The AA – What you need to know

The AA – What you need to know

Breakdown cover is a necessary evil; you buy it in the hope that you aren’t ever going to use it and when you do you want a mechanic there within minutes who can fix your car and get you on your way within seconds.

Well, we can’t guarantee service that prompt but if you are buying car breakdown cover, doesn’t it make sense to buy from the biggest? That’ll be the Automobile Association, or ‘AA’ as they are better known.

The AA was founded by a group of motorists in 1905 to warn motorists of a police speed trap (something that would be illegal now…). They famously saluted members as they drove past – unless the police were out and about on that stretch, in which case they would stand without saluting.

This system was developed in 1910 following a test case in which an AA Patrolman was found guilty of ‘obstructing an officer in the course of his duty’ for saluting to warn of a speed trap; the absence of a salute was not seen as a warning, per se. Clever, eh? This continued until the 1960s and was a valuable reason for joining the AA. Indeed, in 1939 they had 725,000 members, a staggering figure that represented 35% of all motorists.

Is there still a reason to join the AA even though they can’t warn you of speed traps? Absolutely!

The AA has always been on the side of the motorists. In fact, they were the first to erect road signs to warn motorists of speed limits, road conditions and other hazards and continued to do so well into the 1930s, when responsibility passed to the relevant local authority. They also launched legal cover for their members and were the first motoring organisation to develop a ‘Relay’-service.

Launched in 1973, it promised to take a motorist, their family and their broken-down car (and caravan or trailer) to any location within the UK if it couldn’t be repaired at the roadside. Groundbreaking stuff at the time.

They are also bang-up-to-date having issued their patrols with laptop computers and other diagnostic equipment, allowing them to interrogate modern cars’ computers to try and pinpoint the problem, something that won Autocar’s ‘Idea of the Year’ award in 2003.

They haven’t neglected the motorist either, developing a wide range of ‘apps’ to download for the iPhone and other Smartphones.

Interesting Facts

The AA has 15 million members today, making it the largest motoring organisation and the one that employs more patrols than anyone else.

Vehicle Breakdown Cover

The AA has four levels of breakdown cover for the private motorist in the United Kingdom: ‘Roadside’, ‘Roadside and National Rescue’, ‘Roadside, National Rescue and Cover at Home’, and ‘Roadside, National Rescue, Cover at Home, and Parts and Garage Cover’.

Roadside cover provides roadside assistance by an AA patrol who will try to repair your car at the side of the road. If they can’t repair it then they will recover you and your car to the nearest garage. You must then arrange for your car to be repaired. This might interrupt your holiday or journey if they don’t have the ability to do so immediately or if your car breaks down at the weekend or in the evenings when they are closed.

The cover also provides help in the event of an accident.

Roadside and National Rescue builds on the level of protection given by Roadside cover and adds recovery of you and your car anywhere in the UK if they can’t fix it at the side of the road. This lets you get on with your journey or holiday safe in the knowledge that you can arrange repairs once you have arrived at your destination.

Roadside, National Rescue and Cover at Home does exactly what it says, adding cover at home. So if your car won’t start or you have other mechanical problems on your driveway then the AA will come out and help.

Roadside, National Rescue, Cover at Home, and Parts and Garage Cover is the most comprehensive and expensive cover. It provides up to five contributions of £500 a time towards the parts and labour bill if your car breaks down.

The AA also provides an ‘Onward Travel’ option at extra cost. This provides a hire car for up to 72 hours, or an overnight hotel stay or the cost of a return public transport journey.

European Travel

Cover can also be provided for European travel, giving English-speaking assistance, recovery back to your home or onward to your destination and emergency accommodation and/or hire car cover in over 40 European countries.

Added Extras

The AA has a directory of discounts for members, giving special prices at over 50 retailers and service providers, including their own.

Other Services

Don’t forget that the AA isn’t just there when you break down. They also provide:

  • Hotel inspection,
  • AA special event signage,
  • Driving schools,
  • An on-line shop,
  • A range of accessories,
  • Car, home, travel, life, and pet insurance,
  • Motoring advice and news,
  • Business cover,
  • Loans, credit cards, savings, and a travel currency card.

So, if you want the reassurance of breakdown cover by the largest provider, then you need cover from the Automobile Association. Who knows, one day that big yellow van might just be your saviour too!

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  1. Pat Christian says:

    Until today I have never called out the AA once despite beng a member since 1986.Unfortunately whilst at a very busy beauty spot I accidentally locked my car keys inside my car. My husband contacted the AA at 1050am and after giving all our details they said that help would be with us in approximately 45 minutes. Whilst waiting we received a text to say that they would now be wth us at 1115am. And so it was! Jim the AA man was wonderful, so very professional and calm and collected in his approach to helping us out. Approximately 10 minutes later he had retrieved the keys with no damage to the car and we were able to enjoy our day out. Well done Jim and the AA!!!

  2. Robert Jones says:

    I have feel so let down that I dumped the AA after being a member for over a quarter of a century, and in all that time have called for assistance very few times indeed. On top of friends and family bad experiences the following (last two) occasions I needed help represented the final straw for me:-

    I live in North Wales. Having driven family to a Manchester hospital where a person was seriously ill I accidentally drained my car battery by leaving lights on. I called for AA assistance first of all it took a long time for the engineer to turn up, when he eventually did he connected up the battery to a contraption and immediately adviced me to replace the battery for a new one he had on board. It happend that the battery he said was no good I had bought from Halfords some two years previous so I said no thanks just jump start me and I will take my chances. Being an older type diesel once started they wouldn’t normally stop without the alternator being naffed which I knew it wasn’t. I drove the car home even stopped at Chester Services on the way with no trouble, indeed the same battery was in the same car when I sold it some years later.
    Next and worse. I accidentally filled my diesel car with petrol in a Shell filling station where I have since learnt others have made the very same. It happened on a bank holiday 25 miles from home in a mountain area with no repair shop anywhere near. Now I have always paid “full relay” for what I thought was peace of mind, When it was explained what I thought I’d done the AA flatly refused to come out without my agreeing for them to bring with them a(unknown to me)fuel expert which I didn’t want at my expense due to the problem being self inflicted. I wanted my car to be taken home to my own mechanic to look at, not only did the AA refuse to do that they would not even attend the breakdown to make an assessment. What on earth was I paying relay for?

  3. Called the AA at 17:25 on the 1st October 2011. Got home at 23:25 despite having broken down just 5 miles away. During our 6 hour wait, we were given conflicting and confusing messages about the ETAs and even the names of the sub-contracted rescue companies supposedly coming to help us. The mechanic who did finally arrive (C&S Rescue) was incredibly helpful and polite as was Steve (an AA rescue driver from Kent who was unfortunately unable to help us). The communication from the switchboard however was completely unacceptable. We were originally told we’d have to wait up to 2 hours. The subsequent 6 hour wait was unacceptable. I can only assume there was a major breakdown in communication. The AA’s next steps (an apology perhaps) will determine whether or not I continue to use them. Otherwise, anyone got a phone number for the RAC?

  4. jackie sayers says:

    AA wrote to us saying our bank card was out of date so they couldn’t collect the renewal fee. We thought ok, we’re broke this month so let it go – then they took the money anyway! When I rang for a refund they said the policy was in my husband’s name so I can’t cancel it, even though I’m named on it and it’s paid from a joint account. We have to wait for our money until he gets back from abroad. I’m now looking for an alternative to AA – and there are some much better deals to be had!


    We had to call out the AA on the 12/08/2011 for a home start breakdown while staying at a relations house in Four Marks Winchester.I would like to say that Martin 083316 was brilliant.He was very polite and very helpful.I would like this to be passed on to customer services because he deserves to be credited for his help and his polite manner,honesty and friendliness. Thank you to the AA for your help

  6. Christine Grainger says:

    I had the AA breakdown cover for 12 months. When it was due for renewal I was away from home. Seemingly they sent the renewal notice to my home address and because I did not see it they automatically took the next years premium without my permission and on an out of date debit card. When I rang to complain, I was told I could cancel it but I would be charged £20.00 because it was after the renewal date. Not a great experience and I will not use them again.

  7. Sunday, 07 August 2011.
    Wizard in the Yellow Truck.
    … I do not often call out the breakdown and recovery services and even less than that if the wife’s in the car if I can help it, for some reason she finds the embarrassment of sitting at the side of the highway just too painfull and too much to bear, whereas I find the random nature of mechanical breakdowns always interesting, as It did last Sunday at around midday in the London Rd, right underneath a camera, I called the company and they phoned me straight back as the credits where low and she asked and kept on asking ‘are you in a safe place’ it’s only when she is satisfied that the experience has not left you seeing 3 fingers instead of 2 that she proceeded, someone is on their way. Well! that was it, a brilliant assistant turned up and thereafter not only was I going again in minutes of his arrival but he also found me a classic car part [on a Sunday] that are either part fossilised or loads of money.
    One more phone call and the job was done, fixed ,part replaced for practically a third of the cost of what I had been quoted and one more piece of very sound advice from the man in yellow, and I mean sound advice and he was gone.
    As I say I do not use the recovery services often and I only had this one at hand because my Bank arranged it for me, but the expertise and sound insight far outweighs the cost of this very unique form of rescue that we all seek sooner or later I just hope for your sake you get my Wizard, it’s a professional display of experience that will open your eyes.
    Thank you so much all involved and especially you 37***1 T/Y.



  8. Mr Clive Wiltshire says:

    Thursday 7th July, travelled from my home on the south coast to Silverstone, Northants.
    travelling on the M40 and came of at Juction 9 at this time relised I need petrol as light was flashing, arrived at petrol station at Bicster. Got out car and reached to get wallet, Panick could not find, so out of petrol, no wallet on money or credit card and a 130 miles from home.Spoke to manger of petrol station, they would not help.So I called the AA as I am a member hoping they could help me, was shocked to hear that its not there poylicy to help stranded drivers who have run out of petrol or who have left home without wallet. All I needed was £30 worth of petrol to get me home. They have my members address they would not have been out of pocket for there good deed, insted they refused to help, will I renew my policy, I do not think so, would I recommed the AA as a emergency service NO WAY.
    Can not belive that the AA advertise them self’s as a emergency service who helps there members.

  9. I am very pleased with the service I received today from the hard shoulder of the M62. Both service teams were polite, competent, kind and helpful and paid great attention to my needs and safety. Thank you both, Dave and Bob.

  10. David Kaye says:

    On the 24th May I received the following reply to my letter below from the AA.

    Dear Mr Kaye,

    I am sorry to learn of your dissatisfaction with the service you receiced from the A A patrol following your recent breakdown. The details of your communication have been passed to this ofice for review.

    Having thoroughly evaluated all the information available from your vehicle breakdown I am confident that the response provided by our member relations department, fully addresses your complaint and I can only apologise that you remain unhappy.

    I am sorry that my response cannot be more favourable to you,

    Yours sincerely

    Mark Loader
    Office of the Chief Executive.

  11. David Kaye says:

    Here is a copy of the letter I wrote to the AA following the below experience. To date I have had no reply.

    On Wednesday 20th April 2011 I found it necessary to call for assistance as a result of a breakdown on the A505.

    The precise details and nature of my problem was relayed to your telephone operator and I am quite sure the person my wife spoke to understood everything that was said. We were told that we would have to wait for approximately an hour. Your man arrived about 55 minutes later.

    Things then started to go downhill somewhat. My problem being the near-side wheel had parted company with my almost new 2011 model caravan. The breakdrum was on the tarmac and the wheel which I had recovered now lying beside it. Your man then asked me if I had a jack which I said I did but it would not go under the jacking point which was too low to the ground. ”Nothing I can do then” he said. I asked him if he had a jack and he replied ”No we’re not allowed to carry them any more for health and safety reasons and that jacking up the vehicle was down to me”, I’m a 72 year old partially disabled pensioner which is why I took out breakdown cover in the first place. Your man then asked me where the wheel studs were I of course had no idea. Then we wont be able to do anything if we do jack it up he said. I pointed out to him that as a temporary measure since we only needed to move the caravan a few feet onto his trailer it should be possible to use 2 of the 5 studs from the offside wheel. ”Never thought of that ” he said.

    He then said he was going to telephone for assistance to get the van on the trailer. This being if and when I had managed to jack it up high enough to fit the wheel back on. He made his phone call and then stood and watched me struggle to the point of almost having an heart attack trying to raise the caravan via the corner steadies. When I virtually collapsed with the strain he did take over for the final few inches. And to his credit he also fitted the wheel for me. At this point 2 more of your men arrived and all three of them proceeded to debate how best if at all they were going to get the caravan onto the trailer.

    Eventually having attached a towing strap to the chassis they started to winch the caravan in the direction of the trailer however when the jockey wheel came up against the lip of the trailer ramp it was not powerful enough to pull it over. This resulted in a lot of head scratching and a declaration that it was not possible to go any further. It necessitated a 72 year old with one false knee joint, having to climb onto the trailer and manually lift the front of the caravan high enough to allow the jockey wheel to pass over the lip of the ramp. At the time at least one of your men was doing something to help. He was pressing the buttons on the winch control. Having finally got the caravan on the trailer he asked me to sign his papers (which regrettably I didn’t read) and then drove off.

    We are paying your company for the maximum cover available including full European cover and I do not feel the treatment afforded to us on this occasion was good value for money. Can you therefore give me a good reason as to why I should not send a copy of this letter to all caravan magazines and maybe even Watchdog?


    David R. Kaye.

  12. Rubbish . . . been with them for years, only called them out twice. The 1st time I needed to have a tyre changed as i could not budge the wheelnuts. He made a fuss and only did it reluctantly. 2nd time I was promised someone would be with me within an hour. It was 9 hours later when eventually they turned up. Obviously I cancelled and I have now gone with another breakdown service. I am not giving any stars whatsoever as they dont deserve any . . .

  13. mark watson says:

    fantastic they are a cut above the rest my 03 vauxhall combo van broke down on a saturday morning at 07.30am rang aa at 09.00am patrol arrived at 09.35am transported to a car hire shop by 11.30am and i was 350 miles from home took hire car home and my van arrived on a lorry 24 hours later all payed for by the AA thank you very much i will always be a member of the AA ONLY IN GREAT BRITAIN

  14. I booked my car in for an MOT online and was told that someone would contact me 48 before the MOT was due to advise me as to what time my car would be collected. 24 hours before the car was due in I telephoned the AA to ask why I had not been contacted only to be told that although I had a reference provided to me on line for the MOT the computer system had lost a number of bookings one of which was mine. The booking was rearranged and the car collected accordingly. The following day I once again had to contact the AA as my car had not been returned and no one had telephoned me to advise me as to what had happened to my car. I was asked to hold while the operator contacted the garage only to be told that the garage had closed but someone would ring me the following day. As I had not received a phone call by 12 the next day I once again telephoned to be told that my car had failed the MOT and that I would yet again have to wait for a telephone call to be advised as to the cost of repair. I received a call the next day with a quote which I authorized. To cut a long story short the garage received the wrong parts which they then had to reorder and I didn’t get my car back for another week.
    I had had to make a further 2 calls to the AA asking for a receipt some 1 month after the work was completed. I rejoined the AA after living working in the Far East for the past 30 years. First you charged me for my membership when it was supposed to come free with my AA insurance which took 17 phone calls and a month to get a refund. All in all not a good experience. I have today cancelled my membership to see if the RAC can do better.

  15. Julia Wright says:

    I have been a member for many many years but am now thinking of leaving. The mechanics are wonderful but the company has gone downhill since it was taken over by an American organisation, I believe, a few years ago.

    Their AA insurance quotes are poor. They do not search around, only amongst a small and expensive panel. I did stick with them for the last two years but only because they agreed to match quotes I found on the web but why should I have to search. That is what they are for and if I am going to do my own searches I may as well deal directly with the company concerned which is what I have done this year.

    Also they tried to foist a windscreen company on me that they now own – auto Windshield, I think it is – who didn’t turn up after I had had to make an appointment 5 DAYS in advance. They did agree that I could use Auto Windscreen who came the next day and did an excellent job – but only after I had made a terrific fuss. Not good enough any more. Another good company gone to the wall.

  16. Mrs Pauline Jones says:

    Absolutely useless when it comes to trying to cancel the policy.

    We’ve just discovered they’ve also been charging us for the past four years for breakdown cover for our daughter, which we didn’t know about except for the first year! Although my husband has been paying for this, apparently our daughter has to cancel it.

    My husband took out a joint policy with another company for us and I’ve been trying to cancel my AA membership for the last month. Today they have sent yet another renewal notice!!!

  17. The last couple of times I’ve called out the AA have been pretty frustating experiences. I’m not knocking the mechanics, they were brilliant, but the AA’s customer service team were far from helpful.

    As luck would have it, I had my pregnant wife with me on both breakdowns along with my 3 year old daughter. Because of that situation the AA placed us as a high priority, although what that entails exactly I don’t know as both times our wait was between 1:30 to 2:00 hours – even though we were a priority.

    After ringing the customer service number to check on their whereabouts I was told they were either on there way, or delayed. I think it would be far better if members were told more accurately this information.

    My overall review of the AA’s breakdown services would be, great patrols, but sub-par customer service.

  18. I’ve had AA breakdown cover for my motorbike and cars for well over 10 years now, and *touch wood* have never had any problems.

    Overall I’ve found their arrival times to be good, with a phone call and text message to let me know when they’ll be there.

    I remember one breakdown I suffered due to a faulty battery, they got me relayed back home and didn’t try to sell me a new battery which was refreshing.

    I’ve also found AA patrols to be very knowledgable and efficient, with one even giving me very welcomed advice on a recent import car I’d just bought.

  19. Appalling customer service and poor response times. When asking for an update on arrival of patrol man, was constantly told 40 minutes – without them checking with the patrol team. When the patrol man arrived he suggested I pay to have the car stored at a third party garage overnight (as it was out of business hours) and only agreed it was included in the cover when I reminded him that I had the relay option. Also wanted me show me how to disable the battery for the recovery man (so that he could leave) – which I poitn blankly refused to touch.

  20. Jean-Benoit Louveaux says:

    I broke down in France. As French garages were charging twice the price of UK garages I elected to have the car transported back to the UK. I was provided with a replacement hire car which I was able to have upgraded for free when I pointed out that I needed a larger one. Only downside is how long it took my car to arrive back in the UK, as this left me without a car in the UK for a while.


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