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Since its creation in 1905, the Automobile Association (aka "The AA") has been the UKs forerunner of automobile breakdown assistance and pioneers of road safety. They've always been proud of their low response times of around 35 minutes.

In 1910 the AA started providing hand written route maps - the first version of the popular AA Online Route Planner (similar to Microsoft AutoRoute) now in use.

In the 1920s, the AA started an inspection service for pre-purchase and post accident repair checks. Still a popular service today, but perhaps a lesser known service of the AA.

RAC is the main competitor to the AA in the UK.
The Automobile Association, otherwise known as the AA. They operate a breakdown recovery and repair service for automobiles in the UK. Basically if your car breaks down these guys will pick you up, take you home and fix the car.

The AA has been around for a while, and its history is closely linked with the evolution of the British road system and motoring regulations. It started in 1905 in London, when a group of 'motoring enthusiasts' (read into that what you will) met in the Trocadero restaurant in the West End. Aside from proving that the Trocadero's been around longer than most people think, this was the rag tag beginning of the AA.

With initially only 100 members, its main goal was to "help motorists avoid police speed traps". This worthy cause was of course, in time, augmented by the perhaps more acceptable effort of erecting road safety signs. No doubt these early signs warned of police speed traps, but hey, anything to get members. This policy clearly worked, as by 1914, the AA membership base had grown to 83,000. In fact, the AA was responsible for all road safety signposting until the 1930s, probably because no one else was prepared to do it.

The AA began issuing a "Members' Special Handbook" in 1908, which listed AA appointed repair centres around the country. This was the humble beginnings of the modern recovery service, which only really came to fruition in 1949 after the introduction of two-way radio meant the AA could offer a vehicle breakdown service in London, which subsequently spread to cover most of the UK.

The AA has something of a colourful history, and classic AA memorabilia is very collectable these days. It's gone from little more than a gentlemen's club for people wishing to avoid prosecution for speeding to a major national organisation with 9.5 million members (at the time of writing).

Today the AA offers a bundle of services such as driving lessons, financial loans, insurance, pre-purchase checks on a car's history and they also publish travel books (they shifted just over 10 million books last year).

As for the company itself, it was obviously an attractive venture, as Centrica bought it in September 2000 for 1.1 billion (pounds sterling).

And the service itself? Well, on the only occassion I've had to call them out they did a fine job, so I don't have any complaints. As for the competition (despite what they'd have you believe, other breakdown rescue services do exist) I couldn't say, as I've only used the AA. Maybe someone else can node the RAC.

The main sources used in my reserch on this were the AA website (theaa.com) and a handy little yellow booklet I found in the glove compartment which started all this off.

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