The AA has over 3,000 patrols, working around the clock to attend breakdowns and recoveries; and only one of our roadside patrols is female.
We caught up with Tina Smith for a quick chat about her job on the road.
We found out what it's like for Tina to be working in what is still very much regarded as a man’s role.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Ipswich and work as a roadside patrol, fixing cars at the roadside across East Anglia and Essex. I joined the AA in October 2010.
Did you have an interest in motoring from a young age?
Absolutely. As a kid I was a massive Formula One fan and had dreams of working in the pit lane. I continued to aim towards a career in motoring, training and then joining a BMW dealership.
Fuelled by my love of racing, I then went to work as a senior technician at motorsport specialist PalmerSport. This was followed by a job at a BMW motorbike dealer, where I obtained my motorcycle licence.
How did you come to work for the AA?
I was working at a Volvo dealership when I was approached about the AA job. I hadn’t ever seriously considered life as a patrol as it’s not something I initially thought I’d be capable of – I wasn’t sure if I’d make the grade. It was quite daunting to switch from just one marque in the dealership to potentially working on any car or motorbike on the road.
However, I got through the selection process and haven’t looked back. I was a little apprehensive during my first few days on the road but quickly realised I was taking to it like a duck to water!
Tina in her racing days
What does a typical day on the road involve?
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a typical day as every day is so different! One day I might be dealing with punctures and flat batteries and the next I might be getting a car towed away to the garage for repairs. Every day I deal with different people and different faults in different locations, so I’m always being offered a fresh challenge.
What have been your most memorable call-outs?
The classic cars always stick in my mind – I’ve been called out to a 1921 Alvis and to a 1936 Morris Eight. More oddly, I’ve also attended to a Gordon Ramsay lookalike stuck on the A12 near Ipswich – he was even wearing full chef’s whites!
What do you enjoy most about the role?
I love the challenge that the variety brings, and using my initiative, but the best thing about it is meeting and rescuing people. I meet so many interesting characters through my job, and I find that the role isn’t so much about fixing people’s cars, as giving people a helping hand – it’s very rewarding.
What about outside of work – any hobbies?
Motorsport is a great passion of mine. I used to race Caterhams and Minis, and now love riding my Kawasaki motorbike. I also enjoy martial arts to work out, especially Thai boxing and Ju-Jitsu.
Tina with her Kawasaki
How do you find being a female patrol – are you regarded as a woman in a man’s world?
When I phone the member to say I’m getting close, they often assume I’m a girl in the office until I explain that I’m the patrol. Every day, most members make a comment about me being a woman but it’s virtually all positive with women especially being really appreciative of a female patrol. Even the few members who initially show scepticism when they see me, quickly come round to the idea once they see me get on with the job.
Do friends and family expect you to get under the bonnet when they have car trouble?
I live quite a distance away from most of my family, so fortunately I don’t get called on to help out too often! But I do get the occasional phone call from friends and family wanting help and advice.
And what advice would you give to other women wanting a career as a patrol?
I’d say that the most important thing is not to let anything put you off – and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! Although there is a physical aspect to the job, there’s absolutely no reason why women can’t work as patrols, and it would be great to see more in the motor industry.
Would you like to experience life on the road as a patrol? Enter our competition for your chance to accompany an AA patrol for the day.
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