RAC introduces new vehicle and trailer to recover more broken-down cars

New heavy-duty 4x4 recovery system and a lightweight electric vehicle charger will help it rescue virtually every broken-down car...

RAC Heavy Duty 4x4 Patrol Vehicle

In response to the increasing number of big SUVs and 4x4s on our roads, the RAC is introducing 50 customised Isuzu D-Max 4x4s that are capable of recovering heavy SUVs and all-wheel-drive cars that would normally only be transportable on a large flatbed trailer.

This means vehicles that can’t be fixed at the roadside can be transported by the first patrol to reach them, rather than having to wait for a tow truck to take them to a garage.

The Heavy Duty 4x4 Patrol vans have a 1.9-litre Euro 6-compliant diesel engine and enough towing capacity to recover vehicles weighing up to 2.8 tonnes, which means they’re able to transport 90% of cars and light commercial vans.

RAC heavy duty 4x4 patrol

Rather than deploy these vehicles in the countryside, the RAC will use them in the UK’s busiest cities where it’s not easy or desirable to send a large flatbed truck.

Each van is fitted with All-Wheels-Up, the RAC’s new four-wheeled trailer that folds out of the back of the vehicle. Unlike existing two-wheel trailers, it lifts all four wheels of a car off the ground, making it possible for cars with all-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive transmissions and ones with specific problems, such as suspension faults, to be trailered.

RAC head of technical, James Gibson, said: “Our first priority is always to deliver a permanent repair at the roadside, but on those occasions when we cannot fix the vehicle, the RAC Heavy Duty 4x4 Patrol Van will enable our patrols to recover some of the biggest vehicles without the need for a second call-out for a flatbed.”

This new trailer system has also been fitted to 600 of the RAC’s 1600-strong fleet of standard recovery vans, enabling them to tow a larger percentage of vehicles too. 

The compact nature of the specially designed trailer means that all the vans are still able to carry all the parts and tools usually used by patrols.

A boost for EVs

RAC EV Boost system

The RAC has also announced the introduction of a lightweight mobile electric vehicle charger that will be fitted to its Ford Transit Custom patrol vans to provide a short boost of electricity to stranded out-of-power EVs.

The EV Boost charger works with all Type 1 and 2 connections, enabling it to charge 99% of UK vehicles, and typically providing 10 miles of range from a 30-minute charge.

Instead of relying on a heavy portable charger that needs to be recharged after use, the EV Boost system has its own generator and uses the patrol van to provide the charge.

RAC head of roadside rescue and innovation, Chris Millward, said: “Our solution enables our patrols to help stranded EV drivers with a power boost that’s equivalent to a top-up from a fuel can for a petrol or diesel car.”

The first six vehicles equipped with the charger will be on the road from June 2019, located in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Manchester. The equipment will be rolled out to other areas as demand for it arises.

At present they’re providing a 3.5kW charge, but 7kW units are being developed.

For each breakdown, the patrol will ascertain the location of the nearest available public charge point and decide on the most appropriate course of action, from providing a brief charge to the car to transporting it to the charger.

Fixing cars remotely too

Another piece of technology being used by the RAC to reduce call-outs and so increase the ability of its patrols to reach stricken vehicles more quickly is called RAC Remote Technician. This involves the use of technical advisors who identify cars that could be fixed by the owner over the phone without the need for a patrol to be called out.

The advisors ask the RAC members to activate a smartphone app that lets them see the broken-down car using a video on the phone. They then talk the member through the necessary steps to fix the car. 

The system works particularly well with dashboard warning lights – if the car is flagging up a problem that means it can be driven to a garage for repairs, the technicians can let the members know this. It’s also useful for punctures, as the technicians can assess the damage and get the correct tyre size so repairs can be carried out more quickly.     

What is the best breakdown cover for my car? 

Car breakdown cover is something you pay for but hope you won’t have to use. However, if your car does let you down, you’ll want to know that help is on the way quickly, especially if you’re stranded at the side of a motorway or on an unlit country lane at night. You’ll also want your car either fixed on the spot or transported to a suitable repairer.

So, as part of this year’s What Car? Reliability Survey, we asked 15,384 motorists to tell us whether their car had broken down in the previous 12 months and how well they were looked after if they’d called out a roadside assistance service. Only a small proportion (1143 cars) suffered a breakdown, with 65% of that group (746) calling out the AA, the RAC, Green Flag or Allianz Assistance, four of the biggest breakdown providers in the UK.

The first area we focused on was how long the patrol took to reach them. The best sped to their rescue in less than 30 minutes and the worst sloped along more than two hours later. 

The other main question was how well the problem was resolved. The best patrols fixed the fault at the roadside, enabling the stranded motorist to continue with their journey. The least satisfactory outcome was that the broken-down car wasn’t fixed and wasn’t taken to a garage for repairs.

How long did it take for assistance to arrive? 

Company AA Green Flag RAC Allianz Assistance
Less than 30 minutes 18.0% 4.2% 11.0% 3.1%
30 minutes to 1 hour 46.8% 49.3% 37.6% 45.3%
1-2 hours 21.8% 31.0% 27.2% 25.0%
More than 2 hours 13.5% 15.5% 24.3% 26.6%
Average (hours) 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4

The award for speediest service goes to the AA. Its average arrival time was 1.1 hours and it got to nearly a fifth of breakdowns in less than 30 minutes. Patrols got to nearly half in between 30 minutes and an hour, while only 13.5% of its members had to wait more than two hours – the lowest number out of the four services.

In response to the results, AA president Edmund King said: “AA patrols often say they attend to the member first, then the vehicle. This dedication shines through in the service they deliver for around 10,000 drivers every day; fixing eight out of 10 cars at the roadside and typically arriving at a breakdown in less than an hour. We’re thrilled that the experiences of our members clearly reflect our commitment to delivering the best possible service when they need us.”

Second overall was Green Flag, with an average arrival time of 1.2 hours. Although it reached only a small number of stranded motorists in less than half an hour, it came out on top in the 30- to 60-minute category, attending half of callouts in that time. 

Nearly a third of Green Flag members were required to wait one to two hours for help to arrive, though – the highest percentage in this time frame and 9% more than the AA. Fortunately, fewer of its members had to wait more than two hours than any of the others apart from the AA.

A Green Flag spokesperson said: “We never aim to stand still and always seek to improve on what the What Car? comparison already highlights, which is Green Flag providing great service and value for our customers.”

The RAC ranked second to the AA when it came to getting to breakdowns in less than half an hour, but it was let down somewhat by having fewer patrols on site in 30 to 60 minutes than any of its rivals and failing to reach nearly a quarter of breakdowns in less than two hours – significantly worse than the AA and Green Flag. As a result, it ranked third overall with an average response time of 1.3 hours.

In defence of its service, the RAC said: “We are proud of the excellent service our highly skilled patrols provide at the roadside and their impressive four-out-of-five fix rate for the two million-plus breakdowns they attend every year.”

Allianz Assistance took the longest to reach stranded motorists. Its patrols reached only 3% of cars in less than half an hour and 27% of car owners waited more than two hours. In response, it said: “Allianz Partners UK works closely with car makers to deliver a service that achieves strong performance and customer satisfaction levels, which are monitored continuously to ensure they’re maintained.”

How well was the problem resolved? 

Company AA Green Flag RAC Allianz Assistance
Permanently fixed 17.3% 7.0% 21.4% 8.7%
Temporarily fixed 28.2% 25.4% 22.0% 20.3%
Not fixed, towed to location of choice 9.9% 19.7% 9.8% 6.3%
Not fixed, towed to garage of choice 37.2% 42.3% 42.2% 62.5%
Not fixed, not towed anywhere 7.4% 5.6% 4.6% 3.1%
Top two outcomes combined 46% 32% 43% 28%

The RAC fared better when it came to resolving problems, with the highest proportion (21%) of cars permanently fixed at the roadside so motorists could carry on with their journeys. However, if you look at the combination of the two best outcomes – permanent or temporary fixes that let motorists continue on their way – the AA comes out on top, fixing 46% of cars, versus 43% for the RAC. 

Although Green Flag’s patrols didn’t permanently fix many cars, they did well for temporary fixes, helping 25% of members to continue their journey. Allianz also carried out only a small number of permanent fixes, along with the lowest number of temporary solutions. In fact, the most common outcome for its members was to be towed to a garage. 

Which brands broke down most often? 

Brand % of cars that broke down
30. Land Rover 14.2%
29. Citroën 13.3%
28. Jeep  12.5%
27. Nissan 11.4%
26. Fiat 11.2%
25. Vauxhall 11.1%
24. Porsche 10.0%
23. Renault 9.7%
22. Mini 8.3%
21. Alfa Romeo 8.2%
=19. Peugeot 8.0%
=19. Ford 8.0%
18. Honda 7.8%
17. Volkswagen 7.1%
16. Mercedes-Benz 7.0%
15. Volvo 6.8%
=13.Mitsubishi 6.5%
=13. Audi 6.5%
12. Jaguar 6.3%
=10. Subaru 6.1%
=10. Mazda 6.1%
=8. Seat 5.8%
=8. BMW 5.8%
7. Skoda 5.2%
6. Toyota 5.0%
=4. Kia 4.8%
=4. Hyundai  4.8%
3. Lexus 3.2%
2. Suzuki 3.0%
1. Dacia 2.5%


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