Last winter AMA’s call centre answered 216,377 calls from members. The top three Roadside Assistance requests were for boosts, tows and unlocking doors. For the most part, the calls were routine and the responders were able to get the motorists on their way with little difficulty. That said, over the season, there was a spike in the number of calls that took longer than necessary, and calls that could have been avoided altogether. Read on for three tales of Roadside Assistance calls that were less than routine – and tips on how you can help speed up the system for everyone.
The Buried Minivan
A string of snowstorms hammered the city of Edmonton last winter. Phone calls and online requests for battery boosts and vehicle tows flooded in to AMA’s 24-hour contact centre. Halfway through the season, Joe Morris, automotive services shift lead with AMA’s Calgary fleet, was seconded to Edmonton, with nine other AMA service vehicle operators, to assist with the increased call volume. One day, Morris responded to a call to tow a red minivan whose transmission had failed. When he arrived with a flat deck, he couldn’t even see the vehicle. The street in front of the address was a field of white, with one suspicious bump. A swipe of his snow brush revealed a splash of red; the van had obviously been parked there all winter. “The road hadn’t been cleared of the most recent snowfall and underneath the powder there were two feet of hard-pack,” recalls Morris. So it was no longer a routine call. He struggled to clear the snow off the van, losing his footing and sinking up to his waist. After much maneuvering, Morris managed to clear the way and load the van onto his truck – in an hour and 45 minutes. In other circumstances, he could have dealt with three calls in that time.
How you can help
The responsibility for clearing snow belongs to the driver, not the responder. When AMA responders spend extra time digging out a vehicle, it slows down the system for everyone. So if you’ve called for assistance, clear any snow from on top or around your vehicle and shovel a path so that the AMA service vehicle operator can reach it.
The Drained, Cracked Battery
A 23-year service vehicle operator for AMA, Phil Dykstra routinely answers calls to assist with vehicles suffering from inadequate winter preparation. With amazing accuracy, Dykstra can predict why a particular motorist needs a boost. The most common reason? The temperature has dropped below –15 C and the owners just didn’t plug in their vehicle. A close second: a years-old battery didn’t make it through another cold snap. Regardless, most battery calls could be avoided, says Dykstra. Once he answered a call about a dead battery. It was supposed to be a routine job, but when he looked in the trunk, where the battery resided, he discovered a cracked mess. “It looked like someone had taken a stick of dynamite to it,” he says. Since the car had been parked most of the winter, the owner figured he didn’t need to winterize it. He found out the hard way that the car’s security system had been drawing power the whole time the car had been parked, draining the battery completely. Once the power was drained, the water inside the battery froze and expanded, shattering the casing.
How you can help
If you plan on parking your car for the season, it should still be winterized. Disconnect the battery and store it in a warm place. In the spring, you may have to reprogram the car’s security system. Alternatively, drivers can hook up a CAA Battery Tender or similar product. When the tender detects a low charge, it kicks in and recharges the battery. Also, remember that most batteries have a lifespan of three to five years. If you’re unsure whether your battery will go the distance this winter, take advantage of AMA’s free mobile battery testing service for members. Most important, regardless of the age of your vehicle and battery, plug in when the temperature drops below –15 C.
The Two-Man SUV Unlock
It’s hard to believe that around 300 Albertans lock themselves out of their vehicles every day. But just ask Brad Kelly, AMA Roadside Assistance service vehicle operator. “It’s surprising how many people don’t have an extra key,” says Kelly. “They don’t even have a second one at home.” Last winter, Kelly responded to a call to unlock an SUV in an underground parkade. The call was bumped to the top of the queue because a child was locked in the vehicle. Thankfully, the temperatures weren’t sub-zero and the child was in no immediate danger. While the vehicle was equipped with a communications and diagnostic system that could normally be used to unlock the doors remotely, the system wasn’t working because it couldn’t receive satellite signals underground. Normally, Kelly could have handled the call on his own, but because of the vehicle’s sophisticated security system, it took two AMA service vehicle operators to unlock the doors. As with most luxury vehicles, a series of precise steps had to be taken simultaneously from both sides of the vehicle, a feat only two people can execute. What normally would have taken 10 minutes turned into a two-man, hour-long call.
How you can help
Always keep a spare key at home or with a family member. If your vehicle has a transponder chip key, you may have to visit a dealership to get a new one. Also, be aware that when someone’s life or safety is at stake, AMA responds immediately. This may push other calls back.
Help Us Help You
As much as we love helping our members, we know you’d rather
be on your way. Here are some proactive steps you can take this winter to avoid having to call us:
• Have your battery tested with AMA’s mobile battery service. We’ll come to your house or your workplace, test your battery and, if necessary, replace it. ama.ab.ca/automotive/caa-battery-service
• Plug in your vehicle even if it or your battery is new. Use a Plug Alive, available for purchase at any AMA centre, to check that your block heater and outlet are working.
• Keep an extra set of vehicle keys at home or with a friend or family member.
• Make sure you regularly maintain your car. Check your oil, top up your coolant, test your lights and change your wiper blades.
• Remove your summer tires and make sure you have a good set of winter tires on during the winter.
• Reduce your speed in adverse weather conditions. Speed is a major cause of collisions that result in calls for winching services.
• Check out AMA’s real-time Roadside Assistance Wait Times map at ama.ab.ca/automotive/ roadside-assistance-conditions (pictured above) to find out how long a service call to your area will take.