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This morning, I had to travel to Dumfries, some 55 miles each way, along the A70 and A76. Unfortunately I developed some car trouble along the way, and I was once again in need of some assistance from "A Man who Can". It had been a little while since I last contact the AA, and I was observant of some new touches to their service, which inspired me to write this review.
I have had AA membership since before I could drive actually. This is because I actually worked for the AA for 5.5 years, between 1987 and 1993. I worked in the Insurance division, but I did get free AA membership, despite the fact that I came under their employ one month before I passed my driving test in 1987. Since I left the AA I have had almost continuous membership cover, initially through a new Rover which I bought in 1994, but I have continued with it ever since.
This Morning's Experience -------------------------------- I was on my way to an important appointment 55 miles away, and about ¾ of the way there, I noticed I seemed to be getting a lot of noise and vibration from my wheels. I assumed it was a brake problem. I am due to have new brake pads fitted, but the ones ordered from the garage were not the correct ones, and my hubby was unable to complete this job. He did take the front wheel off on Sunday afternoon though, when he began the job……..
Anyway, I made it to my meeting, and began to drive back. I was uncomfortable with the clattering and banging going on in the car, and so I telephoned the aforementioned hubby at work, and described the problem. (He was a motor mechanic in a previous life, for Rover, not the AA, incidentally.)
He advised I checked the wheel nuts to make sure that they were tight. This I did, and found that one was extremely loose, so I tightened it up. (Something he should have checked on Sunday..lol) However, when I set off again, it did not make any difference. It was time to call out the AA. Between my description of the fault; and his telephone diagnostic technique we had decided in our wisdom that it was a rear brake problem.
Ringing the AA in an emergency is easy. It is a free-phone number 0800 887766. There is a simple automate message up front, asking to confirm that it is breakdown services you require. I was immediately transferred to an operator.
As is always the case, when you need it, I did not have my membership card with me. The reason was because I had done an on line insurance quotation for hubby's motor insurance two days ago, and required the card to input my membership number. My card was…sitting by the PC. This wasn't a problem, and the operator was able to quickly access my membership details, via my surname and address, with my Date of Birth as confirmation of my identity.
I described my problem, and at the end of the call, she confirmed the time, and confirmed that a patrol would be with me within the hour. She also advised that they would regularly update me with SMS text messaging, as to the patrol's progress, and asked me if I would like her to make any calls to anyone to advise them of my delay. A nice touch, although I did not require it as I had my mobile anyway.
I left the car and walked to a nearby petrol station a few minutes away to grab a coffee. Within five minutes the AA called me back and confirmed that it would be a local agent who would attend to my breakdown, and gave me the details of the garage. He advised that the patrol man would be there within 20 minutes, and again asked if there was anything else they could do for me.
The local agent arrived bang on time, and had me on my way again within fifteen minutes. Two minutes after the patrol arrived, the AA breakdown service dept phoned me for a second time, and asked me if I was OK, which I confirmed in the affirmative. What I particularly liked was the genuineness and concern for my welfare shown by all three operators I spoke to, and trust me - as a previous Customer Service Manager/Director I am more difficult to please than most. (I had not advised that I was a female travelling alone, something I would have done if it had been dark or I felt vulnerable in any way). Female drivers often take priority, and I genuinely felt that the staff had my break down as the most important one that they needed to deal with that day. You may feel that sending an agent patrol out instead of their own isn't good customer service, but as with all things I see it as a matter of supply and demand, and it is obviously more cost effective to cover rural areas with such supplementary patrols, rather than relying on their own to cover long distances over slow A and B roads. Incidentally the AA have twice the amount of their own patrols than any other breakdown organisation in the UK.
Previous Experiences -------------------------- In the last five years, I have called the AA out on two other occasions, and received great service both times, although without the little finishing touches that were received today. I broke down on the same stretch of road in 1998, only that time it was dark and in the deep of winter. I was attended to well within the hour, and once again it was via a partner company, only that time the AA had not telephoned me to let me know in advance. However, as the patrol had my name, I was reassured with their presence.
The other time I required their assistance was my own silly fault! I had gone to work and parked my car in the basement overnight, as I was going out for a leaving drink. The next day I went back and found I had left the interior light on, and had a flat battery. The service was prompt and efficient despite it being a bank holiday.
Membership packages --------------------------- Membership packages start from £40 for single membership, although this policy is the most basic and will only cover you if you break down away from home. You will not be covered if your car needs to be relayed to your home destination either, but will be taken to the nearest garage, if your car cannot be repaired at the roadside.
Adding the relay services pushes the premium up to £79 for a single person. Adding Homestart pushes the payment up to £112 and the Rolls Royce of cover also includes the Relay Plus option. This increases the amount to £141 for a single person, but covers you for car hire for two days, or overnight accommodation, depending on your circumstances. These different levels of cover are now branded Option 100 for the most basic to Option 400 to the most comprehensive.
You can also opt for joint cover, which works in at approximately £20 more than single cover. With the AA, the driver is covered and not the car, and so you can be driving in any car, not your own, and still be covered. You can actually opt for a Vehicle based cover, where any driver is covered for one vehicle too, if you prefer that option.
Family memberships are also available, and these are great value if there are several drivers in a household. You can include up to two children under 21, providing they reside at the same address. This option costs between £96 for Option 100, to £209 for Option 400.
It is also worth noting that these prices quoted are for continuous cover. This means that you authorise the AA to take an annual direct debit for your membership each year. One off, annual memberships do cost slightly more.
You can opt for monthly payments for your membership, but this does incur an interest charge, currently over 24% APR.
The AA is now part of the Centrica group, and it is possible to part pay for membership with reward points from the Goldfish credit card, which is another member of the group.
The AA offers a wide range of motoring related services for members and non members, including detailed route planning on line, car inspections, loans, European breakdown cover, accommodation bookings and insurance. Being a member qualifies for you for selected discounts on additional services, with up to 7.5% discount on some of their car insurance panel.
Their website is www.theaa.com, and many services can be booked and paid for on-line.