Family road breakdown misery as car covered by RAC for onward travel but not passengers
A father was left stranded at the roadside with his wife and son when their car broke down and their breakdown service said onward travel was not covered.
Ciaran O'Neill (44), an all-Ireland breakdown policy holder with the RAC for 18 years, ran into difficulties on the way home from a Christmas break in Galway.
He said his son Liam (8) was "traumatised" and in tears after their car, which had been filled with presents and their suitcases, was towed away on December 30.
The vehicle made it back home at 8am on New Year's Day, but the O'Neills did not get home until two days later at 6pm - a journey that cost them more than £400 after they were forced to hire a car.
The RAC last night apologised to lab technician Mr O'Neill, who told the Belfast Telegraph: "Soon after we set out in the torrential rain the car started playing up.
"After I pulled into a petrol station it wouldn't restart, so my father-in-law came and towed us to a garage and I called the RAC. I was told a mechanic was being sent out and that if he was unable to get it back on the road the car would be transported home. They also confirmed onward travel for my wife Irene (40), Liam and myself was part of my cover."
The father-of-one, from Belfast, was confused when a recovery truck turned up with a driver who was not a mechanic. He said he was then told that his policy only covered the repatriation of his car - and not his family.
"The truck drove off and left me by the side of the road in the Republic," Mr O'Neill explained. "For 18 years I have paid for all-Ireland breakdown cover and this is what happened the one time I needed it. Liam was traumatised; he couldn't stop crying so my wife took him back to his grandparents' house."
After several phone calls with the RAC Mr O'Neill was finally offered a taxi home that evening.
"By that stage Liam was in bed because he was so upset, but when I requested a taxi the following morning it was refused," he said. "My stress levels were going through the roof. They then gave us another option of returning to Belfast in the recovery truck at 4am the next day, which wasn't a suitable option for Liam either."
The family finally turned to a hire car - costing a total of £426 when additional charges are taken into account - for the journey home on January 1.
"The whole thing was a nightmare," Queen's University employee Mr O'Neill said. "We only got home on New Year's Day, two days after the car, which we then had to pay to get fixed. I paid £13 a month for a policy to keep my family safe, but I've been left terrified about travelling to the Republic by car. It's disgraceful. I hope no one else finds themselves in a similar situation."
A spokesman for the RAC said it made a goodwill payment to the family. "Even though Mr O'Neill was not covered for onward travel, we agreed to pay the £75 hire car cost he informed us of, owing to the confusion on our side as to whether or not he had this cover," he said. "On top of this we also made a further payment of £75 as a gesture of goodwill, as we appreciate that this was a difficult time for him and his family."