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Why Is The Fuel Economy Lower During Winter?

Nobody can escape the winter season–or any cold weather. We will experience them whether we like it or not. 

For drivers, they should be wary about this matter. After all, driving in the frigid conditions can significantly lower your fuel economy. 

Various fuel economy tests show that the conventional gas mileage is almost 15% lower at 20 degrees Fahrenheit than it would be at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. It can even go as low as 24% for three to four-mile trips. 

The effect of temperature is more significant in hybrid cars. Their fuel economy typically drops 30% to 35% on the same conditions mentioned above. Electric vehicles are not exempted from this. Their fuel economy drops to 39% in mixed city driving. Two-thirds of the energy of these EVs are used in heating the cabin. 

Moreover, the effects of the cold weather can vary by the model of the vehicle. However, you should at least expect that conventional gasoline vehicles can suffer from a 20% loss of their fuel economy when driving in cities and 33% loss when driving in short excursions. 

Hybrids, on the other hand, experience a decrease of up to 40% in city driving, 45% on short trips. If the cabin heater is not switched on, these electric vehicles only suffer from an 8% reduction in their fuel economy under the temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why Is The Fuel Economy Lower In Winter?

Many are not aware that the cold weather is affecting their vehicles more than what they have expected. Of course, there are a plethora of reasons for that. 


  • Transmission and engine friction are actually increasing in cold temperatures because the oil that regulates them gets cold. Oil works best when it is slightly heated. Freezing oil and other in-line fluids are not suitable for your car parts. 


  • When it is cold, the engine will have a difficult time achieving the most fuel-efficient temperature. Heat is actually essential for the optimal operation of your car. This one affects short travel since your vehicle is running even if the engine has not yet attained the optimal temperatures for its operation. 


  • Window defrosters, heater fans, and heated seats consume power. Naturally, that would affect the performance of your vehicle. 


  • Warming your vehicle before you start driving, also lowers the fuel economy. Keep in mind that idling while the engine is running can get you 0 miles per gallon. 


  • Cold air is denser than warm air. Hence, it will increase the aerodynamic drag on any car, especially when driving at high speeds. There’s always a reason why we are prohibited from going fast when it is raining or snowing.


  • Tire pressure also lowers during the cold season. This means that the rolling resistance of the tires increases, too. This can cause extra fuel consumption. 


  • It is also worthy of considering that the winter-grade versions of fuel have lower energy per gallon than their summer blend counterparts. Winter blend fuels are designed to ensure that the vehicles have a reliable power source during the cold season. However, some aspects of the fuel have already been adjusted to ensure that it can work on cold weather.


  • Moreover, the battery performance of your vehicle will automatically decrease in winter and cold conditions. Because of this, it is more difficult for your alternator to keep the car’s battery to be fully charged. Of course, this will affect the performance of hybrid and electric vehicles, especially on their regenerative braking system. 


  • Roads that are covered by ice easily decrease the grip of the tires on the road. Your vehicle will spend more energy to prevent you from swaying and swerving on the road. 


  • There are designated driving speeds on slick and slippery roads. Typically, they are lower than the “normal” season. Keep in mind that when you drive slow, your fuel economy decreases, too. This is especially true if your speed does not exceed 40 miles per hour. 


  • One should know that four-wheel drives utilize more fuel than two-wheel drives.