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As any of you who have read my last review will know, on New Years Day, I had the misfortune to break my ankle whilst visiting my parents in law in the far south east of Poland. This unfortunate event took place two days before we were due to drive back to England, obviously that journey was to become somewhat delayed.
The last journey indeed to date, four weeks later, that I made in our own car was in the front passenger seat, being driven to the general hospital in Mielec by a brave uncle of my wife's. Brave, because he is not a young man, had never driven a right hand drive car before and is used to driving a very much smaller and less powerful car than my Honda Accord. Additionally the road conditions were appalling; the snow on the roads, which had during the day started a gentle thaw, was now, after dark, re-freezing. Never mind we arrived at the hospital safely enough.
He drove home in my car, locking it away in his own garage and for twenty-four hours I did not give the car a second thought. As you have already read, my first priority, on the afternoon after the operation, was to contact our travel insurance company - Club Direct, subject of that previous review. Mrs R. returned from the hospital to her parent's home to do just that.
On calling Club Direct, my wife was told that, following my release from hospital, we would both be flown home. Very good, BUT, there was a complication! We DROVE out to Poland for Christmas, exactly as we have done for the last three years. If we fly back what was to happen to my (company) car?
Having been told by my wife that she does not hold a driving licence, Doriana, Club Direct's operator, asked her if we had any European breakdown assistance cover for the car. Mrs R. thought about this for a second and replied:
"I know that our Honda has a three year guarantee and my husband has told me that this does cover European breakdown."
"If that is the case, your European breakdown cover will include the recovery of the car to England under these circumstances." Doriana replied.
My wife recalled this conversation to me in my hospital bed, all we needed to do was to contact uncle, whose garage the car was in, to obtain the number of Hondacare which is printed on the back of the tax disc holder. The following evening when they visited me in hospital, regrettably he had failed to locate the number. Incredibly whilst they were at my bedside - a stroke of luck, by complete chance, I received a (sales) call on the mobile from my Honda dealer in Chiswick! The salesman said that no, he didn't have the number to hand, but that he would get back to me with it as soon as he could.
Five minutes later, true to his word the phone rang and I had the AA European Breakdown Assistance number in Germany! Honda Chiswick earned themselves a LOT of loyalty bonus points that evening!
As a compete aside here, a spot of "gallows humour" you could say, the salesman had originally called to enthusiastically offer me a test drive in the newly launched Honda Civic, he had just been issued with a new diesel demonstrator. It doesn't sound as funny now, as it did to me there and then in my hospital bed, but my reply was that:
Pictures of AA
In happier times........at home with the car!
love to, only there is a small problem right now.""Oh, what's that?"
"I am, as we speak lying in a Polish hospital bed, I will not be able to walk for three months, you see I broke my ankle on New Years Day"
A very quick change of track on the part of the salesman:
"Which foot is it?"
"My clutch leg!"
"Oh maybe you could be doing with an automatic then!"
Sorry, back on topic!
The company's insurance broker in England had already confirmed that the car was covered by insurance if it was to be left out in Poland following our return. He had never heard of a policy that covered the return of a car to the UK under such circumstances. As far as I was concerned, if there was any chance of getting the car returned then I was going to take it.
After all, once my leg is taken out of plaster, would I really want my first driving experience to be an 1150 mile dash back across Europe?
Probably not the best idea!
The car however, we agreed, was not our first priority and could wait until I came out of hospital. On the day after I was released, I called the number in Germany to find out if our information regarding the transportation of the car home was correct.
The operator was unable to give me an answer on the spot, they took my car details and promised to call me back, reading back to me the Polish number on which I had made the call - which had also apparently given them a location fix - impressive stuff. Especially if you have just broken down in the wilds of Eastern Europe, and are unable to pronounce the place name, EVEN if you do happen to know where you are!
Half an hour later I had a call back from a different operator at AA European HQ in Germany to say that yes, indeed my car could be transported home under the Hondacare Guarantee, the service being entirely handled and administered by the AA in Germany. He told me that his name was Oscar and gave me a case reference number, also that he would be in touch to make further arrangements once they had decided how best to arrange transportation of the car. Either it would be put on a trailer and taken home, or a "chauffeur" would be sent out to Poland from England to drive it home.
In total, I spoke to three different AA operators in Germany, all spoke excellent English, were extremely polite and, most importantly, did exactly what they said they would and when they said they would do it!
My first contact with the AA had been on Tuesday 10th January, on Friday of that week I received a call to say that they were sending out a chauffeur to collect the car on Tuesday 17th and that he would be with us at between 8.00 and 9.00 in the morning. They named the driver as "Steve" and said that he worked for a company called Medicar, who specialise in recovering cars from all over Europe - they also ambulance patients back to the UK using their own vehicles.
I was asked if there was a return ferry ticket in the car - which there was, would I be agreeable to him using this? Who was I to say no, under the circumstances? I checked on their insurance cover, i.e was mine or theirs covering the journey (theirs was) and asked if I would receive a bill for the fuel (no that too was covered!).
Fortunately my parents-in-law are early risers, father setting out for work at 6.30 in the winter. My wife and I were still in bed when the doorbell rang at 6.15! My father-in-law let in the English speaking stranger, who was obviously rather cold, it was -16degC outside after all!
My wife and I dressed hurriedly whilst Steve was sat down, made welcome and plied with hot tea. We had assumed that he would have stayed in a local hotel overnight, prior to collecting our car in the morning, but no. He had been flown into Wroclaw on the western side of Poland; waited four hours at the train station there and then had a first class ticket on an overnight sleeper train depositing him at Debica, approximately thirty miles to the south of Mielec. From there he had to make two bus connections, all without speaking a word of Polish or ever having visited the country before.
I was full of admiration for this most resourceful man, I do not think that I would ever have found Mrs R's parents place unaided on my own, especially in these arctic temperatures and during the night. I had absolutely no qualms about Steve finding his way home safely with our car!
He had arrived with a computer print out AA map with directions on how to find us and a return motorway route across Europe. We sat down and discussed the route through Poland, me warning him that there are no fuel, or service, stations on the Polish motorway once past Katowice.
The AA policy is not to deliver a car back to an empty home "keys through the letterbox", they need someone to sign for and inspect the car upon its return. The most obvious thing on my part was to have it returned to the company, my father would be there on hand to sign for the car and run Steve to the train station - 1158 miles away from where we were now sitting discussing this.
One of the AA operators had also requested that I write a "letter of authorisation" - effectively giving Steve permission to cross the borders in my car and confirming that the car had not been stolen, and contained "Nothing to Declare" at the customs. This I duly did. He also needed all the standard car papers, log book, insurance certificate and, had the car been over three years old, an MOT certificate.
We gave Steve breakfast before he set out, understandably he preferred to wait until the sun came up before setting off, handed over all the car documents and then my wife took him on the treacherous icy walk to the garage, approximately 250 yards away from the flat. It is AA policy that photographs are taken of the car - he took several, apparently covering all angles, made a note of the mileage and inspected the car carefully for any damage.
Two days later, at 10.00am on Thursday morning, Steve delivered the car back safe and sound to the company. It had half a tank full of fuel in it - exactly the same amount that it had left my in-laws home with, it was completely un-damaged. He told my father that he had had an excellent journey across Poland, although the temperature was well below freezing there had been no snow fall. He stayed over night in Germany and on the second day he drove through snow right the way back to Calais.
That the Hondacare guarantee provides such comprehensive cover is truly reassuring and would in all probability ensure my loyalty to the marque, despite problems that I have suffered with this particular car. As you will no doubt have realised, we paid not a penny for this cover, it was included in the initial cost of the car, if you buy a Honda which is less than three years old the cover is transferable too.
As this is however very much an AA review, all of this assistance was provided by the AA European breakdown assistance in Germany. I have today investigated the cost of purchasing this same cover via their website. In actual fact, when I was running a four year old Vauxhall Omega, I was purchasing just this cover on an individual trip basis; you pay for each day that you are going to be abroad.
Under our circumstances that would not have been so clever on this occasion. We would have been in cover, according to the dates, but only just. We were "scheduled" to be out of the country for fifteen days over Christmas and the New Year. On this basis the cover would have cost us £64.80 for that specific period.
As with travel insurance, the AA also offers you an annual cover option. In our case, travelling to Poland twice a year, at £115.00, this works out to be the more sensible and economical choice. Naturally it also covers you for any "spur of the moment" long weekends away etc on the other side of the Channel, that you probably would not think about taking cover out for.
There are probably cheaper options available; plenty of organisations, motoring and otherwise offer European breakdown insurance. However, having had to call on the excellent services of the AA in this case, I would tend to view that £115.00 as offering excellent value for money. After all, think for a moment about the cost and logistics of recovering my car over 1150 miles from the far east of Europe. I am absolutely sure that, once again, as in the case with the travel insurance, the total cost of all this would have been far in excess of £1500.
I am hoping that you will not have formed the opinion that this review is "Off Topic", as the category covers the AA in the broadest terms, and therefore I felt it appropriate enough to post my review of the AA European Breakdown Assistance under the AA heading. If the rest of the services that the AA (Automobile Association in this context!) provides match up, in terms of efficiency and value then, personally speaking, I can only recommend this organisation in its entirety.
To purchase AA European Breakdown Assistance you do not need to be a member of the AA. Indeed during that internet search in order to find and quote the prices for you, I found no sign that any discount is offered to existing members taking up this additional cover.
Should we ever in future suffer a break down in some remote corner of Europe, I have to say that this whole experience would instil more than a little confidence in the services of AA European Breakdown Assistance.
Beyond any cost considerations, the fact that this whole, very complicated logistically, process went without a single hitch, was in our view a triumph of efficient organisation on the part of the AA.
Following our experience this month, I really cannot praise their European Breakdown Service Assistance highly enough.
An excellent review, with just the right combination of information about the product and "human interest" and in complete contrast to other things I've heard about the AA. Something's wrong somewhere though when a person as pleasant, hardy and resourceful-sounding as Steve is spending his life finding and returning cars. I'd be tempted to suggest a job swap between him and one of our senior politicans, but on the other hand think of where the cars for stranded motorists such as yourself may end up in John Prescott's hands...
jacpuss 09.02.2006 22:31
think you have changed our minds too ,we must include this type of cover too,what a super job the AA done coming all the way there to bring your car home! excellent service. love j xxx
killiefan 08.02.2006 15:20
Another great review. I really should get round to taking out some sort of cover and you have convinced me that the AA is the way to go. Scott