ADAC, AAA and the American Yellow Angels


There is no ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club or the General German Automobile Club) in the USA, but there is AAA. Triple A is there to help with flat tires, will tow up to 160 km (100 miles), and offers its members discounts. In comparison to ADAC, AAA isn’t quite involved in road safety improvement. When involved, then it is only with regional activities.

Germans are the Most Insured Europeans

Germans are known for being over-insured. I should know: I worked in the insurance service industry. At the time, my employer was the leading company in the Netherlands. Since it was so successful in the Netherlands, the company thought it could earn more money in … Germany. The plan backfired. The company is still in Germany, but it was far from a successful endeavor.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. Adam Fletcher, originally from England, but living in Berlin, wrote the following in his book “How to Be German”:

“If someone invented insurance insurance – an insurance against not having the right insurance – we’d all be treated to the sight of 80 million people dying of happiness.”

He’s right. And apparently I’m less German than my husband would have me believe: until recently, I didn’t have a AAA membership.

Breakdown while on Vacation

I had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. We spent three days at the ocean in the sun and on the beach. It felt like two weeks. It was so lovely, on the last day I planned on swimming and building sand castles with the kids. I considered the possibility that this would mean traffic on the way back: Chincoteague is on a peninsula, which is only accessible via two bridges. A peninsula 300 km long + two bridges + a long weekend = you guessed it, traffic jams.

Anyway, Chincoteague is beautiful in September: we saw dolphins and wild horses, ate breakfast outdoors, and watched sunsets on the patio. The ocean was so warm that the kids could go swimming for hours and I wanted to savor that as long as I could. The two hours of stop-and-go traffic before reaching the bridge were no matter to me, not after all this.

What I hadn’t planned was a breakdown. Once we got to the car, nothing was working. The rear doors wouldn’t open and the battery was drained. Folks, I had lived in the US for two years and had barely heard of AAA. In my moment of need, I couldn’t even remember the name. So, there I stood, in the midday sun, alone with my three kids, but still with plenty of water, salami sandwiches, and yogurt. At least we wouldn’t be dying of thirst or hunger any time soon.

AAA – ADAC’s American Counterpart

AAA is just as well-known in the States as ADAC is in Germany. The first people I asked knew immediately whom I meant. After that, it was super easy to google the telephone number. I was quickly connected to the right people: first to the sales department, then to assistance.

AAA works like ADAC. You can call them, even in an emergency, and become a member immediately. There are different kinds of memberships that accommodate different numbers of drivers, or if an RV is being added to the coverage. Otherwise, an immediate enrollment in AAA during an emergency carries an additional cost, around $100. If you have time, you can wait until the next day.

I had no alternative: I was standing in the parking lot of a state park. There were no homes, businesses, or bathrooms for miles. The next town was several miles away and besides, I had to be in the office the next day. I gladly paid the extra fee, and not even an hour later, the towing service was there, with a bright yellow truck, just like in Germany! I immediately felt at ease. Two stocky workers spoke with me briefly, helped me start the car, and five minutes later I drove off. Pure American efficiency!

No ADAC or AAA in France

Back in Washington D.C., I learned that several of my French acquaintances were already AAA members. They raved about it. In France, this kind of service usually comes with auto insurance, but it doesn’t cover all breakdowns. It generally stands that it’s better to have a breakdown on vacation than at home, since most associations will only assist you a certain distance from your home. Not AAA. My friend Nadine always has problems with her SUV. AAA has already towed her Mercedes to the repair shop five times. I can see why the French are such fans!

If their auto insurance doesn’t offer additional services, the French can get coverage through a so-called travel assistance association. This means that there’s no one company that dominates the market like ADAC or AAA do. According to Wikipedia, AAA has 46 million members. ADAC in Germany has about 19 million members.

So now I’m a member. No more situations gone awry!

What about you? What kind of experience have you had with AAA?

Fotocredit: Airtrails by Flickr

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