I joined the CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) last summer. I hadn’t been a member for at least a decade, I guess because I just never really bothered to sign up. Every time I get a new car, they always have some sort of roadside assistance thing included too, which I’ve never really had to use.
The CAA is the Canadian version of AAA, and the organizations are affiliated, so it covers you if your car breaks down in the US, and I think Mexico. Part of the reason I joined was for the main benefits (roadside assistance), but I also like going to a CAA location and getting free maps. You can just go in, ask for any maps you want, and they give them to you, it’s great. I know maps are free online now, but having paper copies can be very handy, especially if you’re travelling somewhere and your data plan isn’t working or whatever.
Last winter, I was at the bank (TD) and the teller started trying to get me to switch to a new credit card. It gave me more cashback than my current one, but it cost $99/year. The teller said “Oh it also includes CAA membership” so I decided to get it, since I was already paying $70/year for that.
I didn’t bother trying to activate the free CAA membership until my current account ran out at the end of June, but when I phoned TD about it, it became clear pretty fast that the card did not come with CAA membership, but instead something called TD Auto Club, which is somewhat similar to CAA or one of the roadside assistance plans that come with new cars. I was pretty annoyed at the teller misrepresenting this, although I am unsure whether he was really lying or he’s just one of those guys who calls all pop “Coke” or all instant cameras “Polaroids” or whatever – those guys aren’t common, but they’re out there.
TD was good about the misunderstanding and they refunded my year’s fees for the new card, and I decided that I could wait before getting the full CAA membership, since I’m not in imminent need of maps, and it seemed like the TD Auto Club features were pretty good.
So now we fast forward to two nights ago. I was finishing off a very long drive from Montreal, and I was very close to home when one of my tires popped, on the 401 (most major highway in Ontario), in the express lane. This was right at one of the busiest parts of the highway, basically right in the center of Toronto. In my opinion, this is the absolute worst spot possible to have to pull over. This was at 11PM and a large amount of traffic is huge trucks, most of which didn’t change lanes and just sped by me, shaking my car. Apart from the trucks, there are tons of cars too, and I’ve never really loved how people drive at night, it’s always so easy to spot people who are almost certainly drunk.
I pulled over to the shoulder quickly and phoned the TD Auto Club. When they answered, the first thing the guy said was that if I felt unsafe, I should call 911, but if not, he could arrange help. I didn’t expect this but I sort of took “if you feel unsafe” to mean really extreme conditions, because honestly, when are you ever going to feel super-safe when you pull off a highway?
So I said that it was fine and he should call a tow truck. He went through the info of where I was, and said he’d send a truck that would tow me to a safe area, and then change my tire. He didn’t say how long it would take, so I asked, and he said ONE HOUR. I just went “WHAT? An hour???” and he said “Oh that’s good, usually it’s 90 minutes to 2 hours”. I was just like “Are you kidding me?”
Staying on the shoulder that long was insane, and definitely would have been super dangerous, so I immediately said “Forget it I’m calling 911. Will you reimburse me for getting towed by someone else?” and he said yes, and then started to go into some explanation of how the process worked, and I, as politely as I could manage, cut him off and said “I HAVE TO GO”. I’m sure it didn’t sound super polite, but it would have been very, very easy for me to tell him to shut the fuck up at that point. But I’m nice.
Long story short, I called 911, they sent a tow truck, it got there in 15 minutes and the guy was nice/brave enough to change the tire without towing me (I didn’t ask him to do that, but it was very helpful). I paid him cash and got a receipt and I’m very hopeful that when I call the TD Auto Club about it they won’t screw me hahaha (famous last words).
So anyway, the whole point of the story is that when I heard about this program, I listened to the things they cover, and I thought it sounded fine. It did, on paper, but once I had to use it, it became really clear that it’s just a shitty program run for marketing purposes, and it’s not useful, and it’s in fact very dangerous. Sitting in that exact place on the 401 for 1-2 hours would be so insanely dangerous, I can’t even explain it. My car shook every time a tractor-trailer zoomed by at 120+km/hr, which was literally every 10 seconds at a minimum. If one of those drivers had lost focus for a moment and veered even a bit onto the shoulder, the best case scenario would be me being in hospital, extremely badly injured. Every minute that I was out there, the chances of this happening (or just some drunk/bad/inattentive driver hitting me) increased.
I’m signing back up for CAA this week, although I do want to confirm with them how fast they would send someone out. It might be a question they have trouble answering as a hypothetical, but I’m pretty sure that their whole deal is getting assistance out quickly. Anyone with any experience, leave it in the comments.
The TD Auto Club thing really bugs me. I’m sure that 95% of the people who are technically members don’t even realize or care that they are, like me during the first 8 months I was unknowingly a member. There’s probably some department that runs it who have really impressive metrics. They probably have hundreds of thousands of “members” and it probably hardly costs them anything to run, and is a good marketing tool.
The thing about hardly costing them anything to run – I’m assuming this because first of all.. how is it possible that the normal response time is 90-120 minutes to get a tow truck to the busiest highway in Ontario, right smack in the middle of Toronto? I’d guess they must just have a single towing company they work with, and it’s uhh… very, very bad? I keep trying to think of what the angle would be for a towing company to never have enough trucks on the road, I guess.. I don’t know, I give up.
I would imagine that TD doesn’t have any reason to go and search out a wide range of other companies to also use, or form a network, because they’re just treating this auto club as a marketing thing they can use to get people to sign up for credit cards (which is especially effective if they literally call it “CAA membership” haha).
So yeah, that’s my PSA: Sign up for the CAA or AAA. Unless I’m wrong and those suck and are slow, in which case leave a comment haha.