"On the night of July 11th, 1999, Melissa Gosule placed a call to AAA through her parents to come rescue her and her broken down car. But when tow truck driver John Cubellis of Buzzards Bay arrived 90 minutes later, he informed Gosule that he couldn't tow her car, or drive her to another location for more than four hours because he was too busy.
As reported by Boston.com, Melissa Gosule
(The Boston Article no longer exists, you can read the story here on CNN's website. AAA sued for motorist's slaying
Is AAA (The American Automobile Association) all it's cracked up to be? Are you getting what you paid for? Is your families safety at risk? To get the ball rolling here, I think Leslie Gosule, Melissa's father summed it up best when he said "AAA preys on our vulnerabilities, but when it came time to help Melissa, AAA and its agent did nothing,"
Could it be that AAA has sold so many memberships over the years that on holiday weekends or times when traffic is heavier than normal, they cannot perform under pressure? Typically, AAA pays it's providers far too little to even attract applicants with the most rudimentary skills. In fact, AAA doesn't care who's in the truck. Many of these companies are so starved for people to fill these positions that they forego any of the background and drug tests required to reasonably check them out. This is especially frightening when they are applying for a job in an industry that has an enormous amount of contact with Jane Q public.
AAA's response to this? Not their problem. They hire outside providers for the lions share of their work. It is the providers responsibilty to check out their employees. Of course, they make this virtually impossible by controlling the market in most major cities to such a degree, they are only paying pennies to these providers when they should be paying them dollars. I'm curious. When they say you can trust AAA, exactly what do they mean?
The industry has had a problem for a long time when it comes to how much the different motor clubs are willing to pay for services rendered. A lot of this was born because the corporations could put their best bean counters forward to find ways to pay less, not to mention, college trained, high pressure managers. Who are they going up against? Tow truck drivers. Typically a group of people with far less education and negotiation skills. Here's how the conversation usually goes. Ma and Pa Tow Truck Company Owners sit down at the kitchen table where the bean counter proceeds to shows them a rather large check, maybe more than they've ever seen before. He then says "This is roughly how much you will get paid each month by us". Ma and Pa look at the check and all they can see is the large dollar amount. There is never any thought given to how much it's going to cost them to do all the added tows and another small company is setup for failure some short years later.
Now, how do rates affect your safety? Well, consider this. I have seen AAA pay rates as low as $11.35 (remember, this was written a number of years ago. The rates are still very low but they are slightly higher than that) for a 4 mile tow. In order for that driver and truck combination to make even a meager wage for the day requires 12 or more hours behind the wheel, 6 days a week. This driver can arrive at your scene dog-tired with equipment that is poorly maintained (because of the need to "keep it rolling") setting you and your family up for total disaster. Even daily maintenance procedures are skipped in an effort to keep the truck "on the road" and working.
The fact that some of these AAA companies sport brand new trucks does not mean they are any safer and also doesn't mean they are as financially responsible as the new trucks make them appear. A lot of these vehicles are bought through leasing programs from within AAA itself. This program (currently supported by Sovereign Bank) puts the companies in a very precarious position financially. If a provider refuses to tow or tries to quit AAA, AAA will pull their support on the loan and force the bank to call the notes on the trucks. If a company cannot secure outside financing at that point, AAA (Or Sovereign Bank in AAA's name) will take ALL the trucks when they can't pay. This can force a tow company to do tows at rates they would otherwise never consider. If the company stands their ground and tells AAA "No, we cannot do tows for you any longer. You're not paying us enough" They risk losing everything. I guess you could call it Financial Blackmail
. This is a program that can make a company, especially those with a not so good credit rating, even more dependant on AAA for their survival. Many of these vehicles exceed 100,000 miles in their first year on the road. If they are not constantly checked and proper maintenance procedures aren't performed on a DAILY basis, brake pads can be worn, wheel lugs can loosen, and a whole host of other safety issues can arise.
The Dominos Theory....
Most motor clubs rely on a performance rewards type system. This means a tow companies performance is graded by the motor clubs on several things, usually cost per call, estimated ETA, late ETA's, was the truck clean, was the operator clean and did the operator appear to know what he was doing. In an area where there are several companies vying for the same calls, this can be a recipe for disaster. Remember the Dominos "30 minutes or it's free!" program a few years ago? The result was a bunch of hot shot teenagers speeding all over town in a desperate attempt to get the pizza's delivered on time. The same thing holds true for the competition between tow companies for some of these motor club calls.
The AAA contractor has an even worse scenario. Generally, AAA will give all the calls in a specific area to a "groomed" contractor. AAA is clearly the largest towing insurance provider on the planet. AAA grooms their contractors by flooding them with calls making it nearly impossible for the Tow Company to keep up. Many companies see this volume as a recipe for success and in their zeal, will start tossing caution to the wind in an attempt to maintain their relationship with AAA. They will begin buying trucks to meet the new demand (With Soveriegn Banks and AAA's help, of course) and start dropping other higher paying, but lower volume customers. At some point, they become totally dependent on AAA for their livelihood.
Ultimately, these companies become aware that they are in serious trouble financially. Their profit and loss statements begin to reflect the real truth about high volume, low pay tows. They start cutting corners in a vain attempt to curtail operating costs. The monies normally spent by a tow company for Safety and other related issues begins to dry up. Their trucks and equipment begin to wear out and their experienced drivers begin leaving for greener pastures where they can get paid what they are actually worth. In the end, you have a company with beat equipment, operated by high turnover, beginning tow drivers (some with less than 2 weeks training under their belt). Who have been thrown into the ocean and left to fend for themselves.
These contractors do attempt to get AAA to pay them more.
Have you Ever heard the old saying "Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely"? A good example of this misuse of corporate power can be found in an article written by an Attorney named Michael McGovern titled: The Truth About AAA
AAA has such a large percentage of the towing insurance market that everything their providers do has an effect on the towing industry as a whole. Even those companies that don't do AAA pay the price. With inexperienced drivers/operators comes more tow truck accidents. So much so that some of these AAA contract companies would never be able to insure in today's market without a little corporate help. How does this affect the industry and towers that do not service AAA? All insurance companies base their rate structure on what could be called the "insurance pool" This is a means for weighing accident costs paid out in an area as compared to the revenues generated for a specific market segment. AAA contractors are in the same segment as all other towers. Higher incident costs because of lack of training and a willingness to overlook things like drug checks and background checks hurts everyone across the board, even the non AAA company with the "perfect" record can't escape the higher costs just for being associated with this specific "insurance pool"
Gary Coe, a founder and past president of the Oregon Tow truck Association says it best in an article he wrote that was also published in Tow Times magazine in July of 2002 entitled:AAA Article Right On Target
Gary mentions something in his article that I want to expand on a little. When you buy a new car, you get a warranty package that usually includes some sort of towing solution. In the past, these warranty tows were handled by the dealer, usually through a local tow company that the dealer had already investigated and chose specifically to handle their customers and their brand new cars. This meant you could reasonably expect a highly qualified operator with good equipment to help you get your new vehicle to the dealer safely, efficiently and in a timely fashion.
Now, AAA has managed to wriggle control of these local tows away from the dealers and placed them in the hands of the manufacturers. Porsche, and even BMW have opted to remove this control from the local level and dole it out nationally using AAA.
I must tell you about a day just a few weeks ago. I was delivering a BMW SUV to the local BMW dealer. I had just finished stowing my wheel straps after removing the car from my flatbed and was getting ready to leave when I saw the most amazing thing. In the driveway of this dealer came a AAA contractor's brand new International flatbed tow truck. On the back was a brand new Mini Cooper. The Mini cooper had been secured using two motor cycle straps. One on the right rear wheel, and one on the left front wheel. You know the straps of which I speak, they have about an 800 lb breaking strength. I couldn't resist. I asked the operator if he thought that was safe. (it was obvious the car had been shifting around dangerously on the bed as it was now at an angle and up against one of the side rails) He told me that it was safe enough. He had set the emergency brake and drove a little slower than usual to avoid any sudden stops. I didn't say a word. If that driver would have had to make an emergency stop, that Mini Cooper would have came right into the cab and killed him, not to mention the possibility of it just lazily rolling off the end of his truck while in transit. I just got in my truck and left. This is a perfect example of lack of training coupled with an overload of tow calls. He probably had 4 or 5 more calls backed up in his pager and was in a big hurry. If you were the proud owner of a brand new Mini Cooper, wouldn't you expect your Dealer to send you someone who was fully qualified and trained to tow your vehicle in for repairs?
Overworked and underpaid. In the towing industry, a large share of beginning towers start with a AAA company. Why? because all you need is a pulse and you're officially a "tower". Training for the job when I joined the AAA team some years ago consisted of a 1 week ride-along. Mostly so I could see which part of the bumper to attach my single J hook to.
Skyline Recovery Systems (remember, 2005. We are Holy Smoke Towing now) through their affiliations in this market already service close to 200 different ERS solutions. AAA is one service that we DO NOT
provide. Unless AAA changes it's procedures and begins paying what a tow is really worth, we most likely never will. I am extremely loyal to my employees and their families and would NEVER undertake a contract that could only serve to put them in harms way nor would I ever consider a procedure that would put you or your family at risk.
The question still remains: Who do you want your wife or daughter to call late at night on some dark & lonely stretch of highway in the middle of the night?