Roadside Assistance: Who Ya Gonna Call?
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Roadside Assistance: Who Ya Gonna Call?

How To Choose — and Use — a Program Wisely


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When you're broken down by the side of the road, your motor club card suddenly becomes your most precious possession. But with roadside assistance programs being pushed by credit card and cell phone companies — to name just a few recent entries to this field — how do you choose from the glut of plans available?

Before trouble strikes, it's important to choose a roadside assistance provider that meets your needs. Experts suggest weighing your options. "Be sure it covers the person, not the vehicle," says Doug McLendon, director of roadside programs for AAA, the largest auto club in the country. "Look for a flexible plan that offers benefits to suit your personal needs and won't leave you with out-of-pocket expenses after a breakdown."

According to Better World Club President Mitch Rofsky, "You definitely want to ask about the turnaround time for a service call," referring to the wait time for help to arrive. "Then, consider the extra benefits of each program, like discounts and travel information."

Taking the time to review all the details of your roadside assistance program (or programs) can pay off when you're stranded and need to decide quickly who to call. Auto clubs vary widely in costs and benefits. Dividing roadside assistance programs into three categories — freebies, add-ons and stand-alones — may help to simplify the choice.

Freebies

Roadside assistance usually gets tucked into the package for free when you buy a new or certified pre-owned car. Edmunds.com editors have compiled a list of roadside assistance coverage for new cars based on manufacturer. Each automaker sets its own limits on how long the free service will last by mileage or age of vehicle. Some used car deals also include roadside assistance plans, but they may require a separate inspection. Generally, a tow provided through one of these plans will take your car to the nearest dealership, which implies higher-priced parts and labor, unless the faulty parts are under warranty.

OnStar, included free for one year on all new GM vehicles, streamlines roadside assistance. Wireless and GPS technology installed in the vehicles connects drivers with a call center that dispatches towing and other emergency services and can remotely unlock doors and help locate stolen cars. After the grace period, OnStar costs $200 or more annually, depending on the level of coverage. If your new car is your only vehicle and you don't pile on the miles, the more conventional three-to-seven-year roadside assistance package that comes with the car may be all you need.

The free roadside assistance programs offered through cell phone plans or credit card agreements need closer scrutiny. Two major carriers have faced lawsuits from customers who claim they were being billed for what they thought were free roadside assistance plans. Some cell phone-based plans require that the call for assistance be made from the phone that includes the plan.

What appear to be free roadside assistance programs offered through some credit card companies can turn out to be glorified dispatch services. The tow truck arrives and the technician provides whatever service is required, but later, charges for that service appear on the credit card account.

Add-On Plans

A growing number of businesses and organizations, from Sam's Club to the AARP, offer roadside assistance plans for a small charge added to other membership or service fees. These add-on plans are usually contracted out to national roadside assistance providers such as Road America, and the level of dependability is comparable.

However, the benefits are not necessarily the same. For instance, the roadside assistance plan obtained through a personal Allstate insurance policy covers only the insured vehicle, while a plan offered by Allstate Motor Club covers the cardholder (plus an additional driver) in any car being driven by either of them. Also look carefully at the number of miles allowed for each tow and the number of people covered in these plans to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.

Some insurance companies treat roadside assistance service calls made through their add-on plans like accident claims. Too many requests for help with a lockout could result in higher premiums. If the service calls are reported to ChoicePoint, the insurance industry record-keeper, your eligibility for coverage may be jeopardized.

Stand-Alone Plans

Families, especially ones with teen drivers, usually spend enough time on the road to take advantage of the services offered by stand-alone roadside assistance providers such as the companies mentioned below. No two auto clubs are the same, and most offer two or more levels of membership.

To compound the confusion, many auto clubs sprinkle in benefits of little or no value, running the gamut from paying for ambulance transport (usually covered by health insurance) to providing reward money for help in the conviction of car thieves. Lodging discounts and travel advice at some clubs amount to the same kind of information you'd find at Travelocity or Mapquest. Consider how often you'll really need a guaranteed arrest bond for a traffic violation.

Ask Questions

Five key questions to ask when comparing roadside assistance plans are:

  • What is the cost of a basic membership?
  • How many people are covered in the basic membership?
  • How many tows per person are allowed each year?
  • What is the average response time per service call?
  • What percentage of service calls will require reimbursement and what percentage will be completely covered by the membership? (Motor clubs usually don't have this information readily at hand, but you can use this rule of thumb: The more detailed the information in the members' handbook about how to request a reimbursement, the more likely you will be reimbursed rather than towed without paying up front.)

Reap Benefits

Once you've decided on a plan, familiarize yourself with all its benefits so you can use them when the opportunity arises. AAA, actually an affiliation of more than 75 regional auto clubs, gives you the choice of a tow to the nearest repair facility no matter how far, or to a location of your choice within a specified number of miles (depending on the level of membership you choose). In addition to its long-standing rating system for lodging, AAA also inspects auto repair companies and will arbitrate complaints made by members about any certified service facility. A mobile battery testing and replacement service provides on-the-scene maintenance or installation for AAA members.

Better World Club is one of the fastest-growing auto clubs. It features environmentally friendly options like bicycle roadside assistance and discounts on hybrid car rentals as well as traditional motor club services. BWC members can also support ecological change with carbon offsets, payments that support renewable energy production or programs that work to counteract emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide.

It's also important to be aware of situations that your plan doesn't cover, such as a vehicle disabled in a flood or one stranded on a highway like the New Jersey Turnpike, where local governments prohibit all but certain licensed towing companies. Keep a roadside emergency kit on board as well as some spare change in case your cell phone connection cuts out.

Plowing through all the options for roadside assistance may seem as appealing as running on fumes through rush-hour traffic. But once you know how and when you're covered, you can usually recoup the cost of your plan the first time you call for help.

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Comments

  • jroihl jroihl Posts:

    We recently switched from many trouble free years with AAA to AARP (AllState) to save a bit. I locked my keys (and my phone and wallet with membership card) in my car in the underground garage of our public library. I borrowed a library phone to call AARP. I was on the phone with them for 20 min as they searched for my membership number under name, phone, address, but for unknown reason were unable to find my account and thus would not honor my membership but agreed to send "someone" and gave me the name of the company. With no phone I could not be called in the garage where it was extremely cold and the library was about to close. It turned out the women who was unable to find my membership had not relayed that I was in the garage and the "locksmith" was waiting out front. Once discovered he drove down in a totally unmarked truck with no uniform. When i asked what company he was from he named a different one from what AARP told me. He did not have the proper equipment but used something hand made like a coat hanger. Meanwhile the garage had emptied. Then he told me it would be $170+!!! and wanted cash. I am a 72 yo woman and did not chose to confront him . I did tell him I did not carry that kind of cash so he produced a credit card form but no proper way to run my card. Meanwhile the heavy metal grated door closed on us. I later found it would open when approached from the inside but did not know that at the time. When I reached my husband later he called AARP and they found my membership immediately but too late. They refunded $120 of the $170+ after many phone calls. No apology. No account fo the women I originally spoke with through they told me they identified her. Needless to say, we are returning to AAA . Who always took our word if the card was locked in the car and we produced it once unlocked.

  • skljajic skljajic Posts:

    My battery was flat on Monday, Oct 17, 2011. I am a member since 2009. Called "Allstate" for assistance. They said they will be there in like 45 minutes. Hour and a half later they call again to have me complete a survey about how great their assistance was. The problem was - no one ever came! And I was in an urban area (Ft Lauderdale!). Fortunately one of the drivers passing by stopped and I was able to start my car. Allstate Roadside Assistance - we are done! I am not paying you a penny anymore. You just care of taking money from me... when I needed you I WASN'T in your GOOD HANDS!

  • texizz texizz Posts:

    I recently renewed a contract with AARP Roadside assistance. The first year of the contract I had no vehicle problems, therefore needed no services from AARP. Shortly after my recent renewal I needed a jump start at my home in rural Mississippi. When I called AARP they advised me that they had no one under contract in my aera. That left me to take care of this myself. I have canceled my useless contract with AARP. I had the same type of problem with two cell phones from AARP. Neither phone worked in my area. I now have a Jitterbug phone that works EVERYWHERE. I am finished with AARP!

  • shiftmyown shiftmyown Posts:

    For the second time in less than two months, my family has been denied assistance by AAA, despite membership having been properly paid. The first time my daughter was left locked out of her car in a not-so-savory neighborhood. AAA said her membership was no longer valid because the person who had given her the membership was no longer a member. That's B.S. Her membership was paid and had not yet expired. Now I'm left paying for a tow because AAA charged $79 for membership to my credit card but insists I never paid. "Well, the billed amount was $78, and you're saying you were charged $79. That $79 charge must be for something else you bought from AAA." No, our memberships were the only things purchased. AAA then told me to get certain information from the credit card company and they could straighten it out. I got what AAA asked, then AAA said I had to wait until I received a statement by mail from my credit card company so AAA could see the information in print. Sure, I'll just drive down in the car that isn't working because you wouldn't tow it. My statement may not arrive for days. My only choice: Ask my credit card company to refund the charge, which it agreed to do when I explained what happened, and pay for the tow myself, then put it through my insurance carrier. "How can they say you didn't pay?" the credit card assistant asked. Just really not very bright, I guess. I can't help but wonder where that extra $1 went - the difference between what I owed and what I was charged. It's not much money, but do that 2,000 or 3,000 times and somebody's got a nice little sum. So after 24 years, my wife has had to say goodbye to AAA, whose service has just disappeared. Anyone have a recommendation on a replacement service?

  • forthefree forthefree Posts:

    Good day to all of you, I wanted to post a complaint and a WARINIG in regards to Allstate Motor Club. I was a member in good standing with a Platinum Elite membership, which allows me unlimited tow and use of other services. Unfortunately, I used the service twelve times in two years and that is when I received the dooms day letter. I tried to address this issue to no avail. The funny thing is that I informed Allstate Motor Club that I have a very long commute to work over ninety-five miles one-way. Therefore, I need a service that I can use if my vehicle broke down. Unaware of the limitations of my membership I received a letter from Allstate Motor Club Loss Control Dept stating that I had excessive usage and therefore they had to cancel my membership. So, after several calls into customer service I realized that one, Loss Control Dept was a ghost department with very little access to the public and unlimited actually meant to the discretion of the company. Therefore, I decided to inform the public when dealing with Allstate Motor club caveat emptor- “Let the buyer beware”.

  • bpeifer bpeifer Posts:

    Like "shiftmyown" who posted earlier, I was also denied service by AAA. I had the AAA Plus membership. My membership has been paid properly for 12 years. My car broke down on the left side of a very busy highway, when I called for service they required an additional $41.00 above and beyond my already paid membership fee. For that additional $41.00 they would tow my car 5 miles. After the 5 miles I would have to pay more money to the tune of $3.50 a mile. I guess the close to $100.00 a year membership fee for 12 years without needing their service for many years wasn't enough free money for them. Well, now they won't get any more of my money. They would not help me out when I needed it and I will not support their scam any longer. I have canceled my membership and am currently in search of a new company. My advice to as many people as I can tell is DON'T USE AAA! They will take your money and leave you stranded.

  • legacyinc legacyinc Posts:

    AAA is a great company for Roadside assistace. I know a lot of people that love AAA but I found them to be very limiting on their coverage. My family has now switched from Allstate to progressive and added the best Roadside assistace membership to our arsenal.

  • legacyinc legacyinc Posts:

    Great article on Roadside assistace. I have regular insurance but I have an additional Roadside assistace membership that gives me $150,000 in coverage for only $19.95 you should check it out!

  • MY MULTIPLE ABUSES AT THE GOOD HANDS OF ALLSTATE My vehicle need a jump. I called the Allstate people and they dispatched some independent contractor. He came out to the lonely country road and said YOU OWE ME MORE MONEY. Call Allstate! I said I already paid for the call. What he was going on about was that he wanted me to pay an earlier call that Allstate made to him but cancelled. I refused. Overnight when the vehicle was parked some thief stole one of the RV batteries. He looked at it and said "I'm outta here." I said, hey, drive me to an auto parts store. He said "no way." I said, "you're going to leave me in the middle of nowhere-a fellow human being?" He said "I don't think Allstate will fire me because I do." He then cursed at me and said that even though I paid Allstate $50 for the jump that he only got EIGHT BUCKS of that. He then peeled out and the dirt and the gravel hit my pants. I then walked about 2 miles to a real estate office and called AllState again. I said what happened and Allstate informed me that I would get no refund as he actually came out to me and then told me to go to hell. I then told the man that I had a 6 wheel vehicle with an empty shell on the back. He then said he would send a truck to tow me to an auto parts store. The tow bed truck shows up an hour late and the man says "I'm not going to put that on the truck. It's too heavy." i said, Its just a Ford 450 with an empty shell on the back" He got into his truck and drove away. I then walked another two miles and found a local to drive me to an auto parts store where I got two new batteries and she started up. So there you go-YOU may pay $75 for the service but ALLSTATE pays them $8 so then don't give a damn about you at all. I told Allstate that they don't give a damn about Allstate's customers and Allstate said "well, they skip having to pay advertising costs to get customers so we are not being unfair." So if you would like the same kick in the [non-permissible content removed] that I got from Allstate and its TWO towing contractors then go ahead and give them your money. Otherwise, go with Good Sam or AAA. If it looks too good to be true-it is. BTW, the credit card company said they will be pleased to take these two charges off of my credit card bill as they did not provide services as promised.

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