For many Montana drivers, it's the winter that causes the most anxiety about switching over to an electric truck or car.

But this summer's heatwave is starting to show that very hot conditions could be just as problematic to getting your fancy enviro wheels out of the parking spot.

And it's not a case of losing power or performance, except when it comes to the biggest performance metric of all, namely the range you get to drive in a very big state.

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Over the past few years, the range of the latest EVs has improved. Three or four years ago, a drive from Missoula to Kalispell and back would have been a panicked affair, as most electric cars weren't capable of a lot more than 250 miles.

But this year, several models, albeit expensive ones, can consistently take you more than 350 miles, with some topping 500.

Trucks are still more of a challenge, especially if you want to tow a trailer or boat. But generally, one with a larger battery like the Ford Lightning should get you to Laurel from Missoula, but at 320 miles you'd have to stop for coffee and a charge before reaching Billings.

Photo by myenergi on Unsplash
Photo by myenergi on Unsplash

Still weather-induced range anxiety is real

It's well-known cold can be a battery killer. However, the few folks I know who own EVs have told me they did okay during a Montana winter, even when we dropped well below zero, although most were using their cars for shorter, in-town commutes. Still, the general guideline to expect some range fall-off in the cold.

Now we are learning heat is bad too

The website Recurrent, which does battery research on electric vehicles, now reports extreme summer heat is a problem too, sapping power because the batteries have to work harder to operate and stay cool. A survey of 7,500 cars showed the fall-off isn't bad on a moderately warm day. Maybe between 2-3% when temperatures are in the 80s. But that climbs quickly, to as much as a 15% hit in the mid-90s like we've been having lately. And 20% or more when you hit 100 degrees.

So that 100-mile range you're counting on would drop to 80 miles. About the same as in extreme cold. 

The data is still limited to above 100 degrees, but Recurrent found range loss could exceed 30%.

If there's good news here, it's that you don't have to cut the A/C to try and increase the range as you struggle to reach the next Montana charging point. At least not at our "normal" 80-90 degrees. However, Recurrent says it's smart to "pre-cool" your car while it's still plugged in.

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