Prius in Snow

As winter storms tear through the Midwest and New England, new hybrid drivers are getting their first taste of hybrid driving in frigid weather. The twittersphere is chirping with tweets like, “The Prius and blizzards do not mix!” And “Prius in the snow, not working for me. Any advice?”

For years, some Prius drivers have been complaining about and discussing traction problems in the snow, especially when trying to drive up a steep incline. The conversations usually turn toward the issue of snow tires. Folks driving in tundra conditions, and hypermilers willing to put in extra effort, go even further with techniques such as blocking the grille opening.

Besides traction issues, the biggest complaint is a decrease in fuel economy. In this case, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. All vehicles—not just hybrid cars—get less mileage to the gallon on cold winter days. By most accounts, the drop-off in efficiency is somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. If you’re driving a 15 mpg SUV, you might not notice the drop to 13 mpg. But, if you’ve come to expect 50 mpg from your Prius, and you paid the premium to reach that level, then the drop to the low-40s will seem much more dramatic.

What causes the decrease in fuel economy during the winter? Engines take longer to warm up. Roads covered in snow and ice add resistance. Heaters suck energy. And
winter-blend gasoline is cut with various additives. That all adds up.

What can you do? The same things you should be doing all year round. Combine shorter trips into longer ones. Keep your car maintained and your tire pressure up. Don’t speed. If you can, don’t drive until the road is clear and the day warms up a bit.

Here’s a clear case where hybrid drivers can learn from each other. What are you doing to get through blizzards in your hybrid?