Altitude Sickness for Cars: Why Traditional Engines Falter at High Altitudes and How Modern EVs Excel

When we speak of altitude sickness, the immediate image is a dizzy hiker gasping for breath at the peak of a mountain. However, this affliction isn’t exclusive to humans or animals. In a mechanical context, traditional combustion engines can also fall prey to this peculiar condition, struggling to function effectively in lofty elevations.

Traditional vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs) work on a basic principle: the engine combines fuel with air, ignites it, and uses the resulting explosion to move the pistons, generating power to propel the vehicle. The heart of the issue at higher altitudes is the significant drop in atmospheric pressure, which leads to a lower concentration of oxygen.

In essence, the engine “gasps” for air, much like a hiker would. Because the air-fuel mixture in the engine becomes leaner with less oxygen, combustion isn’t as effective, leading to a loss in engine power. High altitudes can cause a drop in an ICE vehicle’s horsepower by up to 3% for every 1,000 feet climbed.

Additionally, the fuel used in traditional vehicles often struggles with cold start problems at high altitudes due to its higher volatility. The low temperatures can make it difficult for the fuel to vaporise properly, leading to inefficient combustion.

However, this ‘altitude sickness’ for cars has found its remedy in the form of modern vehicles, particularly electric vehicles (EVs). Unlike their traditional counterparts, EVs aren’t subject to the same issues when travelling up a mountainside.

Electric vehicles operate on a completely different principle. They use electric motors powered by battery packs, negating the need for air-fuel combustion. As there’s no combustion process, the oxygen level doesn’t affect an EV’s performance. This means that even at high altitudes, where oxygen is sparse, an electric vehicle can deliver the same level of performance as it does at sea level.

Moreover, the cold start problem that often plagues traditional vehicles is also absent in EVs. Since EVs don’t need to vaporise fuel to start, the cold temperatures at high altitudes don’t impact their starting capabilities.

However, it’s worth noting that cold temperatures can affect the efficiency of an EV’s battery. As the temperature drops, the chemical reactions inside the battery slow down, potentially reducing its range. Fortunately, most modern EVs come with thermal management systems to keep the battery at an optimal temperature, minimising this effect.

In conclusion, while traditional vehicles might suffer from ‘altitude sickness’, modern electric vehicles are adept at scaling the heights without the same performance drop. EVs negate the combustion process and sidestep the issues of lower oxygen levels and cold start problems, making them a superior choice for high altitude adventures. As we move towards a greener future, the inherent benefits of EVs become increasingly apparent, one of which is their ability to perform effectively regardless of the altitude.

If this has inspired you to switch to an EV for your next mountain trip, come to Sell My Car Essex for a quote to get a fair price for your current vehicle.