How Do Electric Car’s AC & Heat Systems Work? (Explained)

Electric vehicles are undeniably the most practical substitutes for conventional cars using internal combustion. Because of their different configurations, specific functions like the AC and heating systems work differently.

This article explains the AC & heat systems in electric cars and their differences compared to internal-combustion engine vehicles.

How The AC & Heat Systems In Electric Vehicles Work

An electric motor provides power to all-electric cars’ AC and heat systems. Similar to how a kitchen refrigerator works. The energy storage source provides sufficient power for the AC system. The chilled air passes through the vents from the ESS positioned at the back to the front-positioned AC system.

The simplicity and efficiency of the AC function in electric cars have seen manufacturers consider the same configuration on conventional vehicles.

It might help reduce the fuel spent and reduce the carbon footprint left.

It would help to understand that using AC in your electric car impacts the vehicle’s range, so try limiting its use.

Does AC Work Differently In Electric Cars?

AC in electric cars works differently from that in internal-combustion engine vehicles.

The configuration found in EVs guarantees efficiency, longevity, and reliability, attracting more drivers to their units.

Transitioning from internal combustion to battery-powered vehicles helps save you fuel money and contributes to a greener earth.

Internal-combustion engine cars use the engine as a power source for all the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning needs.

On the other hand, electric vehicles have no engine to provide power.

Instead, they use battery power to guarantee controlled temperatures in the vehicle’s cabin. Almost all the functions in your EV heavily rely on how much energy your battery can store.

Electric vehicles from Tesla use an AC compressor powered by an Energy Storage System. We have more here on how Teslas generate heat.

The function cools some air in the independent chilling unit and distributes it to different cabin sections through vents.

We recommend paying close attention to how using your AC in an EV affects the engine performance and adjusting your driving routine accordingly.

Does Heating Work Differently in Electric Cars?

The heating function is a significant consideration when getting a new car.

All-electric cars have a heating function to help regulate the cabin’s temperature in cold periods. While conventional vehicles re-use the engine exhaust heat to heat the cabin, EVs get their heat from their battery.

The heating function also varies with different brand manufacturers.

It would help to confirm with your dealership the battery capacity of your vehicle and how much heat it can guarantee.

Once the electrical heater generates the heat, it distributes the warm air through vents to your cabin. Note that your heater use is directly proportional to the power consumption on your battery, and the longer it is on, the faster your battery capacity depreciates.

Heat Pump Cabin Heater In Electric Vehicles

We’ve looked at 8 cheap electric cars with heat pumps.

The Nissan Leaf is one of those.

The heat-pump cabin heater is a worthy alternative to conventional AC systems and was introduced by the Nissan Leaf.

This configuration is effective in heating your car’s interior and provides opportunities for drivers to avoid energy depletion. Heating is achieved by using the temperature difference between a refrigerant and the cool air outside.

It allows you to keep your cabin warm by using less power for heating.

Once you turn on the heating function, heat from the outside atmosphere gets absorbed by the external capacitor. This heat gets transferred into the cabin using power from the consumption pump.

It means you relieve some pressure on your battery by consuming less energy for heating, allowing you to drive long distances.

To preserve your battery energy, you should probably consider the heat-pump cabin heater.

You get to set the ideal temperatures, switch between cooler and heater effortlessly, and adjust the compression ratio to accommodate your passengers.

Regardless of your EV’s heating configuration, you are guaranteed a proper temperature during your drive.

Do All Electric Cars Have AC & Heating?

All-electric cars have an AC and heating system; their configuration is what differs.

For example, Tesla uses resistive heating elements while the Nissan Leaf uses the heat-pump cabin heater.

The amount of heat produced and how fast it consumes battery power are factors that differentiate electric vehicles’ AC and heating systems.

Can Electric Cars Heat And Cool When Parked?

Even when parked, you can use your electric car’s heating and cooling features.

It is possible since your AC configuration derives its power from the vehicle’s battery, not a running engine.

This feature has made it even easier for drivers to carry their pets on shopping trips as you can activate dog mode to regulate the temperature.

How long you can leave your AC depends on several factors, from your unit model to the temperature outside.

The firmware in most EVs cuts power to the AC once the battery capacity reaches 20%.

It means if you had a 75kWh battery fully charged, you would have 60kWh for the AC and other electronics in the car.

Do Electric Cars Have Instant Heat?

Electric cars do not have instant heat, but the time it takes to heat your cabin is not that long.

It will take between 5 minutes to two hours for your cabin to heat up.

It depends on factors like your battery capacity, outside temperature, and AC configuration. Your EV might take longer to heat during winter because of the low temperatures experienced.

How Quickly Does The AC Work In Electric Cars?

The AC in your electric vehicle should not exceed two hours of waiting time to heat your cabin.

The heating function is a fast and seamless process and only delays when there are issues with your battery.

If your EV is low on battery, you will need to recharge it before enjoying the heating and cooling features.

How Much Battery Does Heating And Cooling Use?

The heating and cooling function in your electric vehicle does not consume much electricity from your battery.

It could range anywhere between 1-2 kW to slightly above 5kW.

The primary determinant of how much your battery will be consumed depends on the environment’s temperature. If the battery is very cold, you should allow some minutes for the resistive heater to warm up.

What To Know About AC In Electric Vehicles During Winter?

Winter is a challenging season for all-electric vehicle drivers, putting their batteries to various reliability tests.

During winter, the EV consumes more power and depletes the battery faster to provide smooth performance. It is easier and safer to drive your electric car despite the reduced overall range. 

Here is everything to know to guarantee you a more immersive experience with your EV in the winter:

Driving In Snow

Driving an electric vehicle in snow is safer than most conventional units.

You are less likely to slip when accelerating since EVs have an ultra-smooth motor with no gears. Another aspect of its safety is the narrow eco tires fitted to most electric cars, which provide a solid grip on slippery roads.

However, the performance might deteriorate when the AC function is activated to save on battery power.

The regenerative braking feature also helps maintain stability when on ice and helps recharge the battery for improved performance.

Although the regenerative braking varies with models, you are guaranteed significantly smoother and safer braking.


The range your electric car guarantees you decreases as the temperatures drop.

The main reason for this is increased use of in-car lighting and heating, compromising battery performance.

Although the range decreases, it still exceeds the typical driving distance for most drivers.

Keeping Warm Interiors

Your AC function is vital in keeping a moderate temperature in your EV’s cabin.

These vehicles feature effective cabin heaters that heat the interior regardless of outside temperatures.

However, cabin heaters are the biggest drainers of battery power in EVs.

You can use the pre-heat feature to avoid reducing the range your batteries can provide. This feature allows car owners to heat their interiors while charging.

You will need to activate the feature before plugging into your car, and it will help keep a warm interior without draining your batteries.

How Are Electric Vehicles Cooled And Heated?

Electric vehicles cool and heat using a cooling loop.

The loop includes an ethylene glycol coolant which circulates through the entire vehicle. It passes through the batteries and other electronic components using an electric pump.

A radiator is also included in the loop and serves to release hot air outside.

How Long Can You Heat Your Electric Vehicle?

In most electric vehicles, the heat function cannot exceed forty-eight hours.

Your battery pack is a significant factor to consider when answering this question. Units with a 24kWh battery pack can continuously run a heater for 24 hours before draining.

You can heat your interiors for over 3 days in the Tesla Model S and other units manufactured after.


Electric vehicles’ AC and heat systems differ significantly from internal combustion engine cars.

Reading through our article, you can learn more about these differences and what they mean to the vehicle operation.

It will help manage your car batteries better and avoid getting stuck on the road.


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