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Need A Tow? New Changes Drivers Who Rely On AAA and Other Roadside Assistance Services Should Know About

With the new social distancing mandates come some new challenges that drivers using AAA or other services may want to be aware of.

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Torque News recently did a story in which we informed readers that AAA and other roadside assistance service providers were still hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in New England, and in the Boston area, in particular, the COVID cases have dropped dramatically, to under 100 new cases per day, lower than the recovery rate. Hospitals have more than enough capacity, and life is returning to normal - almost.

Related Story - AAA Will Be On the Job To Help You During the COVID-19 Crisis

However, AAA and roadside assistance providers are struggling to keep pace with the demand for towing and other roadside services. We learned this first-hand last Sunday evening when our vehicle required a tow.

Longer Wait Times
The first surprise was that the AAA helpline warns drivers that due to the COVID pandemic, wait times are longer than usual. This was hard to understand given the fact that there are fewer drivers on the road. Shouldn't wait times be shorter? Next up was the longer than usual wait time to speak to an agent. We needed to call in a few times with wait times between six and 15 minutes before an agent would answer the line. When you are home, a wait like this is no big deal. When you are on the side of the highway the wait time just to begin your discussion about getting help can feel much longer.

Related Story: All Roadside Assistance Tow Trucks Should Have Back Seats For Stranded Passengers

AAA has a great automated dispatch system that members/callers can use to get help with some services, but towing is not one of them. You need to wait to speak with a live agent. Our tow truck was dispatched from a few towns away, which we found unusual since we were in the heart of the metropolis, just 4 miles from downtown Boston. In the end, our tow truck arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes after we phoned for help. The driver was the usual from AAA - Experienced, polite, knowledgeable, and super helpful. But he could not offer us a ride.

Tow Trucks Will Not Allow You To Ride With the Driver
One big change between the pre-COVID and post COVID protocols is that you are no longer allowed to ride in the cab with the tow truck driver to the place you are being towed. So, when you are stranded, you need to not only call AAA and get help with your vehicle, you also need to arrange your own transportation from your break-down location to home or to the repair shop.

Uber May Not Be A Viable Choice
We are experienced Uber users living so close to the city. We use the ride-share service frequently. However, when we tried to summon an Uber ride on Sunday evening on July 5th, no Uber service was available. Thus, we had to call on help from family to get back from where we were stranded. Luckily, someone was within driving distance to help us and give us a ride.

Breaking down and requiring a tow is always stressful. AAA and roadside assistance companies that your insurance provider or your new car dealer offer are all viable options. Given our recent experience, and due to the COVID changes to how things work, we would also suggest trying a local 24-hour towing service if you breakdown. It may also be wise to think ahead about how you would get home if your vehicle needed to be towed far from home. As we discovered, AAA and Uber are not always reliable ways to get home from a breakdown in these unusual times.

John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career to chase his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on the Torque News Facebook Page, and view his credentials at Linkedin

Image by John Goreham. Re-use with permission only.

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Mark Day (not verified)    July 14, 2020 - 12:54AM

Thanks for this timely towing information. Leaving folks stranded, after the vehicle has been towed, could put customers in danger. Confirms my decision, of many years ago, to drop AAA. (Want to mention why a tow was required - run flats?)

Sherry (not verified)    October 17, 2020 - 11:56PM

Maybe I shouldn't have renewed AAA recently. This is very concerning. Having back problems, I'm not able to just stand around and wait for help after my car is towed away either... in who knows what kind of weather or circumstance. But first you have to wait however long for the tow truck, and then focus on getting yourself home? I would need to sit down... I cannot stand 5 minutes. IF I could even figure out who could come to find me and rescue me. This is really not good. I'm not even sure my little emergency cell phone could handle a long wait time just to call AAA in the first place. Don't do this to elderly people! I always felt safe with AAA, but maybe this isn't the way to go now. Now I'm worried because my car has been acting up too!

Ros (not verified)    March 3, 2021 - 8:19PM

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

Yes, you could wait in the car till the tow truck arrives, but what happens after your car is towed and your left waiting for an uber. You can't call the Uber 1st, since you don't know for sure when the tow trucks going to arrive. I'm in agreement with Sherry, not all of us can stand very long because of age or health issues, plus it could be very dangerous for a woman to be left alone at night on the side of a highway.
Also, how costly would an Uber be if you're 100 miles away from home? A lot of people can't afford an Uber across town. AAA should find a way to offset the charges. I bet they haven't dropped their rates for less service offered.

Russell (not verified)    April 5, 2021 - 1:01AM

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

It depends where you're at; it is not always safe or viable to sit in your car and wait, such as if your car unexpectedly dies at a stop light or you're in a busy area broken down along an interstate.

Dexter Morgan (not verified)    April 26, 2021 - 4:08PM

In reply to by Jay (not verified)

The cops always tell you to get out of the vehicle and stand off to the side of the road away from your car. People frequently smash into stalled vehicles. If a person survived that they would REALLY have back problems !

Katherine M Ma… (not verified)    October 30, 2020 - 11:25AM

In reply to by Sherry (not verified)

There are so many things that could go wrong with this policy. Giving your customer a ride is part of the duties of towing, I think. People stranded on the freeway, in a bad neighborhood, or in a remote location could get hurt, all because of a .001 chance of getting infected. The passengers should wear a mask and be mindful, and everything would be fine.

Victoria (not verified)    November 24, 2020 - 9:22AM

In reply to by Katherine M Ma… (not verified)

Passengers riding in tow trucks with drivers is NOT practicing social distancing. There is not six feet between rider and driver. Taking a .001 chance of getting infected could cost someone their life. People need to find their own ride. Periodt.

paul (not verified)    January 17, 2021 - 10:10AM

In reply to by Victoria (not verified)

so its not ok. to ride with tow truck driver, but its ok to get an uber or lyft,or ok to call a friend to get you, or ride in the back ambulance with 3 other people, your statement is seriously flawed. maybe we should ride in the car on the flatbed

Gloria Uveges (not verified)    May 23, 2021 - 9:07AM

In reply to by paul (not verified)

This protocol left me in a dangerous situation. Now that people are permitted to eat in restaurants without wearing a mask (you can't eat with a mask on), it's ludicrus that we can't ride in the cab. I urge you all to seek responsible alternatives to AAA.

Teacher (not verified)    April 21, 2022 - 11:40AM

In reply to by Victoria (not verified)

Unbelievable. I love how I, as a teacher, was getting told all last year that I was lazy and refusing to work because we were doing online school. I needed to "go back to work" and "do my job," which apparently only means sitting in a small room with 20-30 kids for hours at a time. But I guess the danger of sitting with a single passenger with a mask on is so great that it's simply impossible for the tow driver to provide, you know, road side assistance. Instead, they'll go ahead and pass off that responsibility to a lowly uber driver. Who cares about uber driver safety anyways, I guess.

Dick (not verified)    January 10, 2021 - 8:14PM

In reply to by Katherine M Ma… (not verified)

They will give you a ride to a safe place so you can find a ride. They will take the car it self to where it needs to go. This will limit exposure time especially if the car is being towed long distance.

Don (not verified)    January 23, 2021 - 8:29PM

In reply to by Katherine M Ma… (not verified)

You realize that there is NO duty to provide a ride for the towing customer. Its a tow truck, not a taxi. Now, with that said. Some of us will allow people to ride with us, but it is absolutely not required.

Towman 79 (not verified)    March 4, 2021 - 2:19PM

In reply to by Katherine M Ma… (not verified)

No, AAA drivers are not "required" to give rides in our tow trucks. That is a common misconception. Many of us will allow people to ride with us. But, in no way is this required of us. Our safety is important too. You may not be an angry person, but what you're failing to consider is this. When some people have to call a tow truck, they get angry and take out their misfortune on the Tow Operator. We get yelled at, sworn at and treated badly quite often. I personally will not give a ride to anyone that doesn't know how to behave like an adult.

Aaron (not verified)    January 2, 2021 - 1:37AM

In reply to by Sherry (not verified)

Sherry I can say that yes there are plenty of drivers that will use this to not take passengers but you can always tell the dispatcher you have no other ride if nothing else I will be more than willing to give you my information and you can call me and I can help you with the dispatchers to make sure we get you someone sent out who will not leave you stranded

Paul Maresca (not verified)    December 12, 2020 - 10:45PM

I understand social distancing and the challenge with not having anyone in the tow truck for the safety of both the driver and the stranded ones.
Yet someone had mentioned about walking.
So what if you're in an unsafe area? And that could be a freeway, a country road, etc especially at night, where there's no street lights or possibly in the middle of nowhere.
But what about those who are handicapped, and they had retrofitted their car.
If they're handicap, chances are they're not going to have a lot of money, (unless they came into a windfall) because of it if any, but most people whom are handicapped chances are they're not going to be wealthy enough to get a cab which is probably dangerous anyway and a friend or family member may not always be available nor be able to drive. Or a friend or family member may not have a dependable car because they're not working because of the pandemic.
Of course what if friends are family members if any are too far away? Whatever that might be.
Someone had also mentioned about having the people stay in their car while it's being towed providing it's on a flatbed. Good pandemic friendly idea but then again that may be dangerous, and the so-called between the law and insurance and whatever it becomes the liability, and it's understandable that the tow truck company doesn't want to take responsibility. So what are the alternatives? well those people would need to have some kind of a ride perhaps in a van to help with social distancing.
that should include if you're not in a big city area where you can probably have all those so-called conveniences, and what about affordability? Because if you already paid for the service, then imagine the membership company that you paid into should make arrangements am I right? or is there some kind of excusable red tape involved in this, come on people this pandemic is no one's fault but you know who.

Aaron (not verified)    January 2, 2021 - 1:32AM

This is full of false information. As a contractor with AAA and with friends employed directly yes you SHOULD call for a ride however we aren’t just going to leave you stranded at least not if you have a driver that cares about customer relations and not just a check. If you are in need of a ride inform whatever dispatcher you are dealing with and a few drivers may kick it back but it will end up going to someone like me who understands if your calling for us your not having the best day and it’s our job to make sure that you have a positive experience not make your situation more difficult you can also call me and I will help you with the aaa dispatcher to make sure that you are treated well

Russell (not verified)    April 5, 2021 - 12:56AM

In reply to by Aaron (not verified)

Please note that both your uses of "your" in your third sentence should be "you're" as in "you are". It is not grammatical to use "your" in these two instances. Thanks.

Don (not verified)    January 23, 2021 - 8:01PM

Contrary to popular belief, not every towing company contracts with AAA. The fact of the matter is this, AAA doesn’t pay much. Most towing companies won’t put the wear and tear on their trucks for a $45.00 tow. Just because you’re in the center of a city, doesn’t mean a AAA provider is nearby.

Tom (not verified)    March 25, 2021 - 6:45PM

I hope someone sues the heck out of AAA!!!
Some areas there's no Uber, Lyft or taxis. So what are you supposed to do?

Dexter Morgan (not verified)    April 26, 2021 - 4:04PM

I broke down today in the Los Angeles area, called AAA and was told that I couldn't ride with the tow truck driver and would have to call a friend or Uber.

I'm canceling AAA after being a 27 year customer.

thtdon (not verified)    May 4, 2021 - 12:01PM

There's a lot that no one has considered. I can't count how many times I had an elderly or disabled person who couldn't climb up the steps to get in the truck. I have seen people fall out of the truck because they were careless or drunk. Over the years, I have had several drunken customers puke in the truck. (That's why tow trucks shouldn't have carpeting.) I have often worried about having female riders, to the point that I was considering installing a couple of cameras in the cab pointing at the passenger. People are crazy. And as someone else mentioned previously, when people break down, they get angry, and blame us and abuse us for all their problems. No passengers in the truck is the only way to go.

Sari Donie (not verified)    May 22, 2021 - 3:31PM

AAA is no going to dissolve their towing operations? You are now outsourcing the towing operations of AAA? Curious to why I have not been told

Leigh Podgorski (not verified)    May 23, 2021 - 2:58PM

My daughter called AAA for a tow for her 99 Toyota 4 Runner. The tow driver refused to tow her car, telling her she needed to have some kind of key. He was Hispanic and unfortunately what kind of key she needed was not clear. He offered to make her one for $180.00. She said no thanks but asked if he could take her home. He did for $40.00. Now I'm thinking this whole thing stinks of fraud or scam. I'd love input and any info on this key issue.

Mike Bares (not verified)    June 3, 2021 - 10:15AM

I asked AAA about this 2 weeks ago and got the following response:
Hi Michael - We'll be welcoming back our Members into our service trucks again as of June 2 this week. Due to their close proximity and for the safety of all involved, both the driver and the passenger will still be required to wear face coverings while inside the vehicle. We appreciate your understanding as we continue to work to keep our Members and drivers safe.