So, you’ve decided that you need some breakdown cover but don’t know who to buy it with. You’ve done your homework and know that the AA, RAC, and Green Flag are the three biggest players in a crowded market – but how do you choose between them?
It’s not an easy task and is made more complicated because everyone’s requirements are so different; but, by looking at your priorities, attitudes and needs we can help you to narrow it down a bit!
Does size matter to you?
All three are big companies in the car breakdown market; none are likely to go under leaving you stranded and all have the resources to deal with your problems, no matter how big and no matter which European country you find yourself in.
The RAC, owned by The Carlyle Group, has 7 million customers and over 1,750 patrols, dealing with 2.5 million breakdowns every year.
Green Flag, who are part of the RBS Group, has over 5 million members and employs a network of local contractors to handle breakdowns.
The AA, meanwhile, deals with 3.5 million broken down cars a year. They don’t say precisely how many patrols they have but claim that “no other breakdown provider has as many dedicated patrols.” They also have 15 million members, which makes them the largest car breakdown service provider by a huge margin.
Do you want to cover the car or the driver?
Sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? Well, it is but it’s a fundamental point to consider and one that will help you decide who to take breakdown cover out with.
Green Flag, for example, cover the vehicle. This can be a real boon and save you a fortune if you have one car that a number of people drive. The AA also offers this as an option, as do the RAC.
The AA and the RAC can also cover an individual regardless of which car they are in. This will be the best option if you regularly drive, or are a passenger in, a number of different cars.
Is price important to you?
The cost of goods and services are rising all the time and it’s important to economise whenever you can. It is important not to skimp on your cover though; there is no point in saving ten pounds and if that means that you then have to pay over the odds to be towed home.
You will get the best price with all of the big-three breakdown companies if you buy online, although it is also worth looking out for special offers in newspapers and at shows if you aren’t in a hurry.
Traditionally Green Flag have been the cheapest breakdown company of the three with the AA and RAC being neck-and-neck after that.
All are very keen to attract new members and often reserve their best deals for them, something that you can use at renewal time.
Speed of response
Green Flag lead the field here, claiming that their average response time is 30 minutes, a figure that is helped by employing a network of local agents to act on their behalf. The RAC aim to reach their customers in 40 minutes while the AA doesn’t quote an average response time.
The RAC have the highest number of patrols per member while the AA have the highest number in total.
Who is the best at repairing cars at the roadside?
Again, Green Flag are the best here, repairing 86% of all cars at the roadside.
The RAC and the AA tie for second place with both claiming that they can fix 80% of breakdowns at the roadside. Interestingly, the AA claim that they take an average of 30 minutes to effect roadside repairs; neither Green Flag or the RAC quote for repair time.
What if I’ve already broken down?
Both the RAC and the AA will provide breakdown cover, even if you’ve already broken down. Just don’t expect to get their best prices…
Are you a traditionalist?
The purchase of any product is rarely an entirely objective exercise. Tick boxes and flowcharts only go so far in helping consumers decide what to buy; emotion and instinct play a part too – even in the purchase of car breakdown cover!
The AA and RAC have a long and distinguished history. The AA was initially formed to help protect motorists by warning them of police speed traps (they did this by NOT saluting members if a policeman was in the area). They also gave legal advice and erected warning signs for motorists. If tradition and the spirit of defending the motorist against the government and the forces of law and order is your thing then the AA may well be your first choice!
The RAC were more motorsport-oriented in the early days, staging the first ever British Grand Prix in 1926 at the famous Brooklands circuit. They then went on the sponsor the RAC rally, an event that it would be true to say developed rallying as we know it today. If you are a motorsport fan then the heritage and evocative images that the RAC conjure up may mean that they are your number one choice.
Green Flag were one of the first ‘independent’ breakdown companies and some claim that they forced the AA and RAC to develop their services to include cover in the event of an accident as well as providing a nationwide recovery service, both of which Green Flag pioneered. They also use a network of local contractors instead of employing their own patrols; if an independent spirit and supporting the local economy is important to you then Green Flag will be worth considering.
Are ‘extras’ important to you?
The ‘extras’ that the three breakdown companies provide varies too. The AA, for example, has a directory of discounts for members, covering dining, days out, other AA products and services, parking, clothing, car repairs, and holidays. They claim that their members can save up to £300 a year by using the directory.
The RAC offer a no-claims discount that can reduce the cost of membership by 10% for every year that you don’t call them out, up to a maximum of 50%.
Green Flag offer a no-claims discount too and they will even protect this once you have had four years within making a claim. They will also give you £10 if they don’t reach you and your broken down car within one hour of calling them.
The final point to consider is the breakdown company’s reputation; do their customers like them and would they use them again?
Green Flag’s claims regarding customer satisfaction are limited to telling us that they won the 2010 Your Money award.
The AA claim that 95% of their customers would recommend them to a friend, showing that the majority of their customers are highly satisfied with the service that they receive.
The Institute of Customer Service rated the RAC number one in the UK Customer Satisfaction Index in 2010. They also won the 2009 J D Power ‘Roadside Assistance’ award for the fourth year running.