Tesla Won’t Charge in the Cold – Do this first!

For many Tesla owners, cold weather is inevitable at some stage. If your car won’t charge, it’s not much good as a car. Don’t panic! I’m a mechanic, and we’ll have you back charging shortly.

The most common reason for your Tesla not to charge in the cold is the onboard computers won’t allow it to. Setting up Scheduled Departure and Climate Defrost will permit charging when the temperature drops.

Read on to find out the reasons why your Tesla won’t charge in the cold and how to work around the problem.

Infographic - Tesla won't charge in the cold

Tesla’s Don’t Like the Cold

There’s no denying that Tesla doesn’t like the extreme cold. Teslas are powered by Lithium-Ion batteries. Each cell within the battery contains an ionized liquid. If the temperature is below 0C, then charging is not advised. Allowing your battery to go below 0C continually can cause the cells to freeze.

Activating a charge when your battery is not ready – at the required temperature – can cause the battery liquid to heat from very cold to hot too quickly. If this happens, it can kill your battery. One or two dead cells will not make a huge difference, but if it happens regularly, it won’t be long before your battery will only charge to a certain level or percentage.

Tesla will offer to switch out the dead cells, but the onboard computers will tell them that the battery has been continually below 0C. If you haven’t been looking after your battery or charging incorrectly, then they will charge a service cost. (which could be pretty high).

If it’s very cold, the onboard computer may block the charge if you just plugged in your cable. The computer does this to prevent damage from occurring.

But what if you live somewhere cold? Even for part of the year? They sell Tesla in Scandinavian countries, right? So how do they manage? We’ll look at that next.

Actions to Allow Cold Charging

You must put specific actions in place to allow charging in the cold weather and prevent any damage to your battery.

  1. Defrost Car
  2. Scheduled Departure
  3. AC over DC
  4. Plugged in when not in use

Defrost Car

Tesla cars have a Defrost action

  • Open Tesla App
  • Select Climate
  • Select Defrost Icon

This action will melt any frozen parts on your car—specifically your Charge Port. If your charge port or latch is frozen, this prevents you from accessing the port and charging your car. Hitting the Defrost should allow you to access your port.

Under no circumstances should you pour warm or hot water over the latch to release it. If you can’t unfreeze the cable, then you can release it manually through the trunk.

  • Make sure that no charging is currently taking place
  • Open the trunk
  • Locate the charge port cable and pull downwards to release the cable

The Defrost action will also begin to heat your Li-Ion battery to the required temperature to allow charging to begin.

Scheduled Departure

If you expect cold weather overnight or like the thought of getting into a warm car, then Scheduled Departure is fantastic.

  • Tesla App
  • Climate Controls
  • Preconditioning
  • Schedule
  • Set a Departure Time

Your Tesla will then know what time you are planning to leave and will warm the car sufficiently to allow heating to happen before you sit into it. So what has this to do with charging? Well, your car can’t charge if it’s not hot enough. Scheduled Departure makes the Preconditioning and Defrosting kick in automatically.

It brings the batteries to the correct temperature for charging without any damage.

AC over DC

Charging when the temperature is lower takes a little longer. I know how it feels; I take a little longer in the cold! Your onboard computer measures the outside temperature and adjusts charging levels accordingly.

If your batteries are very cold, no charging might happen at all. This is the case for Supercharging. Supercharging is charging using DC power. Rapid charging generates a much higher temperature in your battery than AC power.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t Supercharge when it’s very cold, but if you need to Supercharge, then you need to let your Tesla know this so it can prepare. Using Trip Planner, select the nearest Supercharger location, and your battery will be prepared for the DC when you reach there.

If you are simply at home, using your AC charging is the best condition in the cold for your battery.

You plug in your Level 1 or Level 2 charger, and nothing happens. Or so you think. If the temperature is below 0C, the charge is, in fact, being used to prepare your batteries. It will eventually begin to charge, but if the Li-Ion is too cold to begin with, then the first 25% of the charge time is used to raise the temperature of the cells so that safe charging can occur.

Level 2 charging is much more efficient for this to happen. The 120V in Level 1 is just not strong enough to get the battery to the correct level.

If you only have a Level 1 at your house, my best advice (only if you have the range) is to get into your car and drive around the block a few times. Driving will warm your battery sufficiently for a proper charge to occur.

Plugged in When Not in Use

Tesla advises that to keep your battery tip-top, you should change your car daily and keep the charge between 20 and 80%. If your Tesla is plugged in at home, your car will charge when needed, even if the temperature is below 0C. It may take longer to charge, but it will happen eventually.

The only thing to watch for is Vampire Drain. Your Tesla battery will naturally discharge about 1% per night. Your computers use this power to ensure the battery is ok and the general car health is good.

If the temperature outside drops below 0C, the computers must work slightly harder to ensure no damage occurs. The computer activity will be more regular, so Vampire Drain may be slightly more significant when the temperature has dropped.

However, if your Tesla is plugged in every night, the battery temperature will be closely monitored, and the charge will be enabled whenever necessary.

I’ve written a ton on common Tesla issues, which hopefully you won’t ever experience, but if you do, we have you covered with these posts:

Check out the Tesla charging page for common Tesla charging problems.

Check out the Tesla troubleshooting page for problem Teslas.

Check out the Tesla category page for a list of popular Tesla posts.

If you are curious about other EV models, check out the EV FAQ category.

John Cunningham

John Cunningham is a technical writer here at EVjuicedup.com. He's a Red Seal qualified Auto Service Technician with over twenty-five years experience working on Classic and Modern Cars. He's worked for GM, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Audi, and VW main dealers.

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