If you've ever needed roadside assistance in South Africa, chances are you've come away from the experience disappointed. Its not like the towing services aren't out there - just look around and you'll see them all over the place: Sitting under a tree autel maxisys ms906, parked at a busy intersection, just waiting for you to have an accident.
Sadly however, when your car breaks down and you urgently need help, they all seem to have disappeared. Call any of the assistance services that seem to come free with everything these days (and of course are not free at all), and you will find that delays of an hour plus are quite common. Would you believe that even the occasional 24-hour delay is not unheard of?
Picture the scene: You're standing next to the road worried about your car, or your family's safety, or your next appointment, and the operator's saying "Don't worry sir, our service provider will be there tomorrow!"
In fact if your car broke down it would probably be better if you drove into a ditch just before you came to a standstill - as ridiculous as that may sound you would have several tow truck operators all over you like a rash before you could reach for your phone!
Over 40 million people in South Africa have to deal with emergencies on a daily basis, whether it is medical, home-related, motor-related, mental trauma or pertaining to various legal issues. Most of them do not always know where to turn to for help, or how to handle basic health issues and personal trauma. There is no doubt that the assistance industry deserves to change.
The motoring public are still not exactly spoilt for choice; apart from the AA and a few lesser known groups such as McCarthy Club there is not much else. Apart from the AA, other reputable assistance companies like Europ Assistance concentrate on corporate assistance. However, the level of crime on the roads keeps increasing so we need better roadside assistance, more reliable response times and most of all accountability.
Roadside Assistance: Where it all began
According to the AA the first motoring organisation was the Automobile Club of SA, formed in Cape Town in 1901. This body began to lobby for improved roads and amenities for cars. The effect was a mere ripple in the pond for the motoring numbers grew slowly. The Anglo Boer War ended in 1902, the first car in Johannesburg was registered in 1904, the first American imports arrived in 1906, and the first motor show was held in 1908. The local motor assembly commenced in 1923. In January of 1930 the Federation of Clubs was liquidated and reconstituted as the Automobile Association of SA.
Roadside Assistance: The situation at present
There are many examples of corporate assistance schemes, including those offered on a compulsory basis by several motor manufacturers and insurance companies. If your vehicle is covered by an assistance product from the manufacturer (while under warranty) and/or your insurance company, you might not feel that something like an AA membership is necessary.
But, it is an accepted fact that owners of (especially new) vehicles may now be covered many times over by various different assistance schemes, with the result that an AA member could also be a member of BMW-on-Call, or Delta Assist, or Santam Assist.
While this holds true, it is also a fact that the average age of the over 6 million vehicles in South Africa today is approximately 13 years (as reported by the RMI). Most of these are no longer under warranty and many of them are not even insured Autel MaxiSys Pro, so does that imply that they do not need access to a reliable assistance service! Obviously not - in fact themost vulnerable of individuals may own vehicles that fall into this category, including students and the aged.
While price is a factor, clearly service levels are even more important. Moreover, what makes the assistance industry so different that guarantees of some kind are not in order? Surely, services that are promised should be backed up - at least to the extent that there is an offer on the table to repay the member should the service not be satisfactory!
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