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CAA's main message: plug in

Frigid spell brings huge increase in calls

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Though the weather outside is frightful and getting towed isn't so delightful, the typically tedious process has been made more difficult recently thanks to the lengthy cold snap Winnipeggers have been enduring.

CAA has received between 800 and 1,000 calls per day in December when temperatures have dipped below -30 C, says corporate manager of communications Liz Peters.

That's a significant increase from the number of calls received on an average winter day in the city -- usually between 250 and 350 -- and a heavy load for CAA Winnipeg's 35 service vehicles to handle.

The city's been in a deep-freeze for about three weeks, starting Dec. 5, said Environment Canada's warning preparedness meteorologist Natalie Hasell.

Hasell said frigid spells like these don't usually happen until after Christmas, but this one should ease up slightly between Tuesday and Saturday.

And regardless of the warming temperatures, Hasell recommends the people of Winnipeg still plug in their cars.

"If your car isn't plugged in and if it's a slightly older car, it will be more susceptible to having trouble starting or engine flooding," said Hasell.

John Tennent, owner of Crane Towing, said there's a widespread misconception that newer cars don't need to be plugged in either.

"A lot of (people) say 'It's a new car, I don't have to plug it in,'" said Tennent. "Younger people, they're just too lazy to plug it in and older people think it's like back in the day and their car will start up."

"When it's this cold, start your car at least every eight hours," Tennent advised.

Peters said wait times for service calls with CAA have been taking at least an hour and a half in the past few weeks.

She said the majority of calls received are for battery boosts.

"It's inevitable at this time of year that people will either forget to plug in or their battery is a little old," she said, noting a battery that's anywhere from three to five years old could use replacing depending on its make.

"Doing other things like plugging in keeps the internal components (of your car) a little warmer. It's giving your car a hand so it's not completely rock-solid in the morning."

Peters recommends getting seasonal oil changes in May and October as well, opting for a synthetic oil change in the fall in anticipation of the colder months ahead.

"(Synthetic oil) is a different consistency and doesn't freeze as easily," Peters explained.

Tennent said the recent spike in business has "been brutal" for Crane Towing.

Service calls have been taking three to four hours, while tows can take four to eight hours.

"On an average day we would do 100 to 150 (calls). It's up to 350 to 450 a day right now," he said.

Overall, patience and proper vehicle maintenance are key for drivers in these blustery conditions.

"When it's like this there's honestly not enough tow trucks in the city to keep up with the demand. It's only like that for a couple of weeks of the year usually, but this year's been a grind," Tennent said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2013 B1

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