If you're like a lot of people, you're an American Automobile Association (AAA) member who rarely or never whips out the card. And you're grateful for this, since you figure AAA benefits are only of value in emergency situations.
But we've got news for you. The services offered by AAA go well beyond those received when you're stranded on the side of the road with a flat. Sure, AAA Roadside Assistance seems worth the price of admission (the organization's assistance with towing, flat tires and refueling can save your hide — even locksmith services are provided), and so do those road and freeway maps and guidebooks. And we're willing to wager some of you have run to the local AAA branch for smog checks, insurance (vehicle, home, boat and life), and traveler's checks.
However, did you know that you could also turn to AAA for a notary public? How about DMV services (such as personalized plates and registration)? Pretty cool, eh? We've got 10 other surprising AAA services available for club members, automotive in theme and beyond.
Do be aware, however, that those included here may not be available nationwide, and AAA benefits could vary from club to club.
1. Bail bond:
Might as well kick this list off with one of the most surprising perks offered by AAA, a Guaranteed Arrest Bond Certificate. If you're involved in a minor traffic violation, know that members of participating clubs in certain states can use the certificate instead of cash if the fine is $1,000 or less. Additionally, up to a $5,000 bail bond for covered traffic violations may also be available.
2. Battery service:
For 11 years now, AAA's been offering mobile battery service. That's not just about giving your battery juice via jumper cables as part of the roadside-assistance package. AAA will test, diagnose or even replace the battery on the spot to help prevent you from ending up on the roadside in the future. And the technician will come wherever you want, be it home, office or, heck, even Starbucks if that's most convenient. Bonus: Most AAA club territories offer this.
3. Managing your money:
AAA has an entire financial services arm. We're talking about credit cards, personal loans, certificates of deposit, money market accounts and IRAs. It should then come as no surprise that AAA also can help you finance or refinance your vehicle.
4. Help with auto repairs:
You know how you look for AAA's Diamond Rating on that burger joint when traveling to a strange town? Like the Diamond system, AAA Approved Auto Repair also is about meeting certain standards. Repair facilities recommended by AAA have been screened and inspected; they've gone through not only a word-of-mouth reputation review, but also government/consumer agency and financial background checks; and they're monitored to ensure they keep that seal of approval. Pssst: Sometimes showing your card will even net you a discount at the shop.
Here's another benefit that may come as a shock to you — AAA has a prescription savings program. AAA says that more than 57,000 pharmacies nationwide are participants. You're looking at around a 15 percent discount on brand names, 35 percent on generic. And good news, pet owners — those discounts should apply to the furry ones' prescriptions that are also filled at the pharmacy.
6. Travel and passport:
Many of us start our road-trip brainstorming with a routine visit to the local AAA office to pick up maps and TourBooks. For those who prefer to leave the planning to professionals, AAA also has a full-service travel agency that can book just about any kind of travel arrangements — from cruise ships to rental cars — as well as lodging reservations. And while it still takes a government office to issue a passport, some AAA branches can snap those always-glamorous passport photos for you.
7. Service reminders:
When was the last time you changed your oil? Rotated your tires? Checked your belts and hoses? AAA makes remembering these and other maintenance tasks easy with the AutoManager. Just fill out an online form with basic information about your vehicle and you'll get e-mail reminders when it's time to perform these basic chores. AutoManager can also alert you to vehicle recalls and help with finding AAA-approved auto repair facilities. It'll even prompt you when it's time to pay your auto insurance premium.
8. Driver training:
Choosing a driver's ed program for your teen is too important to leave to a random trip through the Yellow Pages. Selected AAA offices offer teen driving schools with classroom and in-car instruction, and those who pass receive a free Auto Club Dependent Associate Membership for a year. Some offices also offer one-on-one evaluation programs to help teens sharpen their skills before the driving test. But this isn't just for kids — there are member discounts for online traffic schools and special driver-improvement courses for mature drivers (55 and older).
9. Shopping discounts:
You know to flash your AAA card for a discount when checking into a hotel or buying tickets to a theme park or museum. But did you know an AAA membership is also good for retail discounts? Participating merchants vary depending on your area, so check the Auto Club's Web site or the club's monthly magazine for specials near you. In Southern California, for example, your AAA card will save you money on goods from retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Target and Giant RV.
10. Driving assistance:
Then: a spiral-bound, personalized map of your road trip with the route highlighted in pen by an AAA office staffer. Now: an online service providing directions in a format similar to the mapping programs by Google, Yahoo and MapQuest. Yet you can customize the TripTik map to show gas stations, restaurants, hotels and other points of interest. Rolling over each icon with your cursor will reveal business addresses, phone numbers and a description of services offered, right down to Diamond Ratings and menu prices. You can even book hotels straight from the link on the map.