18 January 2019

A tale of weather extremes and ‘smart’ cars: 58,000 Canberrans needed roadside help in 2018

| Glynis Quinlan
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An NRMA patrolman assists a motorist experiencing car battery problems. Photos supplied by the NRMA.

If you found yourself needing NRMA roadside assistance during the past 12 months then you are not alone – more than 58,000 Canberra drivers needed help in 2018 and the biggest reason was flat or dead car batteries.

And you can blame the weather for a number of those problems, with car batteries reacting badly to Canberra’s weather extremes.

According to statistics from the NRMA, there were 58,047 callouts in the ACT in the 2018 calendar year, with problems with vehicle batteries topping the list of reasons for those calls.

Problems with wheels and tyres – and particularly flat tyres – were the second biggest reason for callouts while electrical problems were the third biggest cause.

Vehicle lockouts proved to be the fourth biggest reason for NRMA callouts, while cooling system problems took fifth place.

Canberra NRMA Service Centre patrolman Terry Smith said that Canberra’s big variations in temperature have a bad effect on batteries, often limiting their lifespan to around three years. The increased electronic components in modern cars also impact on batteries.

Canberra’s big variations in temperature have a bad effect on batteries. Pictured is a patrolman helping a motorist with a battery problem.

“Canberra tends to be fairly hard on batteries because of our climate. Batteries don’t like the cold or the heat,” Mr Smith said.

“Where we get big fluctuations in our temperatures is where we tend to get battery failure.

“As vehicles get smarter the demands on the batteries also get harder,” he said.

“As the electronics get more advanced they get more prone to damage.”

Flat tyres are another big reason for callouts, while common electrical problems include starter motor failures and warning lights coming on.

An average of two lockouts a day

Dog terrier is behind the glass car

The NRMA says it will “drop everything” to respond to calls about children or animals locked in cars. File photo.

Mr Smith said that on an average day in Canberra, NRMA patrollers will come to the rescue of at least a couple of children or animals who have been locked in cars.

The NRMA has previously told Region Media that they will “drop everything” to respond to these calls because of the “grave danger involved”.

Mr White said that with children it tends to be the case that parents have “inadvertently” locked them in the car. Again, this can occur because of the ‘smarter’ car systems cutting in – for example, relocking the car after a rear door has been closed – or perhaps because the baby has been given the keys to play with.

Mr White said that increased car technology means vehicles can be hard to unlock but the NRMA has a database that shows them how to get into most cars apart from particular European cars.

“Some of the European vehicles have a deadlocking feature that gets very difficult to get into,” he said.

NRMA says to attend to cooling problems immediately

In terms of cooling system problems, Mr White has a strong warning for Canberra motorists – attend to them immediately.

“As far as cooling systems go, prevention is better than cure. A minor problem can become major quite rapidly.

“It might be a simple radiator or a hose but then it can lead to a catastrophic engine problem within minutes,” he said.

Mr Smith has worked as an NRMA patrolman in the ACT for the past 12 years and each year travels around 50,000 to 60,000 kilometres on ACT roads.

He enjoys his job, saying that everyone is always happy to see him and that “there’s not a lot of jobs where you can be paid to help people”.


Distracted drivers one of the biggest problems

Mr Smith also believes Canberrans tend to maintain their cars reasonably well and thinks Canberra drivers are generally good and “quite courteous” – although there is room for improvement.

driver looking at phone

NRMA patrolman Terry Smith says he sees a lot of drivers using mobile phones. File photo.

“The distracted driver is probably one of the biggest problems,” he said.

“We do see a lot of people on mobile phones.

“A couple of months ago, I was on the Tuggeranong Parkway and I saw a young girl texting on the phone in quite heavy rain and she overtook me and I was doing the speed limit of 100 kilometres an hour. Not too smart.”

Have you needed roadside assistance in the past year? If so let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

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