So I got a letter in the post today about my AA membership renewal, and it reminded me of an article I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time now.

I’d like to point out, first and foremost, this isn’t a sponsored post or anything. As much as I would adore for some company to pay us money to advertise them (I should be so lucky!) this is purely out of appreciation for everything the AA have done for me since I joined.

As some of you might know, my first car was an 80s Golf GTI and, to put it politely, it was an absolute heap. It never worked properly, and was just an absolute disaster (those who know me will also say “Nothing has changed, you’ve basically described every car you’ve had up until now”, and you’d be right!). When I had sat and thought about it, in my first year of driving alone, I was towed home from the side of the road by my parents at least over 20 times.

Yes, you read that correctly. About 20 times. It’s no wonder I never went anywhere far in it.

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A car owned by me with the bonnet open. There’s something you don’t see everyday! Oh, wait…

It got to the point where my parents weren’t able to have much of a life anymore, as they were pretty much waiting on standby like a pair of on-call mechanics any time I went anywhere. They didn’t mind it as much at first because I was always only at most half an hour away, and they would rather I was safe and sound. But after the fifth time I’m sure they got rather, for lack of a better family friendly way to put it, fed up.

The last straw, was one night I was broken down about half an hour from home in torrential rain at about 12:30 at night – they got the phone call, and soon arrived a disgruntled parent. His opening sentence was “I’m so sick of this. Either buy a decent car or join the bloody AA”.

You can guess which one I did.

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AA Badge proudly on display.

Well, technically, I did both. Sorta.

thought I had bought a good car. Turns out I hadn’t. Good thing I went for that AA membership too, eh?

The big thing is that I was going to University, which was roughly about 100 miles away from home – and my parents had roughly zero intentions of coming to get me if I broke down on the way there or back, never mind during the time I’d be spending up there. This meant that really, since I wasn’t going to change driving classic cars, joining the AA was realistically the only option I had.

And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

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All too familiar of a sight for me now.

I’ve almost lost track of the amount of times I’ve had something go wrong at the side of the road at this point, and for the first time ever since I started driving four years ago, I’m no longer driving around with a constant feeling of worry in the back of my mind. Every journey I’ve had since, I know that I’ll be safe and it’ll be okay. Alongside the fact that every time I’ve had to call, I couldn’t have had nicer people come to rescue me.

Always so polite, always courteous, and always happy to see an old car still on the road and keen to get it back up and running again. My cars wear the AA badge with pride, and the flash and wave that you get from AA vans that drive past when they see the badge reinforces that they’re your friends of the road – if not the guardian angels, helping those less fortunate on their way.

There was one major event that really instilled the value of the membership to me, and it was our road trip at the start of summer.

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This, was a biggie.

We were on the final leg of our tour of the south of England, heading back for the boat. Cruising along the motorway, not a single problem for the entire trip, the car was behaving flawlessly. Just as we were coming into Wales, we were overtaking someone when all of a sudden all of the lights came on the dash and I had no power at all. In a big panic, I got onto the hard shoulder as quickly as possible, and whacked the hazard lights on. Popped the bonnet and… Oh dear. The brand new timing belt kit had decided it didn’t want to be a part of the car anymore, and decided it preferred being on a stretch of Welsh motorway.

So we rang the AA, and within 20 minutes, we had a recovery lorry there and a mechanic who was just as gutted for the car as we were. A genuine low mileage rare engine, deceased before our very eyes. I could have cried, and if I wasn’t in the presence of my friend, likely would have. But being an absolute legend, the AA man decided we would try our very very best to make the boat home in time, and we quickly got Debbie loaded up on to the Lorry and we set off.

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Ready to be parked up for the night.

After some great conversation and giving it dixie the whole way, we were sadly five minutes too late, and missed the boat. What were we going to do? We were stranded a long way from home, missed the last boat back, in the middle of the night with no place to stay, and, being two broke university students, no money to sort everything out. However, a quick phone call to the AA, and they were the best possible voice we could have heard at that time of night.

No later than 10 minutes on the phone, they had a hotel room booked for the two of us (paid for too) , and had rearranged the boat for a sailing the next morning. We were so relieved and gobsmacked, we didn’t know what to say, and we couldn’t thank them enough.

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The next morning, ready to be towed onto that boat. We were making it home, come timing belt or high water. At least one of us looked happy… Probably because he didn’t own the 1990 paperweight next to him.

The next morning, there was an AA van waiting for us, who was going to tow us on to the boat. When we crossed to the otherside, a recovery lorry was waiting for us too, who was going to take us all the way from Wexford to Armagh – a five hour drive. Eventually we got home safe and sound after talking all about our adventures around the south coast of England, about old cars, and about how the Hell our timing belt managed to break even though it was brand new. It was at this moment we really learned the value of the AA. This must have far outweighed the cost of our membership, and the AA gained a new member (my friend) that day.

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And so we set off home. 

This, coupled with the countless other times I’ve had minor breakdowns, issues and quarrels with my cars, has really shown me that if you do a lot of driving in an old car, no matter how good your old car may be, you need some form of breakdown cover.

To the AA, you have me and my family’s sincerest thank you. You’ve got members for life here. See you at the side of the road. It’ll be the old Golf with the hazards on.

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A special thank you to this one who helped me when my car broke down on the way to a first date. You’re an absolute hero. 

Written by Tomo Pattison

Car Enthusiast, Drummer, Photographer. I also write crap about cars and do some racing.

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