Survey: 7 in 10 Albertans Not Plugging in Their Vehicles When They Should Be

Albertans may be built for the cold but a new survey finds most drivers aren’t prepared for it – and that’s a big problem with temperatures expected to plunge across the province next week.

Turns out, a whopping seven in 10 Albertans don’t follow AMA’s recommendation to plug in their vehicles at -15 C; of that group, 29 per cent wait until -20 C, 11 per cent until -25 C, five per cent until -30 C, and 27 per cent say they never plug in. Just 19 per cent of Albertans dutifully plug in at -15 C, while another eight per cent play it extra safe by plugging in at -10 C (one per cent take no chances and plug in as soon as the mercury dips below zero).

“When it hits -15 C in Alberta, plugging in can mean the difference between an engine that starts and one that doesn’t,” said Ryan Lemont, an AMA Fleet Services manager. “Many people assume that newer vehicles don’t need the extra help, but frigid temperatures are incredibly hard on an engine if the block heater hasn’t been plugged-in.”

One in three people (34 per cent) who don’t plug in say it’s because their vehicle never has a problem starting in cold weather, while 10 per cent say it’s because they have a newer vehicle. Across all respondents, 30 per cent have had a vehicle not start because they didn’t plug it in – despite the fact 87 per cent know where to find their block heater cord.

AMA sees the consequences firsthand.

In the winter, our roadside assistance team sees nearly double the battery-related service calls compared to summer. And during the cold snap of December 2017, we hit a dubious record for both the busiest day of battery problems (2,600+ on Dec 26) and busiest week of battery problems (12,500+ between Dec 26 and Jan 1). The latter is the equivalent of an entire month of winter battery calls, or two months of summer ones.

“During summer, dead batteries are typically due to leaving something turned on – say, your lights – or the battery coming to the end of its lifespan. If we assume behaviours don’t change in wintertime, the huge increase in failing batteries can almost entirely be attributed to weather,” says Lemont. “The weak battery that got you by in the summer can’t turn over a cold engine in the winter – which is why it’s so important to plug in.”

To steer clear of battery woes, AMA recommends:

  • When temperatures dip below -15 C, plug in your vehicle for at least four hours before driving.
  • Use a battery tender if leaving your vehicle un-used for extended periods (for instance, snowbirding or a long vacation). It helps ensure your vehicle will start when you need it again.
  • Watch for signs of a weak battery, such as: engine is slow to turn over; headlights dim while idling; digital systems power down quickly.
  • Get your battery tested regularly after the three-year mark, as most batteries in Alberta last four to six years. Tests are free for AMA members, who also get exclusive pricing on new batteries – along with free delivery and installation.
  • Keep an emergency roadside kit in your vehicle, in addition to such items as a first-aid kit, blanket, warm clothes, phone charger, sand, road salt or kitty litter, ice scraper and snow brush, shovel, flashlight with spare batteries, and food/water.
  • If your vehicle doesn’t have a block heater, switching to synthetic oil in the winter will help the engine turn over.
  • If you have any doubts about your battery’s health on a cold day, consider alternate transportation until a test is completed or new battery is installed. This could save you from being stranded at roadside in extreme temperatures.

The online survey of 2,304 Albertans was fielded by the Alberta Motor Association between Oct 22 and Oct 29, 2018.

About AMA

The Alberta Motor Association (AMA) is among the largest membership organizations in Alberta, representing more than 975,000 members. As a leading advocate for traffic safety, travel and consumer protection and crime prevention, AMA represents the interests of its members to industry and all levels of government and helps protect the things they care about most. Visit to learn more about AMA’s products, services and member advocacy efforts.