A day in the life of an RAC patrol
After 18 years in the job and attending an average of 12 breakdowns per day, Mark Downie, an RAC patrol, knows how to stay safe on the roads this winter. Read on to find out what a typical day in his life is like as he covers a large patch in Scotland, plus his top tips for avoiding breakdowns in the winter months.
6am -I set my alarm at least an hour before my shift. The first thing I need to do is clear my lights and complete all my checks on the van. My lights are my saviour on the road. This is the start of a 12-hour shift for me. We receive many flat battery call-outs during the cold winter months and it is likely I will be attending one of these. Calls like this will last throughout the rush hour as people try to get to work and school.
11am – Once I have cleared the backlog of commuters I tend to see lots of call-outs from people who have broken down on the school run. Potholes are a common cause, the inner rim of newer alloy wheels can buckle and crack when driven over dangerous potholes. If a car does not have a spare wheel, I will have to tow it to a garage or use the RAC multi-fit spare wheel which all patrols carry. If the call-out is in a remote area, this type of call may take up to an hour.
Midday - I have a break around six hours into my shift and do my best to take a packed lunch. My break could be anywhere, a beautiful remote spot where I can enjoy the view, or I could be in a car park where members of the public will ask me for directions and advice about RAC membership.
1pm – After I have had my lunch break I will restock the van with batteries and parts that I’ve used during the morning call-outs.
2-4 pm - At this time of day, I will start attending breakdowns where drivers on the school run have run into difficulty.
4pm – This is when the commuter breakdown call-outs begin, often from people stranded on the motorway. You have no idea how fast 70mph feels when you are standing on the hard shoulder, it is an eye-opener. This is when I am so glad that my van is well lit. We always park our vehicles in the ‘fend off’ position. It looks like a peculiar angle but it is designed to get the attention of other vehicles and if it were to be hit, it should protect the RAC member, their passengers and me from the impact.
5-7pm - I tend to be busy attending calls in heavy traffic throughout this time. Clutches and overheating are very common problems at this time of day as motorists are stuck in stop-start traffic.
7pm – I fill up my van with fuel (all our vans are diesels) and make sure the van is clean, fully stocked and the lights are clear ready to start my next shift. It’s a really busy day!
Mark’s tips for avoiding winter breakdowns
1. Clear snow off your car properly
Avoid using your wipers to clear the snow off your windscreen as it can damage them. Also, remember to clear snow off the roof of your car as it may end up blocking your view of the road or falling off onto another road user. While there isn’t a specific offence covering this, you may be prosecuted for 'driving without due consideration' or 'using a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition'.. I often attend call-outs due to broken wipers in bad weather.
2. Check your levels
It sounds simple but remember to check your oil and coolant levels regularly to avoid engine problems such as overheating in traffic.
3. Check your lights
Make sure you check your lights so you can see and be seen. This is so important in bad weather.
4. Check your tyres
Have your tyre pressures set correctly as it makes a huge difference to how your vehicle grips the road as well as your fuel consumption. You should also check the depth of your treads. In snowy weather you really want at least a depth of 3mm.
5. Keep your screen clear
Use good quality screen wash, ideally one that is effective down to -15 degrees Celsius, to keep your windscreen clear and your visibility as good as it can be.