A botched RAC rescue turned our French road trip into an ordeal

A botched RAC rescue turned our French road trip into an ordeal

When I retired from work last year, my wife and I set off on a road trip to France in our new motorhome. Two weeks into our trip, the engine failed on a campsite. We’d bought a £284 breakdown policy with the RAC, including European cover, and a recovery vehicle arrived promptly. The mechanic was unable to fix the problem, so we were told it would be towed to a dealership. However, the recovery truck was not long enough to carry the vehicle and, after trying to manoeuvre it off the campsite, the driver left it blocking a lane. A larger truck was eventually sent and, since it was getting late, the motorhome was moved to a storage depot for the night.

The site, shared with a breaker’s yard, was unstaffed and we were advised by the driver to stay with the vehicle for security reasons. That night we witnessed people with their faces covered entering vehicles and removing their contents. It felt very menacing. The RAC was unable to find a dealership willing to take us the next day and offered us a hotel, but we feared it would be unsafe to leave the motorhome unattended in the depot, so spent another alarming night expecting to be transferred to a repair garage the next day.

The next morning, a Saturday, we discovered the depot had been secured for the weekend and we were locked in. No one had warned us. Our water and electricity supply was running low and we were unable to leave the site to buy food. The thieves returned on the Sunday night. By then we’d obtained the entry code from a delivery driver, and felt so unsafe we moved to a hotel.

We were eventually taken to a dealership on the Tuesday, five days after we had broken down. We had to miss a rugby World Cup match we’d booked tickets for, and had spent hours on the phone trying to get things moving with the RAC.
DK, Solihull

Defensive is the word for the RAC’s reaction to your ordeal. It could not, it told me, see what it did wrong. And brick walls spring to mind when I tried to help it see what the cack-handed approach of its French agents had put you through.

This was undoubtedly a complex recovery. Your motorhome is large and a willing local dealership was seemingly hard to find.

Two things should have been clear at the outset – the spec of the tow truck since you had emailed photos of the vehicle when you requested recovery, and the wisdom of securing a repair appointment before moving it off the campsite where you could have waited safely with all amenities.

The RAC tells me that removal of vehicles to a storage depot before a repair is “standard practice” in France. This significant and unusual custom is not mentioned in the T&Cs of your European cover.

It also told me that it offered you a hotel on the very first night the motorhome spent in the compound. It took me three weeks, and a slew of date-stamped photos, to get it to accept this was untrue. It blithely repeated that you chose to remain on the site and in vain did I point out that you had been advised to do so by their own agent. Crucially, your policy T&Cs exclude liability for vehicle contents.

It equally blithely overlooked the fact you were locked in over the weekend without warning. I believe it was negligent of the recovery team to move an expensive vehicle to a depot if they were aware of security issues, and expect the owners to stay in it for an unforeseeable number of nights, or leave their property at risk. Since your contract is with the RAC, it should be liable for the actions of its appointed agents.

It initially offered you £370 towards your expenses, including the hotel room, and a mere £75 in goodwill. It’s now upped it to £150 to reflect its poor communications, and says it would reimburse other receipted costs. You declined, and say you have already submitted a receipted expenses claim to no avail.

RAC says: “We’d like to make it clear we helped at every stage of the breakdown. This included towing his large motorhome out of a tight space at his campsite, transporting it on a larger recovery truck to a storage compound when no garages were able to accept it for some time, and covering the cost of repair.

“Importantly, when it became apparent the vehicle would have to go into a storage facility, we offered to pay for a hotel which he refused, instead choosing to stay in his vehicle.

“We’ve also offered to pay for the subsequent hotel stay and the cost of hiring another motorhome during the repair. We’d still very much like to resolve things with him.”

Roadside recovery policies, although a type of insurance, are unregulated and breakdowns in the UK are outside the remit of the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). However, because your breakdown happened in Europe, the claim falls under the European cover section of the breakdown policy so you can contact the FOS and ask them to look into your complaint. Your other option is to seek more appropriate redress via the small claims court.

This article was amended on 21 May 2024 because an earlier version said that the matter fell outside the remit of the Financial Ombudsman Service. In fact because the breakdown happened in Europe the Financial Ombudsman Service can consider a complaint.

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