Tags: automotive, Facebook, green, Hybrid, Prius, slippery, Smart Motors, Snow, snow tires, TRAC, Traction Control, Vehicle Stability Control, VSC
Now that snow finally blankets the land that is a fair question. So how does the Prius handle snow, really? This time of year the winter ‘mannerisms’ of the Prius are regular discussion topics on hybrid owner chat boards. By visiting sites like PriusChat.com you can read the accounts of new drivers and those with 8 to 10 years of winter driving experience in all kinds of weather with the Prius from the Rockies to the nether regions of darkest Canada. The discussion topics on these chat boards range from reduced winter fuel efficiency to the various driver experiences of how well the Prius performs in wintery driving conditions.
The seasonal drop in fuel economy with the onset of winter is a little complex but easily understandable. To start with, air is drier in the winter and cold air reduces the amount of energy that can be extracted from fuel. In addition, winter refinery formulas also reduce fuel efficiency. Any driver of a gas-only vehicle who is paying attention at all, has in all likelihood already noticed a drop in fuel economy. Winter gasoline contains more butane, which according to Gasbuddy.com costs less, but also evaporates at a quicker rate and is more volatile. Other factors, like the higher rolling resistance on your tires caused by snow-packed roadways and frigid wheel bearings contribute to decreased seasonal fuel economy, but in a less noticeable way.
So, all vehicles experience reduced efficiency during the winter. The seasonal cycles with a hybrid such as the Prius are no different. On the hybrid side of the equation, fuel economy takes a hit when the climate control system runs continuously to heat and defrost the cabin. The heater-core in the Prius is supplied with hot anti-freeze which heats up the air passing through it. Just like a normal car. When keeping winter’s cold blasts at bay and maintaining the cabin of your hybrid all warm and toasty you are in effect, asking your gas engine to barely ever shut down. On such days with the climate control running high, the dashboard indicator may show fuel economy in the 34 to 42 mpg range for the Gen. II Prius and 38 to 46 mpg for the Gen. III model. Anecdotal reports say the 50-mpg average of summer may even fall to somewhere between 33 and 40 miles per gallon. That’s not really that much extra gasoline (up to 1 gallon extra every 100 miles), but Prius owners are known for taking their fuel economy seriously.
Further complicating the situation is the reality that battery capacity is reduced in cold weather, so the engine runs more often to top off the hybrid battery pack. The performance of the nickel-metal-hydride high-voltage battery declines somewhat with the colder temperatures (just as it does for regular 12-Volt lead-acid starter batteries). The less time the Prius runs on battery power, the more gas it burns, meaning fuel economy declines.
To say that Prius owners take their fuel economy seriously qualifies as a classic understatement. Fuel efficiency awareness is heightened for the Prius driver dramatically by the Multi-Display Screen on the dashboard. Every little nuance, information you were totally unaware of in your traditional vehicle, is displayed before you at all times. If you had that information in front of you in any other car there is no way you could continue to believe that the effects of winter on fuel economy are minor. Veteran Prius drivers do not let themselves get overly concerned with mpg calculations during the winter season without first considering the effects of cold weather on fuel efficiency. Focus on the ‘big picture’ — the seasons change and soon enough the fuel economy cycle will improve with the warmer temperatures! Remember, if the Prius suffers from reduced fuel economy during the winter months then other, gas-only vehicles are affected too, just to a greater degree!
Other than the palpable reduction of fuel economy that accompanies cold, wintry weather the other most common topic in Prius chat rooms seems to evolve around the winter driving experience itself. Specifically, “How does a smaller car like a Prius handle in the snow?” Comments are all over the board, ranging from those who claim the Prius is one of the best front-wheel drive small cars they have ever driven in snow to those who say it’s nearly useless in the stuff. The majority of the folks commenting on traction issues (pro or con) in these forums own the Gen II Prius (2004-2009 model years).
Gen III Prius Demonstrates TRAC On A Icy Driveway:
Demonstration of Gen III Prius Vehicle Stability Control: