Does Roadside Assistance Live Up to Expectations?

RLX1

Automakers, both luxury and non, promote complimentary roadside assistance as a selling point. But does the reality of using the service meet with the expectations car owners may have?

We unfortunately had the chance to find out.

While driving through the city of Chicago, a brand-new 2014 Acura RLX test car I was piloting picked a fight with a large pothole and lost, leaving a nasty gash in the side wall of the front passenger's side tire.

After beeps and warning notifications informed us of the immediate drop to "0 PSI," I carefully pulled over and found a safe spot to change the blown-out tire with a spare.

No dice.

RLX2

Like many new cars on the market, the RLX doesn't have a full-size spare or a compact (donut) tire. The solution: an air pump and gel that inflates and temporarily seals the tire. This answer to our problem proved useless due to the sheer size of the damage to the tire.

Why don't carmakers put full-size or compact "donut" spare tires in cars as often as they used to? Three reasons: fuel-economy, cost and space saving. The absence of a spare tire in the RLX may have left a generous under-floor cargo area, but the side effect proved undesirable in this situation.

I then did what any owner would do. I made a phone call to Acura roadside assistance to get a fix or a tow.

We were told help would arrive within an hour, a tolerable amount of time we figured.

Nearly 90 minutes later, we were still waiting, even after automated calls from Acura to inquire about whether a tow truck had arrived. A few more automated calls later, and a call from the contracted tow truck driver, we were still waiting.

RLX3

A little more than two hours had passed when the sight of a flatbed tow truck with yellow lights flashing showed up in our rearview mirror.

How does Acura's roadside assistance program match up against other manufacturers' programs?

Most car companies today either contract their roadside assistance programs to third-party service providers or handle all the calls in-house. Mercedes-Benz, for example, has 99% of its calls answered by dealer-trained technicians. Companies like Agero, which represents 70% of the top auto brands, responds to more than 12 million calls a year. Here's a chart showing the average response times for some of the most popular car brands as reported by the automakers:

ResponseTimes

We're left wondering why our wait was more than two hours for a local tow truck to arrive — headquartered three blocks from where we were — and take the car to a dealership nine minutes away? If the RLX test car had come with a full-size spare or donut, we could have been back on the road within minutes of the popped tire fiasco.

However, we also wonder how many Acura owners would know how to change a spare tire even if there was one.

Let us know your experiences using roadside assistance programs. 

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Comments 

WTF

A dealership 9 minutes away? I would have called them directly and surely someone would have offered some customer service by coming to get you and/or the blown tire instead of flatbedding the whole car.

attgig

i hate how everyone's getting rid of the spare... one of the most useful pieces of equipment on the car....

Skankzilla

"However, we also wonder how many Acura owners would know how to change a spare tire even if there was one."

It doesn't matter. If they want to tow the car or call roadside assistance, that's okay, but for people like me and a number of my customers we'd rather have the spare. It wouldn't matter if I owned a Kia or a BMW, it gives me better control over the situation and my time.

I continue to defend the need for a spare tire in my vehicle and will gladly suffer the mileage penalty. Which there probably is none, realistically.

Bob

I wouldn't buy a car that had no spare tire … period, end of story … and I would consider a full-size spare to be a big plus over a compact donut.

Jason

Called about keys locked in car. First person couldn't get the door open and he ruined the window seal and interior door with device. Second guy opened the door with no damage. Total time 3 hours. After a few months, vendor replaced our window seal and interior door panel (car was a month old when I locked my keys in it).

Mark

It's not the car brand. It's the tow company that contracts with them. It's the luck of the draw. Personally, I belong to AAA even though the car has roadside assistance. My discount on eyeglasses with AAA is larger than the annual cost. No brainer.

Jill

I have roadside assistance with my insurance, Esurance. I have had to use them several times, and they have always been prompt and helpful.

Christopher Parker

My problem with AAA is that they lobby against transit and against environmental conservation. Not how I want my money used!

Joe

My kids car lost the entire wheel(tire n rim) on a major roadway with no shoulder.I almost got run over twice waving people into next lane,AAA said they would expedite a flatbed because of the dangerous location.Yeah,right...3 hours later...also said they'd notify state police to come..that never happened...but thanx to a trucker who lent us his triangles we were semi-safe(no pun intended).AAA sucks!

wain

funny how someone mention AAA took three hours to arrive, they pay their contractors very little to the point that the contractors will make AAA lowest priority. We need to send car manufactures a loud message that we the consumers will not buy their vehicles due to lack of spare tire.

Barbara S

Ruined tire off I89 in rural NH, got off the exit, onto 2 lane road. Called my roadside service. They wanted to know nearest cross street, how many blocks was it, google maps says there is a pond nearby... yeah, right, BEHIND that hill. I tried to tell them if you just let the company know what exit we are off the highway I think they'll find us, amidst all the other broken down cars.

Bob

AAA is usually the best but they pay their contractors about 1/4 of what the going rate is. So guess what calls get run first, especially since most drivers get paid 25% commission on calls. I've found if you tip the drivers They usually remember you and they will pick up on the call quicker.

Mr. Khan

I have Two Acura MDX's '09 and '12 and i know how to change a tire. yes sir. 20 years as a body shop owner and you learn many things.

Paul R.

Several years ago our Dodge minivan blew a tire on the turnpike. We called AAA but before they arrived a Lexus dealers service truck pulled over and plugged our flat. The guy said it's their policy to check disabled minivans regardless of brand. He wouldn't even accept a tip. We sent a very thankful letter to his dealership.

catherine u

I really thought that my experience was unique. I also hit a pot hole with my BMW and ended up with a flat. NO Donut and you are stuck with having to tow. My dealer suggested calling BMW roadside assistance. Almost 3 hours later. No TOW TRUCK. I call it a poorly run service. When they sell you the car it always is sold as this great service. absolutely right Mercedes roadside assistance much better.

I think waiting more than 30- 40 minutes is unacceptable and dangerous now days.

TMo

So many have inadequate service. Here's what I have complete comprehensive!! http://youtu.be/ix5T8xD4Qdk?list=UUia7lg2uah0SLuU6ON9e0Vw

BMW needs to contract with efficient tow drivers that will be available and arrive on time. NO excuses

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