Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cold snap, dead batteries keep CAA crews jumping

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WINNIPEGGERS may want to keep their eyes peeled for deals on extension cords while hunting for Boxing Week bargains.

Liz Peters, public and government affairs manager for CAA Manitoba, said the company has been buried in an avalanche of roadside-assistance calls this week. The culprit in most cases, she said, was a frozen battery.

The company received 546 service calls on Boxing Day alone, Peters said, more than double the daily average of 250.

The number of calls as of noon Thursday was 340. More than half those calls were a result of dead batteries.

Peters said one way to avoid the disappointment of your car not starting is to plug in the engine block heater.

"During the holidays, a lot of people might go to house parties and stay overnight," Peters said. "Have a plan to plug in your car if you plan on being there for four hours or more."

She said the best way to prevent frozen batteries, however, is to be proactive.

"The first thing you should do is get your battery tested before the snow flies."

CAA's wait time was up to five hours by Thursday afternoon as a result of the increased service calls during this week's cold snap.

"That's a lot longer than normal," Peters said, "but we've got lots of staff on hand and lots of people working overtime to make sure our members are getting service as quickly as possible."

The company was so backed up that a recorded message encouraged members who called for service to make arrangements with alternate service providers.

Peters said the procedure is standard policy when things get busy and that members will be reimbursed.

"If there is another towing service or battery service that can help you quicker than us, then we'll absolutely cover that," she said. "Our goal is to make sure people get going as quickly as possible."

Peters said the calls began to pile up on Christmas Eve when the mercury dipped to -29 C. Both Christmas Day and Boxing Day saw lows of -26 C.

The normal high for this time of year is -12 C and the normal low is -23 C.

Peters said if Old Man Winter doesn't loosen his grip over the next couple days, New Year's Day could be another long one.

"If this cold snap continues through New Year's Eve, we're definitely going to have a busy first day of January."

The tipping point for older batteries is around -18 C, when it takes more than half the battery power to start the car, she added.

Plugging in the block heater can give an older battery a fighting chance to start a car in the cold.

"If your battery is old, -18 C or lower is where you're going to start to see problems," Peters said, adding batteries should be replaced about every five years.

"It's a small price to pay for a lot less hassle down the road."

ryan.bowman@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2012 A3

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