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How to keep your vehicle, furnace running during Alberta’s dangerous cold snap

The extreme cold snap across Alberta has wreaked havoc on vehicles, leaving tens of thousands of drivers stranded.

All of Alberta remained under an extreme cold warning on Friday, with temperatures dipping into the -40s and wind chill values plummeting into the -50s.

Keeping your vehicle up and running

The Alberta Motor Association said between Tuesday and Thursday, it received more than 10,000 calls for roadside assistance across the province. This is up to 10 times higher than normal call volumes in some parts of Alberta. The majority of those calls were for dead batteries.

“Cold weather starts is the majority of the calls right now,” said Brandon Klassen, a spokesperson for AMA roadside assistance.

He stressed the importance of plugging in your vehicle when temperatures dip this low.

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“Even if you haven’t plugged your vehicle in and you call a tow truck, still plug it in. It only needs about three to four hours, and then hopefully when we get there it will … start for us. In these extreme temperatures sometimes a boost doesn’t even help.”

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The AMA recommends drivers plug in their vehicles when temperatures dip below -15 C.

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“It’s all preventative. If you can plug your car in, you may not need to call us,” Klassen.

Beyond plugging in your vehicle, Klassen said there are other preventative measures drivers can take with their vehicles before a cold snap happens.

“You should be looking at your battery and should be making sure that your battery is up to snuff getting up to the cold weather. Batteries in Alberta typically last three to five years, so if you’re in that range it’s probably a good idea to start getting it looked at to make sure it’s going to get you started,” he said.

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“Running synthetic oil or a semi-synthetic oil in this weather is also super important. Conventional oil thickens up, so your car won’t turn over. So having that semi-synthetic or synthetic also helps.

Planning for the journey, not just the destination, is also key when it gets this cold.

“Making sure you have an emergency roadside kit in your car with things like a warm blanket, gloves, extra things … in case you do get stranded on the side of the road,” Klassen said.

“We’re Albertans. This is probably not the only cold snap we’re going to see.”

Ensuring your home is protected

The frigid temperatures have also led to issues in people’s homes, with heating companies being slammed with calls for service.

“We’ve been extraordinarily busy,” said Ian Duke, owner of WeatherMakers, an Edmonton heating, plumbing and air conditioning business.

“We’ve been getting tons of calls, getting a lot of people with no heat so they’re stressed and panicking and we’re doing absolutely everything we can to help them out.”

Duke said many people who experience issues with their furnace when it gets frigidly cold likely had the issues prior to it getting really cold, but it’s not apparent to the homeowner.

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“They’re usually intermittent issues,” he explained. “In December when it wasn’t’ very cold, for example, the furnace was probably acting up at that time as well, but because it wasn’t very cold the homeowner really didn’t notice.

“When we get into this time, the furnace can’t keep up because it’s not working exactly right and so they end up getting really cold in the house.”

Click to play video: 'Tips for getting your home and furnace ready for winter'

Tips for getting your home and furnace ready for winter

Many furnace issues can be avoided by regular check-ups and maintenance.

“The key is to get your furnace tuned up and maintenance done on it before the cold weather hits,” he said.

“It hits every year. So expect it, get the furnace tuned up and make sure it’s ready to go for this cold weather. If there’s a problem you just have to call an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) company and get somebody out to help you out.

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“When it’s this cold every HVAC company is booked up so it can be difficult to get help.”

Duke also suggests homeowners replace the batteries in their thermostats and check their furnace filters to make sure they’re clean.

“Once you get behind on cold weather like this, it can take quite a while for the furnace to catch up so you don’t want to have interruption.”

Temperatures are expected to continue to fall through the weekend, with Saturday and Sunday  mornings being the coldest, according to Environment Canada.

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