COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The warming trend following subzero temperatures this week could create unexpected problems for drivers in addition to those already experienced.
The bitter cold overwhelmed AAA Colorado with five times its normal call volume, according to an AAA service provider. Providers have been working 15-hour days because of the demand for jump starts, tows and flat tires.
Callers had a difficult time calling the AAA help number because it was often busy. Members who requested online assistance were told they'd have to wait as long as three hours .
Nicola Hedges needed help when her car wouldn't start Thursday afternoon in downtown Colorado Springs.
"Actually yesterday it took about 20 minutes to start," she said. "But today, it just wouldn't start."
Kevin Renner of AAA Auto Services determined that the car's problem was a bad starter, not a bad battery. But he says weak batteries are the source of most vehicle breakdowns in cold weather.
"A lot of batteries that are marginal will be working fine throughout the fall and warmer days," he said. "As soon as it drops to these subzero temperatures, that's when they act up."
Renner said thick engine oil and even thick diesel fuel can make a vehicle's engine harder to start in the cold. He recommended steps people can take to avoid such breakdowns.
"Block heaters work perfectly well.," he said. "They actually heat the coolant in your engine block, and almost always will start the next morning. We also have battery warmers, oil warmers, things like that. And you can get anti-gel for diesel fuel."
As the weather warms, it contributes to a freeze-thaw cycle that causes water in crevices to contract and expand, leading to potholes and rock slides.
"We're seeing more potholes on highways," said Kenneth Quintana, a supervisor with the Colorado Department of Transportation. "If it doesn't warm up and we have to get out, we'll do some emergency work."
Quintana said rock slides usually aren't a problem until spring when there's more moisture.
"But we have crews watching for them, just in case," he said. "We've had small ones but nothing major."
Nicola Hedges can't worry about any of that until her car is repaired. She echoed the sentiment of hundreds of Colorado drivers.
"This is going to slow me down," she said. "But, oh well. Hopefully it won't take too long to fix."