I have been a member of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) for close to a decade and when I recently received the annual renewal notice in the mail, I started wondering if it was worth keeping the membership. My membership costs $62 + GST (at the time of writing in 2006. As of 2014, a basic membership in Eastern Ontario costs $78.50 plus HST) and though I have been renewing for years without a second thought, I do not use their services all that much. Some of the benefits that I have received so far include travellers cheques, destination maps and discounts at tourist attractions, hotels etc. Despite driving an older vehicle, I have made only a couple of service calls over all these years, all of them for a battery boost during particularly cold spells but the wait times ran into many hours and it was quicker to ask a friend for a jump start.
A “Classic” membership that CAA recommends for average motorists, costs about of $145 per year in 2014 ($78.50 for “Classic” membership plus $50 for associate member plus HST) for two drivers. It allows members to receive four free emergency roadside service calls year. Roadside Assistance could be a battery boost, fuel delivery, flat tire service, lockout service or towing up to 5 kilometres. Members also receive maps, tour guides and discounts at retail partners and tourist attractions. Other membership levels offer extra benefits but also cost more.
Most people end up purchasing a CAA membership for the cost certainty and peace of mind that comes with roadside assistance. But if you drive a reliable car mostly within town, are willing to do a little preparation and have some savings set aside to handle an occasional service call, you’ll likely find it cheaper in the long-run to pay-as-you-go compared to an auto club membership. The most common reason a car won’t start is a dead battery, which can be handled by keeping a portable booster pack in the trunk at all times. You can handle other emergencies by asking your trusted mechanic to recommend a tow truck and carrying the contact information and a cell phone with you at all times. Fortunately, with cars being more reliable than ever, a call for roadside assistance should be a very rare event.
If you frequently travel out of town or drive long distances and must have roadside assistance, you may want to first check if already have it. Many car manufacturers include roadside assistance when you buy a new or pre-owned vehicle. New GM vehicles include a OnStar subscription for a limited time. You may already have an auto club membership included in your credit card benefits. One of the benefits available to TD Gold Elite Visa cardholders, for example, is roadside assistance through the TD Auto Club. If you find that you don’t already have roadside assistance, shop around. These days you have plenty of options with many car manufacturers, retailers, credit cards and even cell phone companies offering roadside assistance plans.
Are occasional service calls, a few travellers’ cheques and some tourist discounts worth the cost of a basic membership? I think not and I am leaning towards letting my CAA membership lapse.