Car recovery is as old as the car itself although a
recovery back then, was most likely to have been done with the aid of a horse.
Many of the first garages and automobile coachworks, emerged from the blacksmith’s
and bicycle trades and
automatically took to recovering their customer disabled vehicles.
Salvaging was very common, because vehicles were very unreliable. Races like the legendary Mille Miglia were organised not for speed, but to test a car's endurance, with most not making the 1000 miles. Brooklands was initially proposed by Locke King, as a car endurance testing circuit and was often used for that, throughout its life .
Most motorists were enthusiast and so would often rely on their own ingenuity, to 'get back on the road'. Failing that, they would seek help from any passing motorist, or lastly call on a local garage.
Small local 'private' Car Clubs sprung up and some are thought to have kept a ‘cash kitty’ to assist their stranded members, but that was about as organised as it got for the poor motorist.
As the twentieth century got underway, two motoring clubs would become large enough to have nationwide membership (they would no doubt say 'empire' wide).
These were of course The Automobile Association (formed in 1905) and The Royal Automobile Club (formed in 1897 and named royal in 1907)
Both organisations were initially set up to help motorists to obtain fair treatment from the authorities. Although the organisations become more 'service' related as the years went by, both later also diversified into several non motoring areas (with varying success).
The services they offered then however, bears little relationship to those offered by today's clubs. Both organisations would try to repair members vehicles, with the limited tools and parts their vehicle carried. Spares could often be collected from the many local garages and the nature of the vehicles was such that a block of wood, some clean dry cloth, a roll of insulating tape, a length of wire and piece of rope could fix almost any fault.
Communications were often difficult as it was not until the fifties that these 'patrol vehicles' would be linked to their control by radio. The AA going live in 1950 and the RAC in 1958.
Consequently patrols had to go to their box at prearranged times, to be allocated jobs. If a 'tow' was required because a repair was not viable, a local garage would be called and the member would pay for the recovery.
The first club to offer any form of limited 'Get you home service' was the RAC, in 1912. Members could apply for a brass token, which when handed to a RAC Appointed Garage, would "Bring the necessary assistance and will indemnify you as the owner of the disc, against the cost of hiring another car to get you and your party home"
The instructions for the use of the token, also make interesting reading:-
The restrictions on its use were probably acceptable for the average private motorist at that time. For example it was only valid up to 20 miles from your home and it did not cover accidents. If however you were less than 10 miles from your home, then you could also have the car towed there using the Talisman. By the late twenties the RAC were dealing with in excess of 10,000 claims a year.
Incidents of accidents or breakdowns, were high for the number of vehicles on the road, but were still uncommon occurrences, due to the small number of vehicles and the short distances they travelled.
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