Advantages Swift response, excellent staff attitude
Disadvantages Inconsistent level of proficiency among staff
|Speed Of Response|
|Level Of Cover|
Calling the RAC - the mechanics of it
Experiences: The M1: running out of petrol
Experiences: The A14: Failing electrics
Experiences: Services on the M4: Corroded Brake Pads
Experiences: Back on the M1: Electrics (2)
Experiences: Local Sainsbury's: Battery Failure
- Introduction -
But top of the list has to be your car breaking down. In my brief motoring history, I have had my electrics fail no less than three times, my battery die a slow and drawn-out death, and yes, shamefully, I have forgotten to fill my car up with petrol and had it run out on the motorway. On all of these occasions, I called the RAC, with mixed results.Probably what you're thinking right now: is this girl a complete idiot? Short answer: yes.
Long answer: I'm afraid I've bought more bangers than you'd find in a bag of sausages, with the obvious result that I spend as much time sitting by the side of the road as I do on it.
Contacting the RAC is easy: they supply you with a membership card which has all their emergency numbers on it, as well as your membership number.Every time I have rung, the RAC have answered within five or six rings. They will take your membership number, your location, your contact number, your car registration number, and then confirm the make and model of your stricken vehicle.
Let me add here that I am a young woman who drives alone, frequently at night, and therefore I am high on their priority list. This means on the whole, the RAC have reached me very quickly (please see the 'Experiences - Electrics (2)' for an exception to this). As a caveat, I note that my experiences may not, therefore, reflect the experiences of RAC customers in general.Once you have arranged for the breakdown truck to head out to you, the operator will give you an approximation of how long you will have to wait. Generally, this is either accurate, or an overestimation.
The conversation concluded, the RAC will put you onto an automated message giving you basic safety measures (leave your car, unless you do not feel safe; put on your hazard lights etc.). Once the truck is within a few minutes of your destination, the driver will call you (if you have a mobile phone) to let you know he's nearby.On his arrival, the driver will assess your car to see if the problem can be fixed there and then. If it can be, all well and good; you go on your merry way, and the man in lurid orange van flits back into the night. If not, your car will be hooked up to the van and towed.
When the RAC pick you up from a breakdown, they are obliged to take you to a destination of your choice. If you are in Lands End, and you demand they take to John O' Groats, however, they may well call a contractor to take you, as each patrol vehicle operates within a strict radius.They will also take you only once per breakdown - if you get dropped at your house and then call them to ask to be towed to a garage, either they will refuse, or (if you insist), they will charge you. Bear this in mind.
Please also note that your cover extends beyond your own vehicle. If you are a passenger in a car which breaks down, your membership will also cover this. Very useful to know, and something I have had to use. More about that below.
The situation: it's 7pm on the 24th of December, I'm on the M1, and my car starts to sputter and slow. Recognising the familiar feel of my car failing, I pull over on the hard shoulder, and call the RAC.A van is dispatched promptly, and arrives some ten minutes later. The driver is courteous and friendly, and very reassuring - after sitting in the dark on a windy road with lorries ploughing by at 60mph, your nerves can be rather frazzled.
I explain what happened. He checks over my car: electrics, battery, alternator, and other bits and pieces beyond my comprehension, and concludes he doesn't have a damn clue what's wrong with it. I will have to be towed.I am towed from Junction 22a of the M1 back to my local garage, just off Junction 16. The driver is pleasant all the way back, keeping up a stream of chat and advice about cars.
Alas, despite his excellent manner, he failed to spot that the reason I broke down was because I had no petrol. It's a sad day when your grandmother can diagnose your motoring troubles better than the RAC.Conclusion: Wonderful manner with customers, disappointing diagnosis.
Same car, different road. A Sunday evening - 6pm, but this time in summer, and on the A14 heading west. My car simply ran out of juice, and I was forced to pull over. Once again, I called the RAC, this time with the added puzzle of not having a clue just where I was.
- Experiences: The A14: Failing electrics -
Nonetheless, the RAC dispatched a van to find me. This time, they took rather longer, but this may well have been due to my sketchy directions. Some forty minutes later, I received a call from the van-man, who arrived ten minutes later.Once again, the RAC man was reassuring and pleasant. Again, I gave him a list of symptoms and yet again, the car was checked over. However this time, the problem was diagnosed; an alternator problem which meant the battery wasn't charging properly.
How was it fixed? He hit it with a hammer. I kid you not.Even more oddly, it worked. He then charged the battery up, and as I was worried that it hadn't worked properly, tailed me for the next twenty minutes. I was particularly pleased by this effort on his part, as I felt it went above and beyond what was required. He also recommended I get it looked at by a garage and gave me a rough estimate of what I should expect to pay.
Conclusion: Exemplary service, in all respects. While nothing could hide the fact my car was on its last legs, he helped it totter on long enough to get it to a garage.
A rather different situation this time. Mid-afternoon, Monday June 26th 2005, four of us in a friends' car. The car was making an odd noise, so we pulled over at the nearest service station. I used my membership to call the RAC out. This time it took a good hour and half before they arrived.Obviously we were not too pleased with this. But we were hardly going to be top of their priorities, as we were in a safe place, in broad daylight, and in a group.
After being told about the odd noise, the RAC man examined the car. Once again, he was pleasant and efficient. After ten minutes, he declared the brake pads were pretty much non-existent - and were, in fact, breaking off in pieces. The car was not safe to drive if they weren't replaced, and while he could have towed us to a garage and left us there, instead he offered to call a local garage, fetch the parts and fit them.Not only did he go out of his way to help us, the RAC does not charge for the fitting of parts (or didn't in this case), and so it cost less than it would at a garage. He replaced both front brake pads and brake discs for £80.
Conclusion: Despite the lengthy wait, the car was fixed at the service station. Excellent technical service, less pleased about the wait.
- Experiences: Back on the M1: Electrics (2) -Shuttling north on the M1 one evening in January 2005, I was horrified to see - yet again - my lights dim, my petrol gauge drop, and my car slump into hibernation. Stranded on the hard shoulder near J24, I rang the RAC yet again.
As it was winter and I was a woman alone on a busy motorway, I expected a short wait. I didn't get it. It was a long hour before the orange truck rolled up, the RAC man hopped out, and I once again found myself explaining about my horrible, horrible car. Obviously I was disappointed by this, not to mention somewhat upset to find myself sitting alone at the side of the motorway on a dark night.This time, no amount of persuasion could coax life from the car, and it was towed up to my home in Sheffield. While examining the car, he also advised me to buy new tyres, as mine were rather worn - a recommendation backed up by a garage later that same week.
Once again, I commend the friendliness and professionalism of the RAC driver, and his valiant efforts to fix my ailing vehicle. Alas, it was pretty terminal at this point, and after my garage handed me a repair bill amounting to the GDP of a small country, my battered Citroen was put out of its misery.Conclusion: Good technical service once again, but a disappointing wait.
A different car, another call to the RAC, who were beginning to feel like members of my extended family. Around 10pm at night, late December 2005, just off J16 of the M1. This time, when trying to start the car in a supermarket car park, there was that slow, death-moan you get as the electrics run out of energy.
- Experiences: Local Sainsbury's: Battery Failure -
Despite the laughable closeness of both my home and the local garage - five minutes up the road - the car wasn't going anywhere. Once again, I rang the RAC.My trusty orange steed arrived 45 minutes later. Again, I was unimpressed with the waiting time, but I was in a safe and crowded place, and in the company of a family member. In a now-familiar spiel, I explained what had happened and let him give my car its check-up.
The RAC man tested the battery and declared it dead, but decided to try and charge it up. After half an hour, it was showing signs of life, and he suggested I try to drive to the local garage, with him tailing me.Alas, barely fifty metres from the garage, my car groaned into silence, and I was towed the rest of the way. Again, the RAC man was professional and friendly. His diagnosis was absolutely correct, and a new battery solved the problem.
Conclusion: Good technical and customer service: shame about the wait.
The RAC has a range of cover offered, depending on just how extensive it is.For single person cover, prices range from £34 (roadside, accident care, repair referrals) to £125 (also includes recovery, at home attention, no-call discount - not likely!, and onward travel options.) Three other plans fall within these extremes, offering vary degrees of cover. For further information, I recommend the RAC's website. Buying online may also offer considerable discount.
For joint cover, prices range from £58 to £156, across the same five plans.For family cover, prices range from £96 to £196. The cover I use is this latter £196 option. As far as I am concerned, it has been value for money, unlike my vehicles. However, it is not the cheapest cover out there.
While most well-known for its breakdown service, the RAC does also offer a number of other services. Insurance, driving lessons, motoring advice and loans are just some of these. I offer here experience with the two extra services I have used. The others are documented on their website.
- Other Services -
One of these is that they will 'vet' a car for you, checking it for faults and future problems. Unfortunately, while this is free after you've bought it, beforehand it costs a hefty £170. While this may be within the budget of some customers, when you're a student whose entire income is dependent on holiday work and loans, this just isn't feasible.Another service is their route planner. I have used it twice, with mixed results. On my trip from Northampton to Felixstowe, it was spot-on, getting me there in the expected time by exactly the route described. Unfortunately, on my trek from Sheffield to Peterborough for a job interview, one or two fictional roundabouts sent me on a lovely little wander round the outer suburbs. Good job I left early, as it took me an hour to get back on track.
- Summary -
The efficiency of the service also depends on just how busy the stretch of road is - if you break down on a major motorway on a rainy night during rush hour, expect to wait - but I feel some of the waits I have had have been unacceptable, particularly when I am alone late at night, while at other times, they have reached me earlier than expected.Without fail, the RAC men have been courteous, friendly, pleasant and reassuring. I'm pleased that the company maintains such a high level of face-to-face professionalism, as it helps absolve some of your irritation at the long wait, and also dissipates much of the stress you naturally feel when your precious vehicle grinds to a halt.
For me, personally, the cover has been excellent value for money. But I'm pretty sure most of the population doesn't purchase a stream of clapped-out bangers that even Del Boy would shy from.I would recommend the RAC, but I'd also keep a torch and a good book in the car, because while I am sure they will work to the best of their ability, and treat you with the utmost respect, just how much ability they have is somewhat uncertain.
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