AA Recovery turns 40

40th anniversary of pioneering service, originally called AA Relay

40th anniversary of pioneering vehicle recovery service, originally called AA Relay

40th anniversary of pioneering vehicle recovery service, originally called AA Relay

The AA’s vehicle recovery service, AA Recovery, changed the fortunes of stranded drivers when it was launched as AA Relay 40 years ago (1 October).

“Before AA Relay was introduced, if your car couldn’t be fixed at the roadside, your choices were limited,” recalls AA chief engineer Steve Ives, who was an AA apprentice in 1973.

“It would either be taken to a local garage for repairs or you’d have to continue your journey by other means. It was certainly no way to reach your holiday destination!

“It was a revelation to our members when we launched it. Suddenly, we could recover your car and your family right to your destination. You wouldn’t have to miss any of your holiday at all.”

Bedford J3 transporters

The pioneering service, which cost £2.20 a year on top of AA membership, was an immediate success with 100,000 members applying for it in three months. Initially, there were 150 recovery vehicles – mostly Bedford J3 transporters – but within two years this figure had doubled.

our modern AA Recovery trucks can seat up to six passengers in air-conditioned comfort and cover hundreds of miles at a time, which makes for a more pleasant journey than in the days of the early transporters

Robert Jones, AA Recovery patrol of the year

Relay

Steve Ives says: “The road network wasn’t so good then and there was no M25. ‘Relay’ meant just that; if you broke down in the south and lived in Scotland, it meant a journey of several legs.”

Robert Jones, AA Recovery patrol of the year, says: “Thankfully our modern AA Recovery trucks can seat up to six passengers in air-conditioned comfort and cover hundreds of miles at a time, which makes for a more pleasant journey than in the days of the early transporters.

“When you’re stuck at the side of the road, you just want to get to your destination. That’s what AA Recovery provides.”

As it celebrates its 40th year, Recovery is the most popular AA membership option. Last year, the AA successfully completed 850,000 recoveries, clocking up 18.5 million miles across the length and breadth of the country.

AA Relay fact file

  • AA Relay (now AA Recovery) introduced on 1 October 1973
  • Initially controlled from 37 operational centres
  • Most early recovery trucks had a rigid chassis - flat-bed transporters like the Bedford J3
  • Land Rovers equipped with trailers were also used
  • The Bedford J3 had an overworked and underpowered 3.3 litre six-cylinder petrol engine and patrols soon learned that excessive use of the accelerator could send the metal engine cooling fan through the bonnet
  • The AA’s first batch of Bedford J3 recovery vehicles was made up from a cancelled export order to Saudi Arabia, perhaps a more appropriate destination for a vehicle with an 11mpg thirst
  • By the end of 1977, the AA Recovery service had carried members and their vehicles more than 15 million miles
  • Major engine failure, gearbox issues and multiple punctures are some of the reasons why a vehicle is recovered rather than fixed at the roadside
  • The modern AA Recovery fleet is mostly made up of MAN TGL (12-tonne crew cab with 4.6 litre four-cylinder 220hp engine and semi-automatic tramsmission) and Renault Midlum flat-bed trucks
  • All modern AA Recovery trucks can carry vehicles – whether car, van, motorcycle, minibus or motorhome – up to 3.5 tonnes in weight and up to 7ft 6in (2.3m) wide
  • Recovery is the AA’s most desired membership option and will take you, your vehicle and up to seven passengers to any single destination on the UK mainland if your vehicle can’t be fixed at the roadside
  • The AA has around 500 recovery patrols in total and around 250 flat-bed recovery trucks, although all its 3,000 patrols have some recovery capability. AA breakdown vans have a fold-out recovery trailer called VRS (Vehicle Recovery System)
  • In 2012, the AA completed 850,000 recoveries over a total distance of nearly 18.5 million miles
  • Longest recovery in 2012 was 767 miles from Cowbridge, Wales, to Shetland;
  • One of the AA’s most unusual recoveries involved a large blue pig on a charity run.

(1 October 2013)