A break-up of Acromas, the £9bn owner of the AA and Saga, is on the cards after the company brought in accountants to weigh up the future of the business.
The move would end a five-year marriage between the motoring organisation and over-50s travel and insurance firm, formed by a £6.1bn merger at the height of the credit boom in 2007. The deal was funded by £4.8bn of debt.
Acromas employs 38,000 in total and is led by chief executive Andrew Goodsell.
Spinning off the AA, valued at £5bn, would allow Charterhouse, Permira and CVC, its trio of private equity backers who own 75 per cent of the firm, to register profits on the deal, as well as refinance part of the group's debt.
Insiders confirmed that Acromas had hired the accountancy firm Ernst & Young to explore options for the company, which serves more than 18 million consumers in the UK, although an Acromas spokesman said talk of a sale was "speculation".
He said: "There are no current plans to either sell part of or float the business. We remain focused on delivering excellent service for the customers of both AA and Saga."
Although the company played down immediate talk of a break-up, it is understood that the firm is considering its strategy over the next three to five years.
Although the firm has weathered the credit crunch and recession well, a £1.5bn slab of the group's current £4.1bn in net debt is due to be refinanced at the end of 2015, necessitating at least some kind of fundraising before then.
In full-year results published in July, Acromas said it was still looking at a stock-market flotation of the whole group, although plans for an early initial public offering of the business were shelved in 2010.
The business, whose other brands include the motoring school BSM and Titan Travel, grew turnover by 15 per cent to £2.1bn in the year to January, while earnings improved 4 per cent to £592m.
The AA, which dates back to 1905 and has 16 million members, is said to be worth about £5bn, while Saga could fetch up to £4bn.
Ernst & Young declined to comment.Reuse content