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AAA Mid-Atlantic sees record number of roadside rescues

This winter has been filled with heavy snowstorms and subfreezing, even subzero, temperatures that have made for brutal commutes and increased wear and tear on car parts.

Calls for emergency roadside assistance surpassed previous records last month for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which covers Maryland, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and the five-county Philadelphia area. Requests reached 222,000 in January, shattering the previous record set in December 2010 by 16,000, according to a AAA Mid-Atlantic news release. The auto club has been keeping tabs on the data since mid-2002, according to spokeswoman Christine Delise.

"Our fleet and contractors throughout the mid-Atlantic region worked tirelessly to rescue stranded motorists throughout the month of January, after several one-two punches (heavy snow and bitter cold) from Old Man Winter," Ragina Cooper-Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic public and government affairs manager, said in the release.

The auto club responded to a daily average of nearly 7,200 roadside assistance requests in January, which was up from 5,900 per day in January 2013, the release states.

About 20,811 of Maryland's total volume of 55,537 emergency roadside assistance events - or 37 percent - were calls for a vehicle to be towed.

Yet calls fielded weren't just from motorists stranded in the snow. About 33 percent of Maryland's requests came for batteries that weren't equipped to handle the extreme cold brought on by the polar vortex in early January and a similar chill experienced last week.

It requires about twice as much current to start an engine in cold weather. A car's battery loses about 60 percent of its strength at zero degrees and loses about 35 percent at 32 degrees, according to AAA's Automotive Research Center.

Eldersburg Car Care Center has seen an atypical increase in battery replacements, likely due to January's subfreezing temperatures, according to service manager Sam Harrison.

About 15 percent of AAA Mid-Atlantic's rescues in Maryland were due to tire problems. Every time the temperature drops another 10 degrees, tire inflation pressure decreases about one to two pounds per square inch, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Taneytown Collision Center has been performing an above average number of tire replacement and coolant-related issues, largely due to the abnormally low temperatures this winter, according to manager John MacDowell.

But the collision center's accident repairs have been par for the course this winter, MacDowell said. And, he said, that's because the snow has been particularly heavy this year, meaning there were fewer drivers than there would have been on the roads during a lighter snow of 1 to 2 inches.

"Usually when it's the heavier snows, you have less accidents versus the ones where everybody thinks, 'Oh, it's not so bad' or the ones that happen when you're at work," he said.

Most of the vehicles he's seen that have been damaged due to weather-related accidents don't actually end up being worked on in the shop. That's because the cars are virtually totaled.

"They'll get towed in because they're not drivable," he said, "and we do an estimate on it, and the cost of repair outweighs the cost of the vehicle."

AAA Mid-Atlantic reminds motorists to keep their car prepped for the snowy, cold weather: Ensure the vehicle has the right level of antifreeze, a strong battery and windshield washer fluid.

"Careful preparation is the key to weathering the wrath of Old Man Winter," Cooper-Averella said in the release.

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