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What AAA and other Car Towing Plans Do Not Disclose About Road Service

Updated on June 19, 2013

When you and your family, or just you, are making a plan for a road trip, whether just down the road or much farther, there is always one lurking danger: car breakdown. Even if you commute to work, it is there. So, you check the fluids or other basic maintenance of your car and silently pray the trip is uneventful.

Most of the time, it is. From point A to B with no issues, As you drive further and further from your familiar territory, odd sounds peek your interest: "Was that MY car? Oh, God, I hope not", you silently pray. The car might jerk out of its smooth hum and rhythm (isn't this word like a bunch of letters tossed together with no relation to phonics?). Panic.

My recent experience was like that. In short, going to the Zoo, 75 miles away. Going was uneventful but for a millisecond "jerk" or "stumble" in an otherwise smooth purring engine. yet, nothing more happened the rest of the trip. After a fun day, we headed back and while going up a slight hill, all power vanished, as if it was a scene from "War of the Worlds". No warnings, not engine lights, just gradually lost power as cars raced by not realizing my situation. We pull over. Crank the car over, yes, but no start.

We call AAA. This is what most road service programs fail to tell you when you sign up:

  1. They actually have a very limited number of contractors who work with them. They always tell you it may be up to 30 minute wait. That really means a one hour wait, even if they are five miles away.
  2. The tow truck usually has a limit to passengers they can take. That is almost always one. Some cabs, maybe two. So, if you have more than one passenger, the tow vehicle will take your car and two passengers only. I want to stress, 90% of the tow trucks have room for only ONE. If your party has four passengers, as mine did, the other three cannot get home and must find another method to get home!
  3. The tow driver is allowed only to take you to one location for drop off, if you need another location, that will count towards your overall yearly trip amount. So, if you tell the drive to drop off the car at a repair facility, and then want him to drop you off at home, either that will be two trips OR you pay for the trip home at a taxi rate.
  4. If your breakdown is outside your max. range limit, you will pay for the additional miles outside that range to the drop off point.

Item two is significant unless you are close to home and call friends. Even being 50 miles from home is a problem to get someone to pick you up. If, you are driving far from home, out in the middle of nowhere, it is a HUGE issue, especially at night. In those situations, the tow truck may take two hours to arrive and then finding a method for the other passengers is significant, let alone, you are in totally unfamiliar territory. The extra passengers CANNOT ride in the broken down car while being towed or if on flat bed. Extra persons cannot cram in the tow cab because there are no extra seat belts. It is all about liability and insurance for the tow company. Then, there is the issue of belongings in the car. If this is a vacation trip, fun has turned into horror.

In my situation, the other three riders had to walk down a path, hitch a ride into town at night. It was a few miles to civilization. By the time my car had been dropped off and I was able to pick them up in another car, 50 miles away, the whole breakdown ordeal had been five hours.

The cause of the breakdown was the timing belt. I thought it was the fuel pump. A month later and $4000 later, the car was running again with an almost new engine (timing belt damage is expensive). My only thankfulness is that this did not happen on our planned trip 400 miles away to L.A. Had it, it would would have a real horror story in time and expense with few good choices to get back home.


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