MORE THAN ROADSIDE SERVICE
Youíre driving along the highway
when without warning you feel the steering wheel shake, a weird
hissing noise follows, and then the wheel cover on your front tire
breaks loose. The wheel cover rolls ahead of your car while you slow
down due to a quickly deflating tire. Once you are safely to the side
of the road you have a couple of options: get the spare out, jack the
car up and change it yourself, or call a tow truck out and have them
perform this errand of mercy--for a price of course.
If you are fortunate enough to be
carrying a membership card to one of the companies that offers
emergency roadside service, a call for a tow truck and someone to help
you change the tire would seem a lot easier than doing it yourself.
And in the long run, it might even be less expensive than paying for
the services of a person you donít know, and more than likely, will
never see again.
Motorists organizations offering
roadside emergency services have been around almost since the day the
first cars were out on the highways. A lot has changed in the past
hundred years, and today there are several major companies out there
for motorists to turn to in case of a breakdown or other minor
motoring mishap. As a side benefit, some of the groups offer a wide
variety of other incentives. Some clubs offer to handle registration
and renewal problems, planning a trip with maps, trip outlines, and
free or reduced rate travelers checks.
Without a doubt, the largest and
best known organization in the United States to help stranded
motorists is the AAA. Officially known as the American Automobile
Association, this giant corporation offers not only assistance when a
crisis arises, but also a number of previously mentioned services and
many more such as providing passport photos and special insurance
programs. Useful services such as trip planning or free tour books and
maps are other benefits that make being a member of "Triple-A"
As large and comprehensive as the
AAA is, there are competitors out there. The United States Auto
Club-Motoring Division offers many services in addition to its
roadside aid. Where the AAA depends on a number of locally run "clubs"
or "exchanges", the USAC-MD people rely on marketing their services
through major retail outlets such as oil companies or large chain
J.C. Penney offers a plan called
the Motoring Plus Program through its hundreds of retail outlets. In
addition to roadside services, Penneyís program also offers travel
help, map books and numerous other benefits for its members.
Another program is available
through Mobil Oil Co. Called the Mobil Auto Club, it is actually
administered by the Montgomery Ward Auto Club. Many manufacturer and
roadside assistance programs are also administered by other companies.
For a listing of other clubs see the sidebar in this article.
Ok, we know the advantages of being
a protection plan member, but what should we look out for? What are
some of the drawbacks?
There are some pitfalls you will
want to be aware of when looking for a roadside emergency program.
Some of the plans have restrictions where services will be rendered.
your area has contracted service providers. Many of the national auto
clubs have policies in which services differ from state to state.
Triple-A, while a nationwide
organization, is actually comprised of a number of local or regional
exchanges. While your Triple-A benefits are usually accepted
universally in the United States, and even in parts of Canada, there
can be different charges and limitations.
In Southern California, for
instance, Triple-A members can be towed either to the repair shop
where the truck was dispatched from (regardless of the mileage), or up
to seven miles at the memberís request, before extra charges apply.
However, in North and South Carolina, this same Triple-A feature is
limited to just three miles of free towing before additional charges
apply. In some cases where the local service organization may not
offer the same services as your home group, there may be a
reimbursement clause in your plan. Before traveling, check with your
home agency to be sure you understand what is and isnít covered on
Some of these programs have limits
as to the number of times (in a given period) you can use their
services before additional charges apply. Generally this number is no
less than four times per year, per paid household member. That means
you can have one need for a tow, a flat tire change, and two lockouts
per year, and your spouse or child can have the same with their cars
if they are covered on the policy.
So be sure you understand just what
duties the program you sign up with is under contractual obligation to
perform, and what limitations and/or restrictions accompany those
services. For instance, if you live in an area where nasty winter
storms can cause major driving problems, be aware that some of these
services restrict the amount of equipment that can be used in pulling
your car out of a snow drift or back up onto the road. If a second
person or truck is required, you may have to pay for those services.
All of this should be clearly spelled out in application or the member
services agreement, so read it carefully. And donít be afraid to ask
These plans would not be so
lastingly popular with the motoring public unless they offered some
real value, and delivered on their primary mission: emergency roadside
If you own a new car or a late
model used vehicle with the manufacturerís supplied on-call roadside
service available, you might not think it is necessary to carry a
membership in one of these programs. One may think that the auto
manufacturerís warranty might be sufficient. But what happens if
youíre not in your own car when trouble pops up?
Many of these "clubs" programs
actually follow the member regardless of what vehicle they are
driving, or are even a passenger in. This can be helpful when you have
to ride to work
with your neighbor who unlike yourself, leaves the lights on all day
long. Even if he doesnít have his own "club" card, you can use yours
to get a jump start on his dead battery.
Most of these services offer fuel
service where they will bring you gasoline, but you still have to pay
for the fuel and it is usually premium gas at the full-serve price.
Tire changing is one of the most common troubles motorists will find,
but to take advantage of these plans you must have a road-worthy spare
tire, as these trucks do not carry repair kits or air compressors.
Many of these plans offer trip
interruption protection. We found plans that offered between $250 to
$1,000 reimbursement for such things as rental cars, lodging, and
food, should a trip be derailed due to an accident, mechanical
breakdown, or an on-the-road illness.
Another point to consider with some
of these plans, are "premium" or "plus" packages. For additional cost,
sometimes up to twice as much as the basic cost, they will offer more
extensive benefits when traveling and premium services for those
unexpected emergencies, such as up to 100 miles of free towing. With
the premium plan trip interruption packages, benefits can also be
increased, in some cases by up to 400%.
Most motor clubs or associations
allow for spouses and children under 21 living at home to be covered
at a reduced rate. (Some plans even allow for children who are
students to be
covered up to age 25.) Again, rates and benefits may differ from plan
to plan. For parents with dependent children who are driving, these
plans are a relatively inexpensive bit of insurance. Roadside
assistance plans are there to benefit all motorists in trouble.
Because of this, companies that provide services to you often require
that their contract stations use the latest in modern equipment.
Late-model emergency response trucks are now fitted with flatbeds and
special sling units, required equipment due to the undercarriage
and/or bumper design of many newer vehicles.
It is easy to see that even with a
new or late model used car factory road-side emergency service policy
in place, having a back-up plan that can fill in where the auto
is lacking can be well worth the cost of your annual membership dues.
As with any purchase, the more
knowledgeable you are about the product, the more likely you will be
able to enjoy all of its benefits.