Free recovery doesn’t always mean free

Published: 25 March 2001

When is free recovery not really free? Apparently, when you’re a member of the AA or RAC and you’ve had an accident.

Most of us assume when we join such an association that our membership fee will entitle us to recovery if we crash – at no extra cost.

But if you’re in an accident which is your fault and have fully comp insurance, expect to lose at least a chunk of your no-claims bonus.

Vehicle recovery firms will claim the costs back from your insurance company – or the other party’s if there is one involved. The only way they will swallow the cost is if you have TPFT cover and there is no other person for them to claim from.

And Richard Alger, a spokesman for insurance firm Norwich Union, said a single insurance claim could mean losing up to two years of your no-claims.

For a 32-year-old R1 rider living in Northampton, who hasn’t made a claim for five years, that would mean having to pay around £193 extra when he comes to renew his policy.

We reported in October that the AA had told 40-year-old Chris Neilson he would not be covered if he crashed his Yamaha Fazer 600 – and that he would have to arrange recovery of the bike himself.

At the time, AA spokesman Steve Upsher said the operator who took his call had made a mistake – and that staff would be re-trained if necessary to ensure it wasn’t repeated.

We investigated to see if the re-training had worked. Using a current, valid membership number, MCN called the AA claiming to need roadside recovery after an accident.

We told the call-handler we had fully comprehensive insurance and she told us: " Under the terms and conditions of membership, you’re not entitled to recovery of the vehicle following a road traffic accident.

" However, we will arrange recovery, and invoice you for the cost, which you can then reclaim from your insurers. If you’re not covered, we may reimburse you. "

Upsher says the mistake made when dealing with Neilson’s call was that he was told to sort his own recovery.

He said the correct response would have been the one we were given – that the AA would recover the bike, but charge Neilson and then leave it to him to either claim from his insurance or let the AA know he wasn’t covered by his policy.

The AA has been charging riders and telling them to claim the recovery costs on their insurance policies since 1999.

For the AA to pay for the recovery, you have to provide evidence that your insurance company will not cover you.

Derek Hawkins, an MCN reader from Southampton, crashed his Suzuki Bandit 1200 in West Titherley, Wilts in August last year. The AA swallowed the £112 recovery costs once he had provided a letter from his insurance firm confirming it did not cover him for the costs of recovery after an accident.

But if you’ve got fully comprehensive insurance, you’ll have to pay, even though you’ve already paid for AA membership.

A call to the RAC revealed its policy was the same. Its spokeswoman, Charlotte Latham, said: " Where we are able, we will attempt to reclaim the costs from the insurance company of the responsible party.

" If, however, we are unable to do this, the RAC will in most cases absorb the cost. "

Latham estimated that of all call-outs to bike accidents, the company would end up paying the cost itself on one occasion in four.

Recovery firm ETA has the same practice. Spokesman Aaron Dillon was unwilling to specify precise terms and conditions, but said: " We would only cover the cost of recovery after an accident if the member provided proof that he wasn’t already covered for the cost by his insurers. "

Mike Naylor, of the Consumers’ Association, says it amounts to penalising riders for having fully comp cover. He said: " I don’t think it’s fair, particularly if it incurs a loss of no-claims bonus.

" If people don’t want to make an insurance claim, they’ll have to pay for the recovery themselves. The only people who benefit are the recovery firms. They can charge for a service with one hand, and reclaim the cost of providing it with the other. "

But the AA’s Upsher insisted it was not unfair treatment of riders who are covered fully comp – even though their no-claims will be affected, while TPFT riders will not. He said: " If a member has third party, fire and theft cover, there will be no charge. If they have comprehensive cover, they will receive a bill in the post to pass to their insurers.

" This does not amount to treating members differently, but reflects the reality of how the AA is able to reclaim the costs of recovering vehicles after accidents. "

But not all companies take this approach to accidents. Amy Rotheram, of recovery firm Green Flag, said: " Annual membership starts at £38 and we don’t reclaim the cost of recovering riders from their insurers. "

And MCN offers its own recovery service, which also manages to recover riders after an accident without reclaiming any of the cost from their insurers.

Annual membership, including accident recovery, starts at just £37.49. Details: 0870-901-2999.

Have you suffered at the hands of a recovery service? Have you lost your no-claims bonus because of a recovery charge? If you have, e-mail us at: mcn.letters@emap.com