RogerBW's Blog

Disappointed with the RAC 13 May 2018

I have decided not to renew my membership of the RAC.

I've used other companies before, but I'd had RAC membership since 2006. I hadn't used them much, but have mostly been happy with them until now.

One Wednesday evening, I was driving to Cambridge when the nearside front wheel started to vibrate; I pulled in to a layby on a main road just outside Royston to take a look, and the brake disc was glowing orange. (I should have taken a photograph.) This seemed to me to be a good reason not to drive any further. I called the RAC, and was told that a patrol could be expected about an hour and a half later (T+100). That was fair enough.

But the operator was unable to accept a latitude/longitude for my position, and tried to insist on a post code, not particularly useful for a car at the side of the road rather than outside someone's house; he was apparently unable to locate a point on a map, and eventually accepted a verbal description.

The operator also had some difficulty with the English language (he wanted to write up the problem as "faulty brake light"), so I was reassured to receive (at T+13) an SMS message confirming that a patrol was on the way.

At about T+145, having received no further contact, I tried to phone again to find out what was going on, but gave up after 15 minutes on hold. I asked my wife to call, since she was at home on a landline phone rather than relying on battery; after a further hour on hold (T+220) she was able to speak with someone who apparently didn't know what had happened but could find no record of my call; that person was able to start things moving again, and contacted me around T+250 to tell me that there would be a further hour's delay.

Assistance finally arrived, not having been told my location in any more detail than "north of Royston", at about T+300. This was not an RAC patrol, but a local breakdown operator, who was unequipped to do anything more than a quick visual inspection (of course, the brake disc had long since cooled), and suggested that I either wait several more hours for a tow vehicle or drive home slowly and carefully; I did the latter. So after all that, I could in fact have driven on to Cambridge…

(I got the car repaired: new disc and brake shoes.)

Naturally I complained to the RAC: an hour or more on hold clearly indicates they're not employing enough call centre staff (with modern smartphones, expecting people to have an hour of call time to sit on hold seems excessive), and it shouldn't be possible simply to lose a call. The incompetence of the initial contact bod didn't help, but that was secondary.

Three weeks after my complaint, I finally got a response, consisting essentially of:

I am very sorry if our Specialist did not portray the professionalism we demand and all our calls are recorded. Therefore I have sent a copy of your concerns to the Team Manager of the Specialist and she will listen to the call and taken any appropriate action she feels is necessary and we will deal with this internally.

…and nothing about the way the case was dropped? Are you going to blame that on the poor minimum-wage bastard (sorry, "Specialist", with the capital letter) who answered the phone? Nothing about the wait time? Where are the procedural fixes? If he didn't log the case, why did I get an SMS message?

(When they got my name wrong when I first signed up, by ignoring what I'd put into the web form and making something up, they gave me three months' free membership. Leaving me sitting in the cold for five hours? Nothing.)

And then the renewal came due, and they intend to raise the subscription fee by over 40%, with no reason given. A substantial part of this is an "arrangement fee", for the terribly complicated process of letting an ongoing direct debit continue and changing the expiry date in the database; clearly they're following the Ticketmaster model and claiming a headline price that it is impossible for anyone actually to pay.

The RAC has been through several corporate owners in this decade (currently it's split between a pair of investment funds based in Singapore and Luxembourg), and I feel that the current batch are more interested in making the largest possible profit than in providing a service. I have made arrangements for breakdown coverage elsewhere; if it's going to be this bad anyway, I might as well pay less for it.


  1. Posted by John Dallman at 12:23pm on 13 May 2018

    Woof! Quitting seems completely justified.

  2. Posted by Sean Cardus at 03:05pm on 13 May 2018

    I flip-flop between RAC & AA each year, so that i get the "new customer" discount along with cashback from quidco... Always works out cheaper than any retention discount they offer...

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 04:12pm on 13 May 2018

    I did look for a new customer discount from the AA, but nothing doing. Green Flag was rather cheaper (if the RAC isn't going to send its own patrols anyway, I don't need to pay a premium for that service).

    I get the impression that the RAC has optimised its processes for "car won't start when I try to leave somewhere" (thus the demand for a postcode). When the car's fuel was run down to the point that it wouldn't start on the slope outside my house a few months ago, they turned up very quickly and were ready with a standard solution. I think it's the good old-fashioned roadside rescue where they fall down.

    FOr breakdown services, I ended up with rescuemycar.com, which is Very Cheap. And they have an honest geographic number for calling them in emergency! I have absolutely no idea how good they'll be, and I hope not to find out any time soon.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 04:26pm on 13 May 2018

    I have had no breakdown cover at all for about 10 years. This has worked fine since I haven't broken down in that time. My plans for what to do if I do break down are vague, but along the lines there must be someone who will take my money there and then to at least recover the vehicle. I'd probably phone my dad first for advice, and with Roger's recent incident I would have got the advice you ultimately got but rather sooner.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 04:44pm on 13 May 2018

    My understanding is that one-shot callouts cost £150-200 just to turn up, more if any work needs to be done. With a reliable car you may well save money; what I'm paying for, as with insurance, is the promise that the problem will be sorted out in a prompt way. The RAC has comprehensively broken that promise.

  6. Posted by Sean Cardus at 05:59pm on 13 May 2018

    When i say discount, I mean compared to the price you get on renewal. Switching to the other side is nearly always less than half the price of the renewal of your current contract.

  7. Posted by RogerBW at 06:41pm on 13 May 2018

    Yes - the AA had a cheaper offer than the RAC renewal rate, but it was still substantially higher than I paid for the RAC last year.

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