In New Zealand there are 3 big companies offering roadside assistance services. The biggest one is well known AA Roadside Assistance; the other two smaller players are VTNZ and State Insurance. Majority of people prefer AA. They have been around for quite some time, have experience in providing this kind of services and have the largest fleet of assisting vehicles. It’s important to know that none of the big players perform all their jobs by themselves, they also work with wide network of contractors. Some contractors may exclusively work for just one of this company, but most perhaps work with more than one.

In today article I will be focusing on the biggest player – AA Roadside Assistance. I have been their member for many years and had only 2 call-outs. Once for broken side window glass and the other time for broken engine requiring tow away. In both cases they responded reasonably quickly and offered adequate service. Despite that I am not their member anymore and will never be. What are my reasons? If you are interested then read on, I will explain it in more detail below.

Reason #1: They are primary interested in your money, not in helping you

Except for the two cases mentioned above when I had to use their services there was one more case. However, this time I was not their member. My car seriously broke down in the forest area between Taupo and Napier. It’s long stretch of land with minimum towns and villages. Also the mobile network coverage there isn’t the best and there are many spots without any signal. The place where my car broke down was amongst one of those places. I had only very weak signal, barely making it possible to make a phone call. Also, I was running down on mobile phone battery. I called AA call centre and told them that I had a breakdown; I am in the middle of nowhere and running down on battery in my phone.

Even if you are not their member, they will still rescue you, but charge double for joining them at the roadside. I was fine with that and was happy to pay the fee. But, because of the weak signal and almost empty battery I told them that I have only few minutes left on my mobile phone. I asked them politely if they can first try to locate me, then tow my car away and sort out the paperwork and payment later. What was their response? They said: “No, we have to process your payment first and once it’s done then we can continue with the rescue”. I have spent almost 5 minutes on the phone giving them my all my personal and credit card details so that the payment can go through. Once this was done then they asked me: “So, now can you tell us where you are?” Finally they asked! Because it was in the middle of nowhere, it took another 5 minutes giving them some landmarks before they were able to successfully locate me.

I was lucky that my mobile lasted for those 10 minutes. It could have gone off at any time. The AA Roadside Assistance knew that and still insisted on getting their money first before they were willing to lift their finger. There was very real possibility that after initial 5 minutes my mobile could have died, so they would have got my money, but I would not have received their rescue.

As you can see – they might be a big company with many years of experience, their staff and contractors could be knowledgeable in what they are doing, but their corporate culture and attitude is horrible. You surely know the saying that you can best learn about your friends when you are in need. Surely, they are not my friend, they are business, but this critical situation proved where their priorities lie – and it’s clearly not with you, their customer (or prospective customer when joining at the roadside), rather it’s their pockets that matter to them mostly. This kind of experience convinced me to stay away from them. They almost let me down once, I can’t be sure that they won’t do it again.

Reason #2: They are quite annoying with renewal reminders when your membership expires.

At one point my membership expired. I knew that and decided not to renew. About a month before the expiry date they start sending you reminder letters asking you to renew. These letters don’t stop even after the expiration. In fact I received about 2 letters before expiration and another 3 or 4 letters, once every month after my membership expired. Normally they offer you 10% discount in your second year of membership. Their letters kept stressing that my 10% discount is still valid if I renew. The funny thing was that after 4 months if I renewed, they would give me 10% discount but the membership would start from the original expiry date. So in fact I would be paying 90% of regular price for just 8 months of cover. If I simply jointed from that date without claiming the 10% discount I would receive 12 months of cover for 100% of regular price. Or for a better comparison 8 months of cover would cost me 66.67% of regular price (= 100 / 12 x 8), not 90%.

Logically, the 10% discount may be worth in the first 36 days (365 x 10%). But after that it’s not economical to claim it. Otherwise you end up paying more because they’ll backdate your membership. They must know that, but still keep issuing reminder letters offering the discount even after the initial 36 days when it makes an economic sense. To me it’s a bit misleading and proves again that they may be more interested in your money than you. Surely, I am not idealist, every business is interested in profits; they just don’t need to present it so clearly to their customers as AA Roadside Assistance does.

Posted on: September 13, 2013
Categories: Articles
4 Responses to AA Membership for Roadside Breakdown Assistance – Worth it?
  1. Interesting experiences you’ve recounted here. I too had a very disillusioning experience when I finally had to call on AA assistance, after dutifully paying expensive membership fees for years.

    My issues weren’t for roadside breakdowns, and they did occur last century, but valid nevertheless. Even then their indifferent ‘corporate’ attitude was very apparent. I was appalled by their attitude when I called on one of their membership services available at that time. (I don’t know if it’s still offered as I quickly resolved after that shabby experience to not resume membership with AA again).

    On another occasion I took a car for an expensive pre-purchase inspection, and later found out that the mechanic had totally missed a glaring problem. It was on the basis of his inspection and OK’ing of the car that I bought the vehicle. So, I’ve been let down badly by AA on two separate occasions and would never bother with them again.

    I think your solution for avoiding the middlemen is intelligent, so long as one is technologically with-it and au fait with GPS etc. Older drivers in the community frequently aren’t smartphone/GPS users and sadly become easy fodder for all sorts of middlemen and ‘ticket-clippers’.

    The complacent and casual indifference of those that work inside corporations is a disturbing feature of our times.
    And it does leave a bad taste. These people seems to assume a mechanical, robotic persona when dealing with the pressing needs of their clients or members. The moral… wherever possible try to avoid dealing with large institutions, organisations, or corporations, if you wish for satisfaction and humane treatment.

    Thanks for raising the issues in your articles.

    • Hi Ian, thanks for the comments and sharing your own experience with the AA! Hope, it will help readers to see that similar cases are not rare. You are right, people should count on their abilities rather than rely on big corporates who often let them down…

  2. That will teach you for not having your phone charged on a long journey

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