Confessions of an AA technician

We asked that friendly person who comes to fix your car what it’s really like to be an AA technician and for their ultimate insider guide to avoiding breakdowns...

Confessions of an AA technician

AA technician

Why are the AA big fans of flowers? How does an 'unknown white van' can become a 24-tonne tipper lorry?  Is an AA roadside technician stronger than a bodybuilder?

Alexandra Phillips, 30, has been an AA technician for eight years, assisting its members across Gloucestershire. Here she tells us about all of the above, and answers the essential questions you’ve always wanted to ask…

What’s the most common call-out that you attend?

Flat tyre

It’s most commonly to something flat. More new cars are coming on the market with no spare wheel as standard, so we are receiving more calls from stranded customers needing help with a puncture. Flat batteries are also high on the list.

What’s the most common call-out that you attend? (Cont.)

2003 Audi A3 interior light

Even a hybrid vehicle is fitted with a standard 12-volt battery that can easily be drained by something as simple as an interior light being left on but drivers don't realise and instead confuse it with the motor battery, believing it’s charged.

What advice would you give a motorist heading off on a long journey?

Engine bay with bottled oil

Make sure your car is fit and ready. That means checking that its fluids, namely the oil, coolant, brake and clutch fluid, and screen wash, are at the correct levels. Examine the tyres for damage and check they have sufficient tread depth and that they’re correctly inflated.

What advice would you give a motorist heading off on a long journey? (Cont.)

Mercedes-Benz C-Class diesel with fuel filler flap open

You’ll find your car’s tyre pressure chart in the handbook, on one of the door shuts or inside the petrol filler cap. I’ve seen enough drivers get lost even with a sat-nav to know you shouldn’t rely solely on one. So study the route you’re going to take and pay attention to road signs. 

What routine checks should motorists do?

Woman re-fuelling Mini Cooper SD at petrol station

There are six areas of a car you should keep your eye on regardless of whether you’re going for a drive or not, and together they spell FLOWER. They are:

Fuel: Always make sure you have enough fuel. It’s no use waiting for the low fuel light to come on because the likelihood is, it will when you’re a long way from a fuel station! You’ve then a world of stress to deal with, not to mention the risk of running out.

What routine checks should motorists do? (Cont.)

Toyota Avensis headlight

Lights: Clean them every few weeks and have someone help you check the tail and brake lights are working.

What routine checks should motorists do? (Cont.)

Man checking oil level with dipstick

Oil: Even some healthy engines use as much as one litre of oil every 1000 miles. You must check your oil regularly. Don't rely on the oil warning light to tell you because by then, your engine may have been damaged.

What routine checks should motorists do? (Cont.)

Car coolant fluid reservior

Water: An engine needs coolant to prevent it from seizing, so keep an eye on the coolant level, not in the radiator but in the big expansion bottle under the bonnet, and only when the engine is cold. It’ll have Min and Max marks on it that you can use as a guide. Top it up with dedicated pre-mixed coolant and not tap water. At the same time, check the level of water in the windscreen washer bottle.

What routine checks should motorists do? (Cont.)

Car battery

Electrics: A flat battery is our number one call-out. Reckon on a battery lasting about four years before it needs replacing. Also, check the cooling fan comes on when the engine is hot by starting the engine and letting it idle for a few minutes.

What routine checks should motorists do? (Cont.)

Tyres advice

Rubber: Keep an eye on the condition of your tyres and check they’re inflated to the correct pressures.

What's the roadside fix you’re most proud of?

Fuel-saving tyres under threat

It was a simple wheel change on a 4x4. The owner was a body builder with huge muscles who had tried changing the wheel himself. His wife told me he’d been really struggling with it but I came along and made it look easy!

What AA vehicle do you drive?

VW AA van

It’s a Volkswagen T6 Transporter van. One of the most important pieces of equipment it has is a Compact Recovery Trailer (CRT) that I use to recover a vehicle that cannot be repaired at the roadside. There’s also a docking station for my Panasonic G1 Toughpad tablet.

All my tasks are sent to it with pre-programmed locations linked to the built-in sat nav. It’s also how I communicate with a vehicle’s engine management system, relaying its fault codes to my on-board Bosch diagnostics unit, using a wireless connection.

What other major items of equipment do you carry in the van?

AA spare wheel

I have a vice, a trolley jack, an electric impact gun and a locking wheel nut removal kit. There’s also a multi-fit spare wheel. I carry a choice of six wheel hubs, sufficient for most cars, that I bolt the spare wheel to. It’s handy when a customer has a puncture but no spare wheel provided with their vehicle.

How long is a typical shift, and do you rotate days and nights? 

AA van

A typical shift is ten and a half hours but some days I only do five! Whether I work shifts depends if I’m needed. At the moment, I’m just doing days but it can alternate depending on demand. Some shifts may be short but we can cover a lot of miles. Just doing my job, I drive about 20,000 miles a year.

If we're on a standby shift, we wait at home until we are called out. If we are on a normal shift and there isn’t any work, we park at places like fuel stations and supermarkets where, potentially, we’re closer to call-outs.

What personal qualities do you need to be a road side technician?

AA roadside rescue

You’ve got to be friendly, professional, self-motivated and, because you never know quite what problems you’re going to face, think outside the box.

What are the best, worst and things about your job?

Family next to broken down car

People are generally very happy to see me, which is great. But I also love the fact that I’m meeting and seeing different people and places all the time, and that no two days are the same. 

Occasionally, the weather is rubbish, though, and the hours can be long and unsocial. 

And what are the most unusual things you've seen?

Broken down car on a recovery truck

I’ve been to a couple of particularly unusual call-outs over the years. One which came through as ‘white van, unknown’ and turned out to be a 24 tonne tipper lorry (which I jump-started!) and another which came through as ‘blue van, unknown’ and was, in fact, a coach in the middle of a field.

Why do you risk your life working at a busy roadside, occasionally in the middle of the night in a storm or when it’s snowing?

Driving in snow and ice this winter

Every day is a risk just stepping out of bed so I tend not to let anything bother me. It’s a job that needs to be done in any weather, at any time. In any case, a good storm or snowfall can make me smile. There’s certainly no point crying about them!

And the question everyone always wants to ask an AA technician: what’s the car make that you get called out most to?

AA technician Alexandra Phillips

I know it’s a tempting question, but the truth is we never quote breakdowns by brand as the most popular brands of cars will have more breakdowns (tyres, batteries, etc) by the very nature of having more cars on the road.

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