Roadside Assistance is the clever term which describes any help or assistance given to a motorist who experiences problems with their vehicle en route. Typically, these customers are on the side of the road and mad as hell and in need of rescuing, in some way or another. This rescue is frequently provided by manufacturers, auto insurance companies, traveler's groups, and rental car agencies like the one I worked for.

It works like this: you call the company from a payphone or cell phone, and tell them you need help. They remain calm and want to know some combination of the following things:

  1. Are you in a safe location?

  2. If not, would you like us to call the police while we get you taken care of?

  3. What is the first and last name of the renter/client/customer?

  4. What is your date of birth/social security number/some other secret information only you should know?

  5. What is your callback phone number, in case we get disconnected?

  6. You'd be surprised how many folks don't know their own cell phone numbers. Also, if you're at a payphone, be careful to note whether or not it can receive incoming calls. If it can't, we need to know.

    Then, after determining that you are you and not some psycho playing around...

  7. What's wrong with the vehicle?
  8. Use your best descriptive words here. Shouting and screaming and saying "it just won't go" isn't helping anyone--least of all, you. Calm down and be accurate. Besides being blatantly obvious, this information is also paramount to the call. Before you leave the vehicle to get to a payphone, do try to get a handle on what's happening. Were lights coming on in the car? Do you smell a not-good smell, feel vibrations, see liquids pouring from the bottom of the car, or hear noises that might mean impending doom? If there's a bright red hobgoblin chomping through the alternator, we'd like to know.

  9. Where is the vehicle located?
  10. You may know where the big Wal*Mart is next to McDonald's, but in this case more information is necessary. How about major cross-streets, a zip code, or directional description? If you have no idea where you are, no one else will, either.

  11. Do you have some form of payment with you?
  12. Cab companies don't direct bill without being cajoled. Cash is king, but credit cards, checks, or any other reasonable source of funds will help expedite the call. You've probably never ripped through the phonebook of a strange city, calling every locksmith in the area to find one that would do a direct bill over the phone. Trust me, it keeps people on the road a very, very long time.

After the operator has enough information to dispatch service, they typically will place you on a (hopefully) brief hold while they get in touch with whoever it is they call for service. Most companies call AAA, some call regional satellite dispatch centers and others still call local companies directly. Bottom line, the operator puts you on hold and calls another operator, who might have to put them on hold to call yet another operator. Most of us are quick enough to get the whole process done in less than 5 minutes, but in rare circumstances (trying to tow a car that's on a turnpike, calling the fire department about a gas leak, or finding that cab that takes a direct bill) the process might take longer. Please be patient and continue to hold. I know the music sucks, but cell phones lose range and payphones don't always work and you hanging up and calling back three times certainly doesn't make the service come any faster.

When the operator (finally!) reappears, they should have for you three things:

  1. an ETA (estimated time of arrival)

  2. a phone number to call if you need further assistance

  3. a reference number for your case

Follow the operator's directions carefully. If you're not to leave the car, don't leave it. Many tow drivers won't take a car without someone their to sign a damage waiver or release form. If you're asked to leave the line free, try to do that. We might be calling back with pertinent information. If you're given an ETA of 45 minutes, wait at least 50 before calling back to rant and rave about the service being late. Help is on the way.

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