Why I decided to quit the CAA

Better vehicle design and the rise of cell phones have made it easier to go without roadside protection.

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by

From the June 2011 issue of the magazine.

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It wasn’t long ago that having a membership in the Canadian Automobile Association was as essential for Canadian drivers as a set of keys. But today, cars are more reliable and cell phones have made it easier to get help if you’re stranded. Plus, many vehicles come equipped with OnStar’s roadside assistance. So is the CAA still worth it? We decided to crunch the numbers to find out.

As a starting point, I reflected on my personal 10-year membership in the CAA. I’m not a frequent traveller, and my benefits really only amounted to a few maps and a handful of discounts on hotels and tourist attractions. Despite driving an older vehicle, I made only a couple of service calls, all of them for battery boosts during cold spells. However, the wait times were long and it was quicker to get a jump start from a friend. That’s why when my CAA membership came up for renewal several years ago, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

A basic membership, which CAA recommends for people who drive or travel infrequently, costs about $150 per year for two drivers. Members can make four free emergency roadside service calls per year, and get maps and discounts on some attractions. Other membership levels offer more benefits, but also cost more.

If you drive a reliable car mostly within town, you’ll likely find it cheaper to pay as you go if you need assistance, as I do. It’s a good idea to carry a portable booster pack for your battery and to store the number of a tow-truck driver in your cell phone.

If you travel out of town frequently or drive long distances, roadside assistance may be worth it, but check first to see if you already have it. Many car manufacturers include roadside assistance when you buy a car, and often credit cards offer it as a benefit. If you do need to pay for the service, shop around: many retailers, credit cards and cell phone companies now have roadside assistance plans.

7 comments on “Why I decided to quit the CAA

  1. I gave up the full service BCAA (British Columbia) and instead have paying $35 a year plus tax for the a la carte card. This card gives me discounts at hotels and attractions. In 8 years, I called BCAA twice (both times for keys locked in car). On the second occasion, they couldn't help me because my new car can't be broken into using a slim jim. I think BCAA has great products, but if you drive anything resembling a reliable car, then their full service card is overkill … save your money … great article.

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  2. I am the opposite. I joined AMA 2 years ago because I refuse to pay extra money for a brand new vehicle with all the bells & whistles, including OnStar – the difference is in the 5-10 thousand dollar range. I live in a more rural small town area and cell phone service doesn't always cut it, but a walk to a farmhouse with my AMA card works. A lot of local mechanics accept it and they're lightening fast, especially if you call them directly instead of going the AMA.
    Also, I travel a fair bit, and the savings I've gotten from packages, hotels, car rentals and even campgrounds has paid for itself several times over.
    Their Apps for the iPhone are excellent, and I use them instead of paying $200 for a GPS unit.
    While I concede your point of view, I don't think it should discourage people from using a service that does an excellent job at what it does, so long as it fits for them. Obviously, for you the author, it no longer fits with you and cancelling is the right way to go.

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  3. Bankroll the annual fees, and you will end up further ahead in the end, even if you have to pay for the odd tow.

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  4. I had my membership for the last 20 years or so, having had one in AB and then in BC. I’ve noticed the quality of services decline (at least in BC) as well as the waits, either in person or over the phone. The quality of customer service in BC is deplorable, on the phone or in person, while the service in Alberta is excellent. While I was recently with my mom there (who has a 30+ membership) the service was so exemplary that I even wrote the branch manager to commend those we delt with. It seems you are a burden on them when you call in here in BC, and they even said they would not cancel my membership when I recently called in. I was dumbfounded when they explained they wouldn’t cancel a membership that has used their services in the past year. After pressing, they finally (FINALLY) explained they will not partially REFUND any membership that has used their services in the past year. It was my fault that I wasn’t aware of that. I’m done with their arrogance and can find my assistance elsewhere happily. They can keep whatever $ they took from me and I will chalk it up to a life lesson.

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  5. Biggest aspect you missed is that a CAA membership gives you option of towing to your preferred garage, not the closest service centre. Most credit cards or Big Insurer plans will only tow you to the nearest service centre which could end up costing you way more than a place where you have a history with. Plus, you might get a towing to the nearest service centre to find out that you actually have to get to towed to the nearest certified mechanic that will be covered by your cars warranty. CAA is worth its weight in gold in my opinion, especially for anyone with a car with specific warranty conditions or is drive a 10 years old vehicle.

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    • I did without AAA and AAA until my vehicles got to be around 12 years old where I find it save me a lot of money. This year the wife had a flat tire (well destroyed it but that’s another story) and she locked it and left it on the roadside on a foggy night getting a ride to her destination. As luck would have it she had the spare set of keys since she could not find hers. I called the CAA, got a membership had it unlocked. I also had a CV axle fall out due to my inept repair on the lower control arm and a failed alternator all in one year. Since my vehicle is 4WD it requires a dolly to tow which bring and hooking it up is about $250. My tows were in town to the dealer so no extra charge. W

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  6. I was member of CAA for 20 years. I quit because I got the road assistance as a part of the lease contract…when I went to CAA to get my CAA money redeemed – they refused. The money they say are “expired”.. This is not honest, this is scam on part of CAA. The loyalty means nothing to CAA…therefore I will never again join CAA.

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