Thursday, May 31, 2012

My take on RAC's European Breakdown Cover

This is going to come across as something of a rant. I'd much rather it didn't. I'm going to try and explain this fairly and even-handedly and I invite you, the reader, to leave comments that point out areas where I've allowed any traces of bias to seep through.

The RAC are a pile of big, fat, filthy mother-fucking wankers.

Why I bought the policy

When embarking on a six-month solo tour of Europe on a budget, it's important to consider safety as well as cost. What items, what paperwork, what servicing really needs to be done before you go? I took the low-risk approach. I started by heading to a VW specialist in West London for a full mechanical service. My campervan was not broken, did not need fixing, and indeed had just that week passed a new MOT with flying colours. But it's better to be safe. So I spent over £1,100 getting everything polished and replaced, from gear brushes to battery wires. In fact, sod it, here's the full list if you're feeling up to it:
An almost complete list of things Cecil had before I left (yes there was more).
I therefore had no expectation that he might break down in Europe... but it's still better to be safe. So I called the RAC and asked for their most comprehensive, most expensive, most 'peace of mind' policy to cover me in every country I could ever possibly visit. The quote was £680, a hard pill to swallow, but I withdrew a credit card from my wallet with shaking hand and read out the numbers knowing that this was the right thing to do.

Letting them take control

Well, wouldn't luck have it? On the second day of my six-month tour, the engine died. I pulled on to the side of the road thinking, "shit", but also thinking, "thank God for the RAC - come and save me you rugged heroes!".

Save me they did. They called a man from Citroen who (eventually) found me and dragged me to his garage. This was the extent of the RAC cover for Cecil - as soon as the campervan had been collected, all the expenses would be mine. OK, fair enough, there can't be much wrong with it anyway. The RAC put me in a hotel - OK, fine, not something I would do of my own accord but let's enjoy it while it's being offered, eh? Left to my own devices, I would probably have either kipped in my own camper, popped up the little hiking tent or caught a train to my parents' house, but they were offering a hotel - great!

Of course, another part of this service is the communication with the garage. Well wasn't that fantastic? The European breakdown service is provided by a third party called Opteven. Apparently they have a team of mechanical experts, fluent in French, who would call the mechanics almost daily for a detailed update. Then they would try to explain it to the customer services team in laymen's terms. Finally Debbie from the communications team would call me and say "they're working on it" or "it's not ready yet". If I pushed her for details, I might get, "they've done something with the wiring". No amount of nagging would get me any kind of meaningful information about what my money was being spent on or even how much I was spending.

Which one's Debbie? Grrrr...
I jumped up and down, cried, sent email upon email begging for information on my campervan but none of it was any use. 6 weeks later I collected Cecil and drained my bank account to the tune of 960 Euros. Don't try and tell me they didn't see the insurance company coming.

Taking my own control

So when I finally got to my Mum and Dad's house and discovered a nasty oil leak, I didn't have much interest in calling the RAC back. What good were they? I didn't need to be dragged off the side of a road and I didn't need a hotel. And I certainly didn't need total and utter confusion about what was happening to my campervan. So I saved everyone some time and money by sourcing a local mechanic to help out. He wasn't available for a while but sod it, I had places to be and caught my Ryanair flight to Belgium for the week.

Stuck on a motorway

Now, sadly every mechanic has his bad days, and when I departed for Spain 4 weeks later Cecil broke down again. This time I did need dragging around so I took a deep breath and called the RAC. They couldn't recover me themselves due to Autoroute regulations but they would pay for the private recovery. Cool! I was recovered a distance of, what, 6 miles in tandem with two ladies and their Renault. The first question was "do you have insurance?", and what a surprise that having replied "yes" his bill suddenly rocketed to over 200 Euros. And you can bet the two ladies (ahem, their insurance, ahem) were charged the same.

Having left the motorway and having established that the campervan really was broken again, I called the RAC to discuss options. I told them that a mechanic back up North had done the work and that I was very keen for him to continue that work, rather than taking it to yet another garage. They initially told me that the policy was limited to 100km tows and that my mechanic was around 120km away. I asked if they could just take me the 100km in that case, that perhaps I could find my own way the final 20km, but they seemed unsure.

10 minutes later, the phone rang and the chap told me, "OK as an exception we'll tow you the 120km, but if you break down again in the next few days it will be difficult".
"The next few days?", I replied, "no problem - it'll probably be in the garage again anyway and I certainly won't plan for it to break down!". As far as I was concerned, that was it.

However, soon after that the phone rang again. This time it was the supervisor. "I just want to make sure my colleague explained to you that we will not be able to cover future breakdowns."
"Yes", I replied, "for the next few days, right?".
"For the rest of this trip".
"Hang on a minute - you mean until the end of August? You mean if I break down in Poland in mid-July you won't cover me for that?". He confirmed.

Eventually we agreed that I would pay 50% of the tow charge and my policy would stay in force. I had a phonecall from yet another representative to take payment for my half, based on the tow company's quote of 517 Euros plus motorway tolls. Read that again: 517 Euros plus motorway tolls. With no other option apparent I paid again, my half of the total coming to 267 Euros.

When the tow company turned up they were expecting to take me to Montpellier. I stopped them immediately - that was far too far. We went into the office - I found the correct address on Google Maps for them and we left for the correct address, approximately half the distance of Montpellier. I called the RAC back to explain the mixup and to tell them we would not have to pay so much after all, and that I expected to get a partial refund from my half.

Wishing they'd go away

The tow company dropped me off ('dropped' being the operative word but I can't bring myself to mentally relive that moment) at the closed garage and made me sign a piece of paper. I tried to discuss costs with them but they refused, telling me to speak only with my insurance company. My favourite people. I telephoned them as soon as I got back to Dad's and explained the situation: even if the distance weren't so much shorter, we hadn't even been on the motorway that I'd supposedly prepaid tolls for!

Well they weren't interested in the slightest. The quote from the supervisor was "we're just lucky someone accepted the job", not appreciating how much every single Euro cent means to me right now. After days of hassling, I had to let it drop when they explained, "well there was a 50% surcharge you see".
"50%? Why so much ? A weekend is 25%."
"They charged 25% for the weekend and another 25% for being a bank holiday".
"But the bank holiday is on Monday. It's either the bank holiday or the weekend, not both!" As if that made a difference. Insurance job, right?

Excuse my French

It's been quite a relief to me that the RAC / Opteven / Big Fat Wankers don't have to be involved in these latest repairs. I've been able to wander round and visit the mechanic regularly - he's shown me the parts and the problems, and through waving and grinning we've understood each other well. We have a friendly relationship and he's reasonable, even apologetic, about correcting mistakes he made last time. The BFWankers had asked me for his phone number but I told them there was no need - they could save their time and energy and I could continue on my own. And that seemed fine.

Until today. Today I was called and told that the remainder of my policy cover had been cancelled. The reason? The tow company had informed them that I had directed them to 'my home address'. The BFWankers therefore felt I had reneged on the agreement and that I was abusing my policy to - what? Put my feet up and avoid driving? The fact that I had not given them a phone number was proof that my campervan wasn't even broken and that I was a naughty girl who was not to be given any futher assistance.

Yeah, 'cos Mum and Dad's house is exactly where I always wanted to spent my adventure-of-a-lifetime!

It needs saying.
And finally...

I've just given them all the phone numbers and addresses that I know and they've told me that they plan to check them out tomorrow. I feel almost ready to explode: these people cost me in the first place, they're continuing to cost me and they're continually stressing me *the* *fuck* *out*. Yes, they've probably paid out at least £680 on me so far. But that hasn't been £680 that I would have needed to pay! That's £680 of wasted money that's been absorbed by greedy recovery drivers, by unreasonable surcharges and by overpriced hotels beyond my means and way beyond my requirements. £680 that they've wasted and at least that amount again that I've wasted by paying for the things they won't cover.

If I hadn't taken that tow back to the Minervois on Sunday, who would have benefitted? The RAC would have had to start picking out hotels again, maybe also a hire car. I would have been presented with a whole new garage, one that was busy, ignorant and could smell insurance in the air. Both the RAC and I would have been ripped off. Again. Yeah, great idea.

Isn't this type of policy supposed to make you feel relaxed, comfortable, secure? Isn't it supposed to ease your mind and leave you free to concentrate on other things? Assuming this is true, the RAC is in serious breach of contract. I could be here relaxing, talking to my mechanic and getting things sorted out but no - instead I'm talking to the RAC, I'm explaining myself to them, I'm getting frustrated by their absolute lack of any kind of motivation to assist and I'm leaking money. And what's the betting that tomorrow morning they'll start calling those numbers I've given them and upsetting the people who're helping me. That garage bill ain't gonna go down.

So in conclusion, there are upside and downsides to having comprehensive RAC breakdown cover. Except that actually they're all downsides. No upsides. And you shouldn't buy it. And the RAC are a pile of big, fat, filthy mother-fucking wankers.


  1. Oh great - I've just this evening bought RAC cover for our trip this weekend. Surely your home address is in the UK though? Hope you get it sorted. x

    1. Oops! Hopefully weekend cover isn't so bad. Going anywhere nice?

      Yep - I am still a UK resident and have the mortgage to prove it! The interfering bastards can go swing...

    2. Bruges - one of your favourite places. ;)

    3. Haha amazing :-) Have fun!

  2. OK, so it turns out the alternator really is bust... just trying to sort out an exchange with the UK supplier :-( I haven't heard from the RAC yet, with either an update or an apology!

  3. If not already, I'd be getting my French-speaking friend to chat with the mechanic, to warn him to ignore any attempts that the RAC may make (unintentionally or otherwise) to irritate him...


    1. I think you're right... I popped over today but he was starting his weekend early. We'll have a good friendly chat on Monday ;-)

  4. Hope you got it sorted....I nearly had to use my RAC cover this morning but in a moment of inspiration when stuck on the R30 at a traffic lights with the gears in spasm and unable to come out of 4th - I started her up, moved away in 4th and it kicked back in. It was a heart stopping moment - rush hour, centre of the city, traffic lights, very angry Belgians behind us tooting and shaking glad to make it home in one piece!

    1. Wow, well done - scary end to a weekend! Hope you had a fabulous trip :-)

  5. Good news! Cecil's out of the garage again... I'm taking him on a very short camping trip tonight and, all being well, will continue to Provence tomorrow. No thanks to the RAC!