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22 Oct 2021

'Breakdown firm RAC abandoned us for more than 12 hours. Can I claim compensation?'

What can you do if a breakdown provider leaves you stranded?

Do you have an issue you need put right? Which? is here to help get your consumer problems sorted.

Dear Which?,

After our car broke down outside Oxford, my partner and I were towed to Leicester East services by RAC, who assured us we would continue our journey home within two hours.

After the first couple of hours, we called RAC to find out what was going on.

It insisted that someone would be with us within 45 minutes, but it soon became clear that we were stranded. We ended up spending the night at the services hotel, checking in 12 hours after we were initially towed to the service station.

Eventually, RAC hired a taxi to take us to a car hire firm where we would be reimbursed for the costs of hiring a car.

When we returned to our car to pick up our stuff, we phoned RAC and were told to leave the keys under the wheel and that 'the CCTV cameras at the services made it safe'.

We reluctantly left our car in the motorway services car park where it remained for two days.

Why haven't the RAC told us where our car is? And can we ask it to compensate us for the night spent at the motorway services?

Aimee Steedman, North East Lincolnshire

Put to Rights

Luke Jeffery, consumer rights expert at Which?, says:

What a nightmare end to your holiday. Because RAC left you stranded for more than 12 hours, an unreasonable amount of time to wait, you are entitled to compensation under the 'onward travel' terms of your breakdown cover.

On its website, RAC says it offers some form of onward travel protection under its standard protection and so should reimburse you for the costs of the hire car.

It's shocking RAC asked you to leave your car key under the wheel. It should not have relied on CCTV cameras being present to ensure your car was safe. What's more, if your car had been stolen it might have invalidated any subsequent insurance claim.

When we contacted RAC to understand why it took so long to get you on your way following your breakdown, it told us: 'We've apologised to Aimee following her breakdown.

'Like all breakdown assistance firms this summer, the impact of UK staycation travel and the pandemic has led to unprecedented high demand for our services, which has affected a small number of our customers.'

In another twist, you told us that two days after RAC said it would pick up the car, it still hadn't arrived at a local garage as promised.

To make matters worse, the time on the hire car was running out and you were considering extending the time limit.

Just under 48 hours after you broke down, you were told that your car had turned up at a local garage, where the issue was diagnosed.

Following up about the status of your car, RAC told us: 'While we recovered Aimee's vehicle to a safe location, we didn't provide the service she rightly expected from us in a timely manner.

'We've covered her costs and provided a gesture of goodwill, which we hope helps restore her faith in our service.'

The 'gesture of goodwill' was £100 compensation to cover the costs of your food and accommodation with further compensation for the cost of the hire car.

Need to know

  • If you've broken down, call your provider immediately instead of sending an email.
  • Know your breakdown policy There are different kinds of breakdown cover, meaning what you're covered for might differ depending on what kind of policy you have. Check it to make sure you know what you're covered for.
  • Breakdown insurance is covered by the Financial Ombudsman Service Following your complaint remaining unresolved with the insurance provider, you can raise a claim with the Financial Ombudsman Service if you remain unsatisfied.

Get in touch. If you've got a consumer rights problem you need put right, email us at yourstory@which.co.uk.

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