28 January 2021
Inventors at the AA’s research and development department are rolling-out a game-changing innovation which will transform the breakdown service for thousands of drivers and deliver environmental benefits.
The ‘freewheeling hub’ is a clever way for AA patrols to safely tow vehicles, such as electric vehicles and SUVs, which normally cannot be ‘lifted’ and towed on two wheels; ensuring drivers have the confidence of knowing the AA is behind them.
The invention is now being used by more than 900 patrols and will be rolled out to all patrols in the coming months. It means shorter waiting times and reduced CO2 emissions for breakdown recoveries, as AA vans can now be used to tow more cars, freeing up large recovery trucks for complex breakdowns involving heavier or more damaged vehicles.
Previously it was not possible to tow some vehicles with seized brakes, failed wheel bearings or electric handbrakes, or 4x4s and many electric vehicles (EVs). Some manufacturers recommend that you should not tow their EVs as the car's motor is always mechanically connected to the wheels and does not have a true 'neutral' gear.
But AA Chief Engineer Steve Ives, who has worked at the AA for over 40 years, was determined to find a solution. He came up with a ‘freewheeling hub’ that patrols can fix to the rear wheels of stricken vehicles, so that these can be towed rather than having to wait for a flatbed recovery vehicle. This will reduce any potential delays for customers and get them on their way sooner, as well as making recoveries more efficient.
Steve said: “I love the challenge of coming up with solutions to seemingly impossible situations. I worked on the concept for many hours in my shed at night and eventually crafted a wooden prototype. This has now been further developed and put into production with our partners AE Oscroft, and is working well.”
The freewheeling hub works in conjunction with the AA’s Multi-Fit wheel and new heavy-duty Multi-fit wheel for larger vehicles, enabling patrols to fit temporary spare wheels to almost any vehicle. It has its own heavy-duty high-speed bearing making the wheel turn independently from the car. The AA collaborated with presswork and prototyping specialist AE Oscroft to develop these solutions.
This fantastic innovation will help to future-proof our service and rescue customers more quickly than our competitors
The innovations are crucial as 4x4s increasingly don’t have spare wheels as standard, so must be recovered to fit new tyres. In the case of a car with two punctured tyres and no spare, patrols are now equipped with two Multi-Fit spare wheels, one being part of the new freewheeling hub kit, so are able to provide a repair solution where previously a recovery would have been required.
The freewheeling hub will also enable the movement of vehicles in confined spaces which cannot be reached by larger recovery vehicles.
James Hosking, Chief Operating Officer - Roadside, said: “We tasked the team to come up with a cleaner, safer, smarter solution to towing certain categories of vehicles. Our chief engineer took on the role of ‘Q’ in the fictional research and development in James Bond and invented the ingenious high-speed freewheeling hub.
“This fantastic innovation will help to future-proof our service and rescue customers more quickly than our competitors. We have already seen a big increase in SUV sales and are likely to witness an electric vehicle revolution in the coming years. Our innovations keep us ahead of the game.”