Reader Question: Hi Austin. I have heard that joining an auto club would allow me to get special discounts on auto repairs and towing. The assistance of the club in the event of a mechanical break down is what I am interested in the most. How do you feel about auto clubs and do you have a preference as to which ones offer the best service?
Thank you, Sharon
Thanks for your e-mail. These are my thoughts on joining an auto club:
My experience has been that usually towing services or auto clubs actually cost you more money than they save you. I have not been a big fan of auto clubs simply because they are acting as a middleman. They give you a "discount" by becoming a member of their organization, but someone has to pay for that discount. The tow truck that brought your car into the shop did so at a discounted price to the auto club, and the shop "gave you" the auto club's discount... so everyone worked for a discount?
I feel there is often some coercion going on between the repair shop and the tow truck service, and my shop has opted not to participate. How can shops make an honest living giving discounts to every customer that comes in their door? If there are enough auto club customers, then I suppose this would work out on the economy of scale, but I personally feel there is a tendency to be dishonest or to do work that might not be needed to help offset the given "discount." This is a common tactic by shops that use "loss leaders" (like a cheap oil change) to get your car in the door--with the intent of padding the sale with as much extra work as possible. With a car coming in on a tow truck, they pretty much have a captive audience, and you're stuck in a defensive position with a broken car.
That's what makes me nervous about the repair shop side of the deal. As far as the actual auto club membership, you are basically buying insurance for a towing service you will probably not need. If the annual membership is $70 and you don't use the service for two years, you've already lost more than the cost of one towing service. To me a sounder investment would be to put the $70 into additional maintenance of the vehicle, (two years ago I would have suggested you buy a few shares of an Internet stock).
This is my personal opinion only. If you travel by car a lot and are in remote areas of the country, maybe the use of their road side assistance would come in handy, but the few times I have broken down on the side of the highway it was only a matter of minutes before two or three tow trucks were begging for my business. I would guess by the time I called the auto club and gave my location, a tow truck would have appeared on its own. The best advice I could give would be to carry a cellular phone in your car for emergencies, and have your regular mechanic thoroughly inspect your vehicle prior to an out of town road trip.
This valuable tidbit is just one of the many cost-saving items you will learn about when you visit our Website TrustMyMechanic.com. I hope this helps.
Austin C Davis
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