Democracy Dies in Darkness


Bitter cold bites Washington — and takes toll on drivers and their car batteries

By Luz Lazo

January 3, 2018 at 1:20 PM

A car partially covered in ice in Baltimore in 2014. An arctic blast is freezing the Eastern Seaboard this week. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Boy, it’s cold outside, and the Capital Weather Gang is forecasting even more “punishing cold and wind” through Saturday, with a chance of a coat of snow tonight.

Unfortunately, the arctic temperatures can be especially hard on vehicles — and they are already taking a toll on thousands of drivers. Emergency road service calls for dead batteries are on the rise this week, according to the road service group AAA.

AAA Mid-Atlantic said that it responded to more than 19,000 calls for help on Tuesday and that nearly 50 percent of them were related to battery problems. On this freezing Wednesday, AAA has been dispatching more than 550 calls each hour; nearly 7,000 by noon, according to data from AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Related: [D.C.-area forecast: Light coating of snow possible tonight, then punishing cold and wind]

And the numbers could rise given that when the temperature hits zero, a car battery loses about 60 percent of its strength, tires lose pressure in the cold, and gas lines can freeze.

The number of calls over the 10-day year-end holiday travel period, more than 61,000, was 25 percent higher than in the previous year. More than 15,000 of those service calls were in Maryland, 10,746 in Virginia and nearly 2,000 in the District.

Related: [‘Bomb cyclone’ to blast East Coast before polar vortex uncorks tremendous cold late this week]

“The record number of people whose vehicles sat idle while they were away for the year-end holiday coupled with the bitter cold is a mixture that could result in thousands of calls,” said spokesman John Townsend. “Our rescue teams will get to everyone as quickly and safely as possible.”

As temperatures continue to drop, drivers should take every precaution, plan and prepare. AAA Mid-Atlantic offers this advice on how to keep your car up and running in this cold weather:

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.

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