Cars

Are there added risks to being stranded in the cold inside an electric vehicle?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader concerned about being stranded in an EV.

Photo by KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images

Q. I often see reports during snow storms of people being stuck or stranded inside their vehicles during severe weather. Often discussed are the dangers of freezing after running out of fuel while stranded. I see no mention of people in electric vehicles running out of electricity. How long will the battery keep an electric vehicle warm? Also, when help finally comes, it doesn’t seem that tow truck drivers would be able to do anything to help an electric vehicle other than tow it away to be charged. Is this the future we have to look forward to?

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A. Before heading out, it’s always best to have at least a half a tank of fuel. A gasoline vehicle with seven gallons of gas in the tank would have up to 20 hours of engine operation if the engine is used to just keep the car warm. With an electric vehicle, I have seen reports that an EV with a charged battery can operate anywhere from 15-24 hours to keep the cabin warm. At AAA we are testing mobile electric vehicle charging now. At this point it is the equivalent of a portable level II charger that provides (depending on the vehicle) about one mile per minute of charging. In the future we are also looking at EV to EV recharging, which could offer even faster charge times. 

Q. I have a 2011 SCION xD with 160,000 miles. I was at the Toyota dealer, and they found excessive play in rear wheel bearings. They told me the cost to replace the bearings would be $2,160. They also noted the front struts were leaking, and quoted me $2,152 to replace the struts. Are these things I need to deal with right away?   

A. Worn wheel bearings are usually identified by noise, movement, and sometimes an ABS light.  If the wheel bearings are worn, they should be replaced. These are sealed units, should have no movement when checked, and should be quiet when the wheels are turning. The struts, to some extent, are more of a comfort issue, unless they are badly worn. Regarding cost, the hub and bearing assembly from Toyota are almost $500 each. If you were trying to save some money, you could use a quality aftermarket part, which is about half the price. 

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Q. I drive a 2013 Hyundai Elantra. I have been taking it to a dealer for oil changes to make sure the warranty is maintained. They have been great for years, but they had staffing changes. When I got home, I checked the fill when it was cold. The level was up onto the round part of the dipstick. I called and spoke to the service manager. He told me it was fine to be that full. I then checked my wife’s 2009 Elantra which they did about 6 months before. It was also way overfull. Would you mind weighing in on this, please? 

A. I believe oil level is extremely important. The proper oil refilling procedure on your car would be to add four quarts of oil, start the car, check the oil and then add oil to the full mark. Regarding checking the oil, the proper procedure is to get the engine up to operating temperature, shut it off, let it sit a couple of minutes (to allow the oil to drain back into the oil pan), and then check the oil. 

Q. I have a 2009 Toyota Matrix with only about 29,500 miles on it. I always use regular gas, but once in a while I fill it with the next grade or super for a treat. I find the car a bit peppier when I do, but it’s good with regular gas also. Any harm or benefit to this?

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A. At AAA we have tested using premium fuel in cars that don’t require it and found no difference in performance. One reason you may see some performance difference is a combination of low mileage and age may have caused a carbon build up in the combustion chamber, essentially raising the engine compression slightly. The higher-octane fuel helps prevent engine detonation and adds a little pep. Better would be to use TopTier fuel (toptiergas.com) which has extra additives to help clean carbon deposits that build up in the engine. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected] Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at northshore1049.com.

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