AAA To the (Res)cue
Zoran's BMW gets towed, but not before an all-afternoon-long wait.
By Zoran Segina
Mon, Sep 19, 2022 09:23 PM PST
The first sign of trouble on my 2000 BMW 740iL was the brake pedal sinking almost all the way to the floor. Half hour before I had to slam on the brakes and apparently ripped a brake fluid line. (Why my hard braking compromised such a critical component a subject of another article.) The remaining working half of my braking system would have been enough to bring me to my mechanic seven miles away. As I gingerly progressed along Manchester Blvd. the system was marginal, but functional. At the corner with La Tijera, however, I noticed smoke under the hood. This was far more serious. I pulled to the G&M gas station and found out that the failed line was dripping highly flammable fluid on a hot manifold. I could not risk engine fire. I parked the BMW and called AAA.
My 740iL is meticulously maintained, and recently underwent a 180,000-mile service. But 22-year-old cars can be cantankerous at times and problems are to be expected. Our family has been AAA members for 28 years, and I used the services several times over the course of our membership. I dialed the roadside assistance 800 number expecting to hear dispatcher’s voice as I had done in the past. Instead, I was sent through a loop of automated voice messages as well as multiple text messages on my cell phone providing hyperlinks to pinpoint my location. My iPhone 6 has small screen and typing information on a bright sunny day just did not work. I spent ten minutes and two wasted calls until I reached a human. The 740iL weighs 4400 lbs., and recommended way of towing is a flatbed truck. The dispatcher took my information and assured me that the flatbed truck will be at my location by 10:15 a.m. Flatbeds are more scarce than regular tow trucks and, based on my experience with AAA in the past, a 75-minute wait did not appear excessive.
At 10:15 there was no flatbed truck in sight. Fifteen minutes later I called AAA only to be told – by an automated system, of course - that my tow will arrive by 2:30 p.m. I was outraged. I kept redialing searching for a live dispatcher. The one I finally reached explained to me that they are very busy, and that 2:30 p.m. arrival is the best they can do. She promised that my call will be escalated whatever that means. She was very apologetic, but I did not need consoling. I needed a tow truck.
At 11:00 a.m. I received a call from somebody named Brian who promised he would pick me up with his flatbed truck at noon, three hours after I placed the call.
Meanwhile, my friends who happened to live in the neighborhood, learned of my woes when I called them to cancel the appointment we made earlier. They stopped by, and brought me a sandwich, a bag of oranges, and a drink. Thank God, I was parked at a gas station with a functioning bathroom and snacks.
Noon came and went. There was no Brian or his flatbed truck. In desperation, I called my mechanic to find out I if could tow the BMW with a regular tow truck hoping that AAA has more of these available so I could get picked up sooner. I also asked him for the telephone number of the guy he uses for towing service. The 7-mile tow would have cost approximately $75. And yes, I could use a single axle tow truck. It was worth placing a call. It was middle of the day. I was tired, sweaty, and my carefully laid out plans for the day were going to hell. My iPhone 6 was running out of juice. In the next call to AAA Roadside Assistance system, the computer duly informed me that my pickup time has been moved to 5:00 p.m.! It seemed like every one of my calls to AAA was met by electronic enforcer kicking my request for help further down the road.
Half hour later I received a call from a driver who told me his name was Osama and that he’d be at the gas station with his flatbed by 13:15 p.m. He did arrive, loaded the BMW, and then covered next seven miles the Tel Aviv way, like in his hometown. It did not take long, and I was grateful for his dynamic handling of busy traffic on 405. Shortly after 2:00 p.m., I finally reached the place where I could get help. I gave my oranges to Osama. If my case was a preview of what awaited him for the rest of the day, he needed the fruit more than I did.
Our family’s AAA annual Premier Service Membership for 2022/2023 is $177. For that money I could buy two tows from my mechanic’s guy. I understand that times may be busy, but AAA cannot in good conscience call its service on that Wednesday Premier. AAA was stringing me along, disregarding my time and nerves. The automated system that is supposed to expedite the dispatch simply does not work. AAA may have the most advanced software to communicate with its customers and pinpoint their location, but computer chips, however sophisticated, cannot tow two tons of steel seven miles up the Southern California roads. You need hardware, not software, AAA.
I was lucky to have been stuck in a parking lot of a busy gas station in the middle of the day. I shudder to think what would have happened if I was in the same disabled BMW in the middle of the night, in some dangerous neighborhood. Should I start carrying reserve water, extra food, a container for urine (they do exist) and some weapons for self-defense? Or a scenario where my wife (the AAA membership is in her name) was with me. For five hours? Knowing the Tall Girl, the marriage would survive, but I would be hearing about this episode until death do us part.
I never received a call back from AAA with the explanation for the delay, or an apology for the way I was treated. When I called AAA to verify my tow truck driver’s name, I was told to request it in a letter. It seems that five-hour-delays, stringing members along, and refusal to provide basic information is new way of doing business for the once vaunted Automobile Club of Southern California.
Recently, however, the Tall Girl received an offer for a $300,000 family term life insurance policy from AAA. Now, about that part of getting stuck for hours in a bad part of town...
About The Author
Zoran Segina grew up in Eastern Europe, where he owned several Zastava 750s (a variation of the Fiat 600) and participated in local rallies. After a lengthy diet of Yugoslav-manufactured cars, he came to the Mecca of automotive culture – wherein he promptly lost his heart to a tall girl and a short Dart Swinger. He currently commutes around LA in a BMW 633Csi, having made a switch from a Volvo 240 DL with a quarter million miles on the odometer.