A few weeks ago, I managed to beach my Chevy Suburban in my yard. Our gravel driveway immediately turns into a massive sand pit down here in southern Texas, and my attempts to free myself were no match for the effect of gravity on a massive pile of American beef. So, I did what anyone would do: I called AAA for roadside assistance. It took me over 18 hours to get winched out.
Now, I was in no real hurry here. I have other vehicles to drive, and getting the ‘Burb pulled out of the sand was no emergency. But this wasn’t the first time I’d been left in service limbo, with no indication of whether any tow-truck company was even contacted by AAA.
Just two months ago, my husband locked the keys in the Suburban. We called up AAA for roadside assistance and... never heard back. In that case, after several phone calls to customer service, we were eventually told that AAA was totally unable to find any service provider — a fact we only learned after we’d waited an hour past our estimated time of service, and called for a status update. At that point, I just called a local locksmith directly; he arrived in 15 minutes and had us on the road soon after. The locksmith said he regularly worked with AAA, and told us to submit our receipt to AAA for compensation.
In the case of the sand-beached Suburban, my estimated service time kept getting pushed out an hour at a time. Initially, we were promised a tow by 4:30 p.m.; we called it a night when the estimate got postponed all the way to 1 a.m. I cancelled the request and decided to try again in the morning. The next day, after several hours, I was finally able to connect with a tow company. It was the same company AAA had told us was on the way the night before, but when I reached the tow company directly, their dispatcher informed me they had never heard from AAA about our call.
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I’ve been lucky in both instances here. Neither of my dilemmas saw me stuck on the side of the road, desperate for assistance. But recently, it seems like AAA has been extremely slow to provide aid even in those emergency situations. Syd, the photographer and artist behind automotive art store One Hell of a Town, was left waiting on the side of the road for AAA for over five hours in late June. It was, Syd said, the third time AAA had left her stranded, in one instance for more than 12 hours.
Syd and I, and hundreds of thousands of American drivers, subscribe to AAA to avoid exactly this kind of emergency — when a catastrophe leaves you stuck alone on the side of the road. But right now, given AAA’s recent track record, I think my strategy will be to call a local company and hope I can get reimbursed by AAA after the fact.