Friday, December 7, 2012

A(AA) Mixed Experience

CANYON LAKE, TEXAS -- For more than twenty years, I have maintained a AAA membership, and probably not a year has gone by that I have not been glad that I did. And, as I have only gotten older and commensurately more apprehensive about travel-related mishaps, it is a service that I have continued to appreciate. Recently, however, I had an experience that was, suffice it to say, a little offputting.

One morning last week, my wife woke me up to let me know that her car wouldn't start so that she had to take mine (presumably, none of that would have been different if she had just let wake up on my own an hour or so later). It looked as if the trunk had gotten left open and that the battery had drained overnight and I could have either called AAA for a jump or dragged out my own cables and done it myself. In point of fact I put it off and did not do anything right away, as she was going out of town and I would only need one car for awhile anyway.

Then, three days ago, I came out of a meeting at the local library and my car wouldn't start! Fortunately, my friends Rodney and Regan Smith were just coming out of the same meeting and, being ever-ready, they pulled out their jumper cables and got my car running, whereupon I was able to drive home.

Next morning I went out to my garage and, as I had feared, now had two vehicles that would not start -- and no third one to jump them with. It appeared, in fact, that the battery for my own car must have been dead and would need to be replaced. One way or another, now I needed to call AAA and get some support.

When I called and explained the situation to the agent, first thing she said was that this would count as two separate service calls because it involved two cars. Really? They did not have to dispatch two trucks, so this would seem to have had a rather thin justification, and it would certainly seem that there would be a better way for them to handle this. But, c'est la vie, I needed the vehicles jumped, so I had little choice but to just accept this.

I was, however, a little mollified when the agent told me that as part of my service the technician responding to the call could actually replace my battery with a new one that I could purchase for a "special price" available to members. This was a nice surprise! I live kind of in the middle of nowhere, so not having to immediately drive 18 miles to AutoZone to get my battery swapped out was kind of a relief and I said this was something I wanted to avail myself of.

My annoyance returned a few minutes later when the phone rang and I discovered it was yet another agent who was calling expressly to tell me that the battery replacement service was not available where I live! Really? The first agent didn't know that? And why the hell not? I certainly don't pay any less in membership premiums than people in other areas! The agent did tell me that AAA was "working on it" and would be providing this service to paying customers like me "soon." How soon? Within an hour when the service truck was scheduled to arrive? Apparently not.

So, an irritating experience with an organization I have patronized for more than two decades. Not enough to make me drop it by any means, but enough to give me some pause.

As a postscript, however, it does bear mentioning that Jim, the driver for contract service company Hill Country Customs Towing, showed up fairly quickly and was very professional, conscientious, and friendly. He also personally recommended a place to pick up a battery that was about six miles closer than where I had been planning on going and said he would drive back to where he was going behind me in case I had any problems on my way. And, when I got to O'Reilly Auto Parts in Sattler, Texas, Wayne sold me the battery I needed and quickly installed it himself, so Jim had indeed given me a good recommendation.