Gliding holiday grounded by breakdown cover snags: Sue Fieldman reports on a party let down by their transport and their insurance

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If you buy 'the very best breakdown cover available for the motorist' it can be distressing to find that things go wrong on your travels and your long-awaited holiday is ruined.

Donald Pashley and seven friends, all model glider enthusiasts, decided to travel to Dortmund in Germany to a model exhibition.

They hired an eight-seater Executive Minibus from Southern Self-Drive Vehicle Rental in Portsmouth for the five-day trip.

Two weeks before departure, Southern went to the Automobile Association Port Shop in Portsmouth to take out breakdown and insurance cover.

The firm bought AA Five Star Overseas Motoring Assistance. As usual it was the standard cover, costing pounds 29.

The promotional literature for the policy says it is the 'very best breakdown cover available for the motorist' and that 'no other breakdown assistance gives you such independence and choice'.

Mr Pashley says: 'On 30 March, armed with travel insurance, green card and the comfort of AA Five Star motor breakdown cover we set off.

'A slight noise started on the motorway out from Ostend and progressively got worse. By the time we got outside Dortmund the noise was very loud with long periods of vibration.'

The party got to Dortmund and called Adac (the AA's German sister organisation). The minibus followed the Adac representative to a local garage, but it did not have any spanners for British vehicles and suggested another garage.

The party contacted Southern for advice. Southern spoke to the AA and was told that if it was not possible to repair the minibus, alternative transport would be provided.

The party contacted Adac and told it the vehicle would be ready for repair the next day, which was Thursday. They would need it by early Friday morning to travel to the exhibition.

Mr Pashley said: 'We told them that if it was not repaired by then, we would require either another minibus or two estate cars large enough for us, the luggage, and large model gliders purchased at the exhibition.'

On Friday morning the party phoned Adac. The fault had been fixed. Mr Pashley says: 'The noise manifested itself once again on the way back to the hotel. We were back to square one.

'We contacted Adac. The situation was explained once more about another minibus or estate cars. All they could offer were two small cars.'

Southern offered to send a replacement minibus from England. But, as they only had two days' holiday left the glider fans decided to abandon their holiday and limped home in the minibus.

Richard Paxman, managing director of Southern, inspected the vehicle on their return.

He said: 'I immediately refunded them the total cost of the hire, the five star and vehicle insurance costs - a total of pounds 448.06.

'Our mechanic diagnosed the problem immediately and the vehicle was mobile within an hour.'

Mr Paxman wrote to the AA. He asked for compensation for the party and reimbursement of his charges. The party also wrote to the AA.

To date the AA has refunded the taxi fares and telephone calls and paid the garage bills for the party.

They have received no compensation and Southern has had no refund. As a result, Southern has switched its insurance to another company.

A spokesman for the AA admits that the situation over the hire car had not been adequately explained.

He said the party had inappropriate cover. For a minibus of that size they should have had Plus cover instead of standard.

But Adac never mentioned inadequate cover, Plus cover, or offered the group the choice of having the estate cars and paying any excess hire charges.

And in all correspondence since their return, the AA has not mentioned Plus cover to either Mr Paxman or the party.

The AA admits that if an alternative minibus had been available in Dortmund, this would have been covered under the standard policy because it allows for an equivalent or smaller vehicle to be hired.

The AA is not prepared to compensate. However, as a goodwill gesture it will be offering the party a free AA Five Star Plus policy if they go to the exhibition next year.

(Photograph omitted)

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