The AA's review of the year - 2008

Highlights of the AA's year

28 January 2008

AA Patrols returned to two-wheels in 2008

2008 was the motorist's 'annus horribilis' – one dominated by crippling fuel prices, rising insurance premiums, deteriorating roads and, at times, difficult and unexpected driving conditions – but it wasn't all doom and gloom...

On the verge of a breakdown

AA patrols were a welcome sight for the 3.5 million drivers whose cars suffered a breakdown in 2008. Figures from the UK's biggest motoring organisation reveal that last year:

  • Monday, 18 February was the busiest day for breakdowns with more than 16,000 call-outs – this compares to more than 18,000 call-outs on both 5 and 6 January this year
  • AA call handlers took around 5.6 million breakdown calls
  • More than half a million call-outs were made to battery-related problems, maintaining its position as the most common breakdown, and around 100,000 batteries were replaced – enough to stretch 15 miles
  • Flat tyres and other tyre problems (331,000) were the second most common call-out followed by key-related faults (80,500)

Top ten breakdowns in 2008

  1. Battery (535,500)
  2. Tyres (331,000)
  3. Keys (80,500)
  4. Engine (79,500)
  5. Alternator (76,500)
  6. Starter motor (75,500)
  7. Clutch (62,500)
  8. Spark plugs (56,500)
  9. Interior lights (44,500)
  10. Cylinder head gasket (41,000)

(volumes to nearest 500)

Other AA breakdown facts for 2008

  • Rescued one-in-ten UK drivers
  • 730,000 home starts
  • Mondays are the busiest days for breakdowns
  • North-west London is the UK's breakdown hotspot with a total of 67,000 call-outs
  • The most northerly breakdown point geographically was in Haroldswick, Unst, in Shetland
  • AA Patrols towed 800,000 vehicles a total of 18.2 million miles
  • 2,500 broken bulbs and 340 broken windscreen wipers were repaired or replaced
  • AA patrols have 27,983 years experience between them

Bonkers breakdowns

You never expect to break down and luck dictates that it will happen at the most inopportune time and in the most inopportune place. So, out of the 3.5 million breakdowns, there are always some amusing and quirky highlights:

  • Scooby-Doo was left with his tail wagging after Patrol Dave Newman of Birmingham got him to Stafford in time to switch on the Christmas lights
  • Other canine capers included the rescue of three husky dogs trapped in a van in rural Cumbria – Patrol Jon Lee of Carlisle removed part of the bulkhead and then wriggled under the dog cages to free them
  • Patrol Andy Moorhouse of Huddersfield got called out to a car whose alarm wouldn't go off – it turned out to be the lady's personal alarm that had slipped down into the lining of her coat
  • The most unusual breakdown of the year, if not ever, was the recovery of a giant 40kg blue pig on a charity run from Glasgow to London – Newcastle-based Patrol Steve Milner took the pig to a depot where workers used the legs of their manager's coffee table to fix it
  • Sometimes events outside a Patrol's control mean that call-outs do not always go according to plan, as a London patrol discovered when towing a car out of a car park near Heathrow – despite assurances that it was fine to proceed, the member's vehicle got launched into the air by overactive rising bollards. Video footage of the incident became an overnight internet hit

AA Patrol of the year Andy Taylor Andy Taylor, the AA's Patrol of the year, says: "We can all have a laugh about the amusing breakdowns we get called out to, but the reality is that it is inconvenient and potentially dangerous to break down, so breakdown cover offers affordable peace of mind, especially at a time when people are keeping their cars for longer."

On yer bike

April saw the AA return to its roots with patrols on motorbikes, allowing them to get to breakdowns 25 per cent quicker. The bikes operate in six major cities and have been a success with patrols and members alike.

To further improve the service to its members, the AA pioneered an innovative repair and recovery service for bikers within the M25 initially, that cocoons the bike inside the van.

The summer saw further expansion of the two-wheeled team with a specialist bicycle-based team for use at big events such as Wimbledon.

Covering your assets

On average, car insurance policy holders were paying nearly 9 per cent more for their cover at the end of 2008 compared with the beginning of the year, according to the AA's benchmark British Insurance Premium Index.

One of the biggest causes is a sharp rise in the number and cost of personal injury claims. Better news was that the number of uninsured drivers being caught by police also rose, leading to the first ever fall – albeit very tiny – in the number of claims for accidents with uninsured drivers. Uninsured drivers cost honest policy holders £30 per year in compensation claims.

Crazy claims

Last year, more than one million AA Car Insurance customers were very glad they were covered. Car accidents are never funny at the time, but there are occasions when claims handlers can't help a smile and here are some of the more interesting claims of 2008:

  • Sadly, animals – especially deer – often feature in claims but one driver had the shock of his life when a sheep landed on his car. He had just passed under a motorway bridge and a stray sheep, escaped from a lorry that had come to grief, leaped over the parapet and landed on the unfortunate customer's car
  • Two drivers tried to get into a supermarket car park space at the same time and got their cars firmly wedged. Our customer admitted: “We had a large crowd laughing at us"
  • Things flying through the air is a surprisingly common cause of claims. One driver's car was struck by a Christmas tree that had fallen off a car going in the opposite direction. AA Insurance met his claim, and the police told him to keep the tree

Director of AA Insurance Simon Douglas says: "It doesn't matter how bizarre the claim, you may be sure that we have probably heard it before. The important thing is to make sure you are properly covered so if something really unlikely happens, the claim will be sorted out with minimum fuss."

One 'L' of a ride

During 2008, around 100,000 drivers learned with the AA Driving School but instructors are finding that they are providing coaching for a growing variety of people. The Driving School's Cardiff call centre take calls from people of all ages and nationalities. Here is a small selection of the types of call that they get:

  • A lady called to say that her husband had recently passed away and she wanted to get out and about and although she had passed her own driving test 35 years earlier, her husband had usually taken the wheel when they went out. She admitted she had never driven on a motorway and wanted some lessons to boost her confidence. An AA Driving School instructor took her out half a dozen times in her own car and, as the customer said: "It has given back my freedom!"
  • An Israeli businessman on secondment to London found his international driving permit was about to expire and to continue driving in the UK, had to take the UK test. He wanted a few lessons to ensure that he would pass without difficulty
  • As the price of petrol seemed to approach the price of whisky, several customers called to book 'eco' driving sessions to see if they could reduce their fuel bill by changing their driving style

Mark Peacock, head of the AA Driving School, says: "Our roads are crowded and hazardous places and it is never too late to improve your driving standards. All of our instructors are fully qualified and a growing number are being trained to offer eco-driving sessions. Many drivers are becoming more conscious of the fact that changing their driving style can bring real benefits in terms of reduced fuel costs, as well as reducing the risk of having a collision or picking up a fine for a traffic offence."

Voice of the motorist

2008 was a busy year for the AA's policy and campaigning arm. It successfully campaigned against the 2p fuel duty increase, leading to the Chancellor deferring it in his March 2008 budget, and he also scaled back retrospective road tax changes in the pre-budget report in November following AA lobbying.

Other successes in 2008:

  • AA/Populus polling found that 67 per cent of drivers would oppose local congestion charging schemes and therefore 2008 was good news for drivers in Manchester and West London – in Manchester a congestion charging scheme was given the thumbs down in a referendum, and London's new mayor decided to remove the western extension of the London Congestion Charging Zone
  • The government also ruled out motorway pay lanes after an AA/Populus poll showed that 65 per cent of drivers would not want to use them

Edmund King, president of the AA, says: "Despite the doom and gloom of record fuel prices, the British love affair with the car showed no signs of abating in 2008 with 82 per cent of motorists we polled saying they still enjoy driving and 79 per cent say they are dependent on their car. This illustrates the importance of giving motorists a platform to air their views – something we would encourage them to do on the AA website, as 2008 has shown that it does make a difference."

Join the discussion in the AA zone


28 January 2009