Do you live without a car? Congratulations. You are part of a growing cohort of Americans for whom the term “car problem” has no personal relevance.
For everyone else, car problems are very real and often hit very close to home. Whether you have a new or used car, chances are you’ve had shared problems with your vehicle: unexpected breakdowns, unexplained noises, persistent mechanical defects, accidents caused by unsafe road conditions, or human error. These issues are inconvenient, costly, and potentially dangerous to your safety.
The good news is that you don’t have to face them alone. For more than a century, the American Automobile Association (AAA) has provided invaluable support, including free assistance and towing, to millions of drivers across the country.
AAA membership starts at about $50 per year and goes up to $200 per year, depending on your level of service. If you own your car and drive regularly, it could be a good investment. Here’s what you need to know about AAA membership, how to decide if it’s right for you, and how to get the most out of your debt.
What is AAA?
AAA is a nonprofit federation of regional automotive “clubs” that collectively serve the entire United States. In Canada, a similar network operates under the auspices of the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
AAA launched in Chicago in 1902. Its Canadian counterpart followed about 10 years later. Initially conceived to advocate for better road and refueling infrastructure, AAA soon began providing information and educational materials for its members: road maps, driver curricula, driver and pedestrian safety supplements, and even road research. traffic safety., a separate but closely related organization).
As the American highway network grew and improved in the years after World War II, AAA stepped up its lobbying and legislative efforts in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s, it played a crucial role in writing two key pieces of automotive legislation: the National Motor Vehicle and Traffic Safety Act of 1966 and the Highway Safety Act. Both set critical standards for car manufacturing, road safety and maintenance, signage, and driver’s licenses.
By the 1980s, AAA road maps were recognized as the gold standard for long-distance travelers in North America. In the following decade, AAA spearheaded one of the first large-scale tests of car navigation systems. As gas prices rose in the new century, the organization turned to lobby again, this time to advocate against the reduction or elimination of the federal gas tax, which provides essential funding for road and bridge infrastructure in the US. USA
Yet throughout its long history, AAA has never strayed far from its original mission: helping drivers get to their destinations quickly, safely, and conveniently.
Organizational structure and clubs
AAA is a non-profit federation made up of (and collectively owned by) more than 40 regional clubs. Consolidation has steadily reduced the number of active clubs: at one point some parts of the country had a different AAA club for each county, but today’s clubs tend to claim entire states or contiguous multi-state territories. For example, AAA Mid-Atlantic covers Delaware, Maryland, Washington, DC, and parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
- Some of the better known AAA clubs include: AAA New York – The five boroughs of New York City, Long Island, and much of southern New York State
- AAA Carolinas: North and South Carolina
- AAA East Central: Much of northern Appalachia, including eastern Kentucky, most of West Virginia, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and southwestern New York state.
- Auto Club Group – A multi-regional federation of AAA clubs, including AAA Minnesota/Iowa, AAA Michigan, AAA Nebraska, AAA North Dakota, AAA Wisconsin, and AAA South (Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and Puerto Rico)
- AAA Mountain West: Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska
- Northern California, Nevada, and Utah AAA – Northern half of California, plus all of Nevada and Utah
Most AAA clubs have multiple physical locations scattered throughout their service areas. These places sell maps, travel literature, and other products, in addition to travel products such as passports and international driving licenses. AAA roadside assistance calls and other automotive services are provided by a network of AAA-approved contractors, usually auto repair shops and towing companies.
To find your regional AAA club and outpost closest to your home or office, enter your zip code in the AAA club search tool.
AAA Membership Levels
AAA has three main levels of membership: Classic/Basic, Plus, and Premier. It also offers RV coverage that can be added to Plus and Premier memberships.AAA membership dues are generally charged annually. Similar to depot clubs like Costco, AAA household memberships have one primary member (who pays higher dues) and multiple associate members. Classic is the lowest price and Premier is the highest, but actual annual costs can vary significantly between clubs. For example, AAA Minneapolis Basic members pay $82 per year, plus $25 per associate member, while AAA Mid-Atlantic Classic members pay $52 per year and nothing for associate members.
Membership dues are also subject to change over time, with most clubs guaranteeing dues for only the first year. In some cases, clubs charge a one-time registration fee that is usually lower than the annual cost of membership. AAA Minneapolis includes a $15 registration fee in the first year fee, for example.
- AAA’s introductory membership level is alternatively known as Classic or Basic. Its main services include:24/7 roadside assistance: This is the main benefit of AAA. Classic/Basic and members are generally entitled to at least four free roadside assistance calls per year. Calls above the limit of four per year are the financial responsibility of the member and typically cost more than $50. During roadside assistance calls, responders provide a variety of services: jump-starts (jump-start units from mobile batteries), free battery tests, flat tire replacement if a spare is available, and minor mechanical repairs on site. Roadside assistance services may be transferred to vehicles not owned by the AAA member, for example, if you are traveling in a friend’s car and it breaks down, you can use your AAA benefit free of charge for your friend. Roadside assistance services are also available for pedal bikes, a useful bonus for regular cyclists.
- Towing – When the member’s car is disabled or unsafe to drive, AAA covers the cost of towing it to the responder’s facility, or a facility the member chooses within five miles of the car’s current location. Actual towing costs vary, but this benefit can easily be worth more than $100 peruse. Out-of-pocket surcharges apply for longer trailers.
- Rental Cars for Towed Members – Members whose cars have been towed as part of a complimentary service call (limit four per year) are entitled to discounts on car rentals for the duration of any necessary repairs. This benefit is limited to Hertz rentals and is generally worth 20% to 25% of the rental sticker price.
- Vehicle Lockout Services – Members who have been locked out of their vehicles due to lost or stolen keys are entitled to $75 of necessary locksmith services. If the total bill is less than $75, there is no charge.
- Fuel Delivery – Members who have run out of gas are entitled to complimentary fuel delivery from a nearby gas station, provided they pay the full price of the gas delivered.
- Extrication – Members who have gone off the road and become stuck in mud, snow, sand, or other difficult-to-navigate terrain are entitled to extrication and winching service from a “normally equipped” service vehicle, usually a tow truck equipped with a heavy winch capable of pulling a car. This benefit does not apply to cars parked on the street or driveway that have been temporarily immobilized due to snow or flooding.
- Discounted CARFAX Reports – Classic/Basic members get a 20% discount on CARFAX reports (which detail used vehicle ownership, accident, and repair history) ordered online. A single CARFAX report typically costs $40, making this benefit worth $8 per report.
- Basic Travel Insurance Coverage: This tier includes two basic travel insurance coverages: trip interruption protection worth up to $100 per person or $500 per family and travel accident coverage up to $100,000.
- Bike Service – This inclusion is essential for cyclists and recreational bikers alike. Includes bike repair and shop transportation (towing) within a five-mile radius.
- Travel Store Discounts – Members get 10% discounts at AAA’s Travel Store.
Please note that these discounts and inclusions are subject to change at any time within the AAA network. For example, the exact vehicle lockout discount may vary by market.
Plus members get all the benefits of the classic/basic membership, plus:
- Plus Towing: Plus members get complimentary towing to the auto repair facility of their choice, up to 100 car miles per service call. This provides a much wider range of choice than the Classic benefit, which only allows unresponsive providers to be towed within a three-mile radius.
- Plus Locksmithing – Members’ free locksmith bonus is worth up to $125.
- Plus Travel Insurance – Both coverages doubled from Basic.
- Complimentary Passport Photos: Plus members are entitled to two sets of passport photos per year.
- Plus Bike Service – Most members enjoy towing bikes up to 100 miles.
- Free Gas Fuel Delivery – Plus members receive complimentary fuel delivery with enough free gas to get them to a gas station. In isolated areas, this can add up to several gallons.
- Heavy-Duty Extrication: Plus members get an extra extrication benefit: two service vehicles typically equipped with winches and other extrication equipment. This can be useful for heavier vehicles and those that have stalled.
- RV Endorsement – Plus members can add an RV endorsement (technically known as “RV membership”) for about $30 more per year. The RV endorsement extends AAA’s roadside assistance, towing, and other vehicle-related services to RVs, motorcycles, and boat trailers.
- Plus Travel Store Discounts: Plus members get a 15% discount on AAA Travel Store purchases.
- Premier members get all the benefits of Plus membership, as well as: Free Battery Replacement – Premier members get one free battery replacement per year. That’s a potential value of $100 or more, depending on the type of battery.
- Premier Roadside Assistance – Premier members are generally entitled to at least five free roadside assistance calls per year.
- Premier Towing – Premier members get complimentary towing service to the auto repair facility of their choice, up to 200 driving miles on one service call per year and 100 miles on remaining service calls.
- Premier Locksmithing – Premier members’ complimentary locksmith benefit is worth up to $150.
- Complimentary Car Rental Reservation: Premier Members whose cars have broken down are entitled to car rental reservation assistance from AAA agents, plus one day off on their Hertz rental. Subsequent car rental days are charged at the discounted price (20% to 25% discount).
- Home Lockout Service – Once a year, AAA Premier members receive up to $100 in complimentary locksmith services on their primary residences when keys are lost or stolen. Covered services include lock drilling, rekeying, lock changes, and key duplication up to a total of $100. Services charged more than $100 are the member’s responsibility.
- Complimentary CARFAX Report – Premier members get one complimentary CARFAX report per year, plus 40% discounts (worth approximately $16 for each individually ordered report) on any additional reports.
- Premier Travel Insurance: Premier coverage tripled from Basic.
- Premier Store Store Discounts – Plus members get 20% off purchases from the AAA Travel Store.