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My Car Breaks Down on the Highway

Updated on June 19, 2013

My Clutch Broke While Driving

It is always inconvenient and sometimes scary when you car breaks down on the highway. However, technology is making such auto breakdowns away from home a little easier and a little safer.

I was reminded of this a few days ago when, on my way to work, the clutch on my car suddenly broke.

I was driving down the highway heading toward the freeway when I accelerated and went to engage the clutch on my Kia to shift into fourth gear.

Only, instead of engaging and allowing me to shift, I heard a snap and the clutch pedal lost all tension and remained in place against the interior wall of the floor.

I was able to apply the brake, slow down and pull safely to a stop next to the side of the road.

Fortunately the traffic on the freeway was heavy and slow as it frequently is at that time in the morning.

So, instead of turning on to the on ramp I chose to remain on the Frontage Road that paralleled the freeway. My intent was to bypass much of the slow traffic on the Interstate and get on the freeway two entrances further down and past much of the construction that was slowing things down.

Assistance from the Comfort of my Car

In times past a problem like this would have required me to hike about a mile back to a shopping area where I could get some change and then find a pay telephone to call for a tow.

However, this time I simply pulled out my iPhone and called USAA Auto which has my car insurance. My policy includes roadside assistance service for situations like this.

The person answering took my information and transferred me to the Countrywide Roadside Assistance call center, which handles roadside assistance for them.

If My Car Had Broken Down Here I Would Have Needed Someone to Tell Me Where I Was

Traveling Along Interstate 15 in California's Mojave Desert
Traveling Along Interstate 15 in California's Mojave Desert | Source

A support person immediately came on the line and greeted me by name as my information had been automatically transmitted to her computer during the transfer.

After confirming that I was unhurt and safely off the road, she asked me if she could use the location provided by iPhone.

I hadn’t realized that this was activated on my phone, but told her to go ahead and use the GPS information from my phone.

While I knew the two freeway exits that I was in between, giving my location would not have been a problem but it was nice to know that with my phone I could be found even if I didn’t know exactly where I was.

I had decided that it would be best to have the car taken to the dealer which has been servicing it and was nearby but I didn’t have the exact address handy.

However, before I could say anything, the lady on the other end of the line said that the Kia dealership was the nearest location and would I mind having the car towed there. She had the address.

Tow Truck driver approaching by disabled Kia auto.
Tow Truck driver approaching by disabled Kia auto. | Source

Arranged Rental Car While Waiting for Tow Truck

After calling my office to inform them that I was going to be late, I called the insurance company again to see if the rental car option was available for this situation. I have been fortunate in that the times I have needed to use my insurance have been few and far between and as a result have little experience with actually using the insurance.

I was informed that the car rental option was available only for highway accidents and not breakdowns but they did have discounts with three major car rental companies. We settled on Enterprise as that seemed to be the closest and also offered a free pick-up service.

I was then transferred to Enterprise and made arrangements for a rental car.

I Relaxed and Read the Morning Paper While Waiting for the Tow Truck

I received an automated phone call when the tow truck was dispatched and shortly after a text informing me that the tow truck was on its way and its estimated arrival time was 8:30 which was about forty minutes after I had pulled over and began making my calls.

Getting my Kia ready to be towed.
Getting my Kia ready to be towed. | Source

The truck actually arrived about twenty-after making my wait even less.

During the thirty minute wait between my clutch breaking and the tow truck arriving, I had been able to make two phone calls to arrange for help and one call to my office, all from the comfort of my car.

The two calls to my insurance company each resulted in my being transferred to the appropriate service company for the tow and rental car but my information automatically went with those transfers making each call one smooth and efficient transaction.

A decade or two ago I would have spent an hour or more just seeking a pay phone and trying to arrange for help. Instead, I never had to leave my car and even had time to read the morning newspaper during the short wait for the tow truck.

Computer & GPS Control the Process Efficiently

Chatting with the tow truck driver and we drove to the dealership, I learned that he received the call to get me on his GPS. The screen not only alerted him to where I was but also provided all the information needed for the work order he had to fill out.

My Kia being pulled onto the Tow Truck
My Kia being pulled onto the Tow Truck | Source

In addition to my location, the location of the dealership where we were going was also automatically transmitted to his GPS. No time was wasted calling the tow truck company’s office (they were informed electronically via their computer) or them having to either dispatch a truck from the yard or locate one via radio.

This system of computers and GPS enables the company to know the exact location of all their trucks at any one time. The computer also automatically locates the nearest truck and dispatches it to the location where the car in question is located. No dispatcher is required.

The driver explained to me that the trucks actually spend the day on the road and don’t return to the lot until the end of a shift. After towing a vehicle to its destination, the operating plan calls for the drivers to find someplace, within no more than a mile of the most recent drop off, where they can park and wait for the next call. This not only reduces cost by saving gasoline but also reduces wait time for customers calling for a tow.

The GPS system in the tow truck has another nifty money saving feature that I discovered while riding to the dealership.

My Kia being Unloaded for repair at the Dealership
My Kia being Unloaded for repair at the Dealership | Source

As we were talking, the GPS emitted a couple of loud beeps. The driver informed me that the system was alerting him to the approach to one of the stationary camera speed traps that Arizona politicians have scattered around the state in an effort to raise more spending money for them.

Arriving at the dealership, the driver dropped me off at the office while he unloaded my car.

Having been previously informed of my arrival by the roadside assistance, the staff not only had the paperwork printed and ready for me but also called the car rental company as soon as I walked in the door.

Despite break down, I was able get to work by 9:30, a mere hour and a half late.

While the delay and final repair costs were unpleasant, the experience was a fascinating insight into the use of technology to save costs, save time and to provide excellent customer service.

The System Runs Smoothly and Efficiently

As a precaution I have included my insurance company’s phone number in my phone’s contact list and have done the same for my wife with her phone.

The company has my phone number in their files and that, plus the access code that I have memorized and provided at the time of the call, enabled them to pull up my account profile quickly.

The agent transferred my call and relevant information electronically to the roadside assistance. The transfer was fast and smooth.

Thanks to the technology, locations, addresses, emergency assistance, etc. are all available to the agents on their computer screens.

In addition to the quick transfer of calls and information, the technology enables a more efficient division of labor.

My insurance company concentrates on insurance services and outsources the roadside assistance and car rental services to other companies.

These companies, in turn, contract with local companies or franchises for the actual towing, car rental and other services needed by customers involved in auto accidents or breakdowns.

The overall effect is greater efficiency which both reduces costs and enables all the providers in the chain to provide faster and better service.

My Kia in Parking Lot Waiting for its Clutch to be Repaired
My Kia in Parking Lot Waiting for its Clutch to be Repaired | Source

Competition in the Free Market Drives Producers to Continually Improve Service and Reduce Cost

Of course the real driver behind this process is the individual customer seeking the best service at the lowest price.

There are a number of companies offering automobile insurance, most of which have roadside assistance options in policies. There are also a number of companies offering roadside assistance, and these companies are able to choose from a number towing and other roadside services they contract for.

In a free market like this, consumers like me vote and make our opinions heard every time we choose a provider and make a purchase.

In economics this is known as consumer sovereignty and this is the force that drives producers to continually seek ways to lower the cost of making or providing the goods or services they offer as well as continually seeking to improve the quality of their goods or services.

The Rented Toyota Yari that Got Me to Work
The Rented Toyota Yari that Got Me to Work | Source

Technology Automatically Tracks Consumer Satisfaction

However, nowadays producers don’t have to wait for consumers to show their displeasure by not buying the next time.

Whether it estimated the time it would take for the tow truck to reach the dealership or was alerted of the truck’s arrival by the GPS, an insurance company computer knew when we arrived.

Upon our arrival my cellphone rang again and an automated voice on the other end asked me to take a quick survey about my experience.

I was asked to answer six short questions about the service by keying a number from 1 to 9 (with 1 being terrible and 9 outstanding) on my phone’s keypad.

I gave them a 9 on each of them!


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    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Lipnancy - thanks for sharing your experience with AAA.

      While I personally haven't used the roadside assistance that much, my wife and children when they were living at home, have all used it on occasion. In addition to the occasional breakdown on the highway, a couple of my children used it when their battery died and they needed a jump start.

      Even though I don't use the roadside assistance that much, I like the peach of mind it offers and the additional charge for this on my auto policy is not that much.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 

      6 years ago from Hamburg, New York

      I have used the AAA service for over 27 years now and have not missed one year of using their services.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      6 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Writer David - thanks for your comment. That sounded like quite an experience but AAA did make it up to you. Many companies will make an effort to make amends when they screw up. It's worth it to them because as the old adage says people expect good work and usually don't say anything about it but give them a poor product or service and they will share that with a dozen - and now with the Internet they tell the world.

      Thanks again for sharing your story.

    • Writer David profile image

      Writer David 

      6 years ago from Mobile, AL

      Very interesting hub. I have had AAA for 17 years. During that time, I've only used it 4 times. I only had one bad experience with them in that time. Back in 1999 I was on the interstate and my old VW broke a timing belt. It took almost 2 hours for them to come to me. Of course, it was during the summer and it was about 98 degrees in the shade that August day. What made me even more furious was that the tow driver said he had only gotten the tow info 30 minutes prior to coming to me! That was unconscionable. Anyway, we took it to a local repair shop and they confirmed it was the timing belt. The cost to replace and repair pistons, etc, was about twice what the old VW bug was worth. So, the guy at the repair offered me $150 for the VW and I accepted it. It was just a work car.

      I contacted AAA after I got home. I told them about what the tow driver said. I was on the phone (I still had a home phone back then) about 15 minutes. They confirmed there had been a screwup at their end. They made amends by reimbursing me for the difference they paid for the tow and what I had to pay ($15). Plus, they paid for my next annual payment (about $72 at that time, I think). Times have changed as you stated. I can't imagine being broke down late at night on one of the many country roads in my area without my smart phone and the technology available to use today. Great hub, brought back memories to me.


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