Contacting the RAC was second nature to Pat Williams when she needed help with a wheel change and puncture repair to her limited edition Alfa Romeo GT Q2 car.
The Gosport pensioner fell in love with it in 2007, and kept it in showroom condition from new, but was horrified to discover its spotless bodywork had been damaged after the wheels had been swapped over.
In early May Pat needed to change a flat with the spare skinny wheel tyre in the boot.
The patrol duly came out and she helped him with removing the spare wheel from the boot and gjacking up the car with a standard trolley jack to fit the spare.
She thought no more about it until the following day when she took the car to her regular tyre depot have the puncture fixed and the wheels changed back.
But to her fury when the tyre technician went to remove the spare wheel from the car, he alerted her to a dent in the door sill. The car had previously been jacked up in the wrong place, landing her with a £492 repair bill.
She said: ‘I was absolutely steaming about the careless damage done to my car.
‘I phoned the RAC’s complaints team and was advised to get a report from the tyre garage, an estimate of the repair costs, and photographs of the damage and email them in.
‘I also asked them if they could send an assessor to look at the compression damage but it would take up to seven working days and I was just about to set off on holiday to Scotland with my husband.
‘When we got back 12 days later I’d received no response at all to my emails, so had to phone the RAC complaints team and find out what was happening.
‘At first I was told they couldn’t find my emails, but then on checking they were discovered filed under enquiries, not complaints, which is why I’d not received any acknowledgement they’d been received.
‘The following day after being issued with a complaint number, I received a report from a customer care executive dismissing my claim saying they were unable to accept liability as they believed the damage to the car was pre-existing. As far as they were concerned that was the end of the matter.
‘I resented the implication I was making a false claim. I’d provided professional photographs taken only 17 days earlier at the spring Alfa Romeo show at Beaulieu showing a perfect sill line on the offside of my car.
‘I emailed them again with the further photographic evidence to prove the car wasn’t previously damaged, but they rejected it for a second time.
‘If there’d been previous damage to the bodywork I would have expected the patrol to have drawn my attention to it before he jacked up the car.’
Despite all Pat’s protestations she was furious about what she claimed was the RAC’s cavalier attitude in dismissing her complaint.
As far as she was concerned, no evidence had been offered to contradict it which is why she wasn’t prepared to take their perfunctory decision lying down.
The 68-year-old former education referral head called in Streetwise to help her fight her corner when her protest hit the buffers and she was no further forward.
We asked the RAC for an explanation, and it swiftly launched an investigation.
They asked Pat for all the information she’d previously supplied to be resent for a third time in order to reconsider their decision.
However we weren’t impressed by the way their complaints team had handled the situation. They were in effect marking their own homework. There was an obvious lack of independent evidence or appeal mechanism to justify their refusal to cough up.
The entire process had got off on the wrong foot when it was found to be misfiled, and then dismissed without adequate explanation which implied it hadn’t been taken seriously.
We were also uncomfortable with the fact that the patrol hadn’t routinely inspected and photographed the alleged damage to the car’s jacking point when he changed the wheel.
It’s standard procedure where such occurrences arise in order to establish accountability for any pre-existing damage claim.
Following our intervention the RAC sent out a patrol manager to examine Pat’s car. He took more photographs and submitted a report to their complaints team, but they were not prepared to back down.
A spokesperson said: ‘After an investigation of this case, we do not believe the damage to Mrs Williams’ vehicle was caused by our attending patrol.
‘However, we accept we did not handle her complaint as efficiently as we should have, and for that reason we will be offering her an appropriate gesture of goodwill.’
Given her claim had been turned down for a third time, we had to reluctantly advise Pat she was basically at the end of the road.
She could go to law, but as the RAC weren’t prepared to concede the damage was down to their patrol and the evidence was largely circumstantial, there was little chance of success.
An angry battle weary Pat said: ‘My car is not just a car. I was able to buy it with an inheritance left by my father, and to me there’s a bit of my dad with it as well. That’s why it’s so precious to me.
‘My disgust with the whole thing is the suggestion that I’m trying to get money out of them under false pretences which questions my honesty. I find it really insulting.
‘I’m not a person who tries to get money for nothing – it’s just not me and never has been. All I wanted them to do is pay for the damage.
‘I just don’t like being treated like an idiot, an old idiot, and an old female idiot.
‘Just having Streetwise there made me feel far less like I was banging my head against a brick wall and getting nowhere.
‘I really do appreciate what you have done for me.’