gas mileage is around 15% worse at 20°F than it is at 77°F, according to fuel economy testing. For short (3 to 4 mile) travels, it may decline by as much as 24%.

In most cases, the impact on hybrids is larger. Under these situations, its fuel efficiency might plummet by 30-34%.

In combined city and highway driving, electric vehicle (EV) fuel efficiency may decline by 39%, and range can drop by 41%. The cabin consumes around two-thirds of the excess energy used.

The impacts of cold weather differ depending on the vehicle type.

However, anticipate conventional gasoline cars to lose 10-20% of their fuel efficiency in city driving and 15-33% of their fuel economy on short excursions.

In city driving, hybrids’ fuel efficiency drops from 20-40% percent, and on short excursions, it drops by 25-45%.

At 20°F, EV fuel efficiency is 8% worse than at 75°F when the cabin heater is turned off. The driving range has been reduced by around 12%.

Why Fuel Efficiency Is Reduced in Cold Conditions

Cold weather has more effects on your automobile than you would think, including the following.

  • Engine friction increases. Because of the cold engine oil and other drive-line fluids, engine and gearbox friction rises at cold temperatures.
  • Takes longer to achieve optimum temperature. Your engine will take longer to achieve its most fuel-efficient temperature. Shorter travels are more affected by this since your automobile spends more time in less-than-ideal conditions.
  • Additional power used. Additional power is used by heated seats, window defrosters, heater fans, etc.
  • Warming up your car. Warming up your car before you go on a journey reduces your fuel efficiency.
  • Colder air is denser. Denser air increases your vehicle’s aerodynamic drag, particularly at highway speeds.
  • Reduced tyre pressure. In cooler conditions, tyre pressure drops, increasing rolling resistance.
  • Different fuel. Summer fuel blends may contain somewhat less energy per gallon than winter fuel mixes.
  • Battery performance. In cold weather, battery performance deteriorates, making it more difficult for your alternator to keep your battery charged. This also has a significant impact on the performance of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars’ regenerative braking systems.
  • Reduced traction. The traction of your tyres on the road is reduced on icy or snow-covered roads, wasting energy.
  • Reduced speed. Safe driving speeds might be significantly lower than typical, lowering fuel efficiency even more, particularly at speeds below 30 to 40 mph.
  • 4×4 systems. Four-wheel drive vehicles consume more gas than RWD or FWD equivalents.

Your mpg might decrease even further in extreme winter conditions.

How to Improve Fuel Efficiency in Cold Conditions

You may not be able to totally eliminate the impact of cold weather on your fuel economy, but there are several easy things you can do to improve your gas mileage.

  • During the winter, park your car in a garage. To raise the initial temperature of your engine and cabin, park your automobile in a warmer location, such as your garage.
  • Combine journeys. When feasible, combine journeys to reduce the number of times you drive with a cold engine.
  • Start the car when your about to leave. Idle your car as little as possible to warm it up. After roughly 30 seconds, most manufacturers advocate slowly driving away. When you drive your car, the engine warms up quicker, allowing the heat to switch on sooner, saving you money on gas and lowering pollution.
  • Reduce use of heaters, defrosters, etc. Seat warmers, heaters, defrosters, etc should only be used when absolutely required.
  • Check tyre pressures. Check the pressure in your tyres on a regular basis, slightly increase in the winter if required.
  • Use correct engine oil. For cold-weather driving, use the oil suggested by your manufacturer.
  • Remove roof racks, bike racks, etc. When not in use, attachments that increase wind resistance, such as roof racks, should be removed.
  • Preheat your hybrid / EV. Preheating the cabin while hooked into the charger might enhance the range of your plug-in hybrid or electric car.
  • Use seat warmers instead of heaters in hybrid / EV. If you drive a plug-in hybrid or electric car, you may conserve energy and increase range by utilising the seat warmers instead of the cabin heater.

The items you need in your automobile due of the weather all require more petrol.

De-misting your windows consumes a lot of petrol. In a smaller vehicle, using the air conditioning may lower fuel economy by as much as 10%.

Using the heaters, windshield wipers, and lights may further raise the burden on your engine by 3%.

When you account for all of the electronics you require during the winter or in a cold climate, such as using your heat warmers, AC / heaters, defrosters, lights, wipers, etc, your engine may be on an extra 10-20% load than on a regular day.

Combined with the colder weather affecting aerodynamics, tyre pressures and all of the additional inefficiencies during colder weather your vehicle is almost certain to use more fuel.

There are also other ways to improve fuel economy.

  • Andy Lewin

    Andy Lewin is a senior mechanic, ASE qualified master technician, and an experienced automotive engineer.He's passionate about serving the automotive community with the highest-quality and trustworthy information on all things automotive. He loves to write about car repairs, maintenance, car modifications and tuning, faults, and much more.

Share this article
Available for Amazon Prime