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Extreme Cold Has AAA Tow Trucks Busy Rescuing Stranded Drivers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- In this deep freeze, about the last place you want to find yourself standing on the side of the road, trying to fix a broken-down car.

As tough as the cold weather is on people, it's also tough on their cars. Many people haven't started their cars in 24 to 36 hours, and when they try, they might find their locks are frozen, or their batteries are dead.

That's when many people find themselves calling AAA, which has been very busy helping stranded motorists.

"Our calls are up about 150 percent year-over-year," AAA Chicago spokeswoman Beth Mosher said.

Thursday morning alone, calls were up more than 450 percent over last Jan. 31. The main culprits have been dead batteries and flat tires.

"Battery power gets zapped in this cold weather. So we're seeing a lot of dead batteries," Mosher said. "Tire pressure really is affected a lot by this cold weather."

In order to safeguard customers, drivers, and tow truck operators, AAA is only responding to serious emergencies.

"We really want to help those who are stuck in the elements first. If you're warm and safe in your home, we will get to you, but it may not be today," Mosher said.

It's something AAA tow truck operator Alfonso Gray appreciates. His eyes were tearing up and his fingers were well past numb as he waited towed away a Jeep after it was involved in a three-car wreck.

"It's brutal out here," he said.

His job is much harder than usual in the cold, and not just because of how cold he feels. It's also hard on his truck.

"The bed moves slow, because hydraulic lines freeze up because of the temperature," he said.

The Jeep driver didn't want to go on camera, but he was fortunate enough to wait in the back seat of a warm car as Gray hooked up his vehicle.

That's why Gray said all drivers should fill up their gas tanks, and have a cold weather survival kit when they drive in extreme cold.

"Be prepared. Make sure you carry your blankets. Dress warm. You never know what may happen," Gray said.

If you haven't started your car in a day or so, you should probably try to do so today, and ideally you should let it run until you feel heat coming out of the vents. In temperatures like this, that can take several minutes.

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