Do hybrid cars perform well in cold weather?

Winterizing a Hybrid Car

When weather like this strikes, fuel economy drops for all cars -- hybrid cars included.
When weather like this strikes, fuel economy drops for all cars -- hybrid cars included.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

When cold weather comes calling, there are some trade-offs that hybrid drivers have to make. But when you really think about it, they're the same trade-offs that all car drivers have to make. Sure, cold weather causes hybrids to have a drop in fuel efficiency. But keep in mind that all cars have that same lowered level of efficiency to deal with. Because hybrids are so efficient to begin with, they're still a better green driving option -- even when it's cold out. However, there do happen to be a few steps you can take to winterize your hybrid to make sure that you can continue eco-friendly driving year round.

First, since you know that cold weather is going to make it tough for the engine of every vehicle to warm up -- fuel-efficient vehicles included -- you're going to need to look for ways to gain mileage elsewhere. One easy thing that you can do is keep you hybrid's interior cleaned out -- carrying extra weight in your car's trunk or keeping your ski-rack on the roof year-round negatively impacts a car's efficiency because it takes more power to carry the extra weight. Keep wind resistance in mind too -- that's where taking the ski rack off your vehicle's roof comes in -- but it also means cleaning all of the snow and ice off your car before you head out.

Check the air pressure in your tires as well. Cold causes air molecules to contract, which means that tires can suddenly become under-inflated. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance, which makes it harder for the car to move and it takes a toll on your fuel economy, too. If you live in a snow-prone region and the streets aren't always clear, you may want to bite the bullet and get snow tires for your hybrid. Sure, you'll lose some fuel efficiency, but you'll gain stability. Plus, you may even be able to make up some of the loss in fuel economy by altering your driving style to be as efficient as possible.

Finally, as with any car or truck, use common sense when driving in snow and ice. Learn how to drive out of a skid or a fish tail, and keep a small winter emergency kit in your car. A small bag of sand or kitty litter and a shovel can often help get your car unstuck, and while the extra weight won't help your fuel economy much, if you get stranded, you'll be awfully glad you had it. Also, keep a close eye on all of your car's fluid levels -- especially anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid -- and top them off if they start to get low.

For more information about hybrid cars and other related topics, follow the links below.

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  • "The Hybrid Car Battery: A Definitive Guide." Nov. 6, 2008. (May 18, 2009)
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  • Jones, Benjamin. "EPA Ratings vs. Cold Weather: What to Believe?" March 22, 2009. (May 18, 2009)
  • "9 reasons why your winter fuel economy bites!" Nov. 12, 2005. (May 18, 2009)