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Breakdown Services

Breakdown Services


26 Apr, 2023

If you’ve been in a vehicle-related role while in uniform, you are very likely to have gained a host of transferable skills that will set you well on your way to helping others in what is sometimes know as Britain’s fourth emergency service …

What do breakdown services do?

As anyone who has ever experienced a vehicle breakdown knows, the sight of an approaching repair/recovery patrol is one of the most welcome on the road. With an estimated 40.8 million licensed vehicles in the UK, breakdown services – or roadside recovery/assistance services, to give them their more accurate title – are big business. Everyone has heard of:

  • the Automobile Association (AA) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) which run a liveried fleet, operated by their own employees and sell their services direct to the public, as well as
  • Green Flag – which is part of the Direct Line Group – sells through other business clients and runs its service through a network of independent recovery operators.

Other familiar names include National Breakdown and the Guild of Experienced Motorists’ GEM Motoring Assist – all are fiercely competitive and proud of their service, each claiming to offer a better deal than the next. 
Breakdown service operatives respond to calls in all sorts of places and at all times, being particularly busy on Monday mornings in winter and Friday evenings in summer. All providers offer cover either direct from their own fleets, or through partnership arrangements or affinity organisations, and the aim is to reach a motorist in well within an hour of being called out, usually averaging closer to 40 minutes. 

Patrols often need to liaise with emergency services and sometimes deal with hazardous loads. Safety is paramount, and both patrol officers and call centre staff must be good with people. In roadside repair and recovery, patrol officers are often first on the scene, and potentially required to deal with frightened or angry customers. They also need to consider traffic, weather and location before the vehicle is even assessed – but, above all, the patrol officer must ensure customer safety. Motorway hard-shoulder call-outs can be particularly hazardous.

Transferable skills

Each sector of the Armed Forces has its own vehicle mechanics and engineering trades, with highly skilled, adaptable people, trained to work and cope in adverse conditions.
Trades relevant to the vehicle technician side of the breakdown industry that can be followed in-Service include:

  • vehicle mechanics
  • vehicle electricians
  • recovery mechanics.

In addition, you might be among the many Service leavers who hold driving qualifications that are likely to be welcomed by breakdown services employers. These include LGV, ordinary wheeled vehicles and motorcycle licences, as well as the whole range of tracked, articulated or passenger licences. 

How do I get qualified to work in the breakdown services?

Courses aimed at those wishing to work in this industry usually cover:

  • basic electrics
  • batteries
  • charging systems
  • starting systems
  • relays
  • ignition systems
  • fuel injection
  • engine management
  • ignition/charging.

For example, AA roadside technicians (patrol) require NVQ level 3 (or equivalent) in Vehicle Maintenance and Repair, will be familiar with modern vehicle systems and will have current garage experience. A good knowledge of electrical, fuel and ignition systems is essential, as is familiarity with operating computers as all AA breakdown teams obtain technical information, guidance and work allocation via a roadside laptop. Due to the nature of the work, a full valid driving licence is needed, covering B or BE categories with fewer than six points on it. If you don’t yet have the BE category, you will need to complete this first.

The Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) is the professional association for individuals working in the motor industry and, as such, sets the occupational standards for the industry, with accreditation, qualifications and training available to cover a wide spectrum.

City & Guilds’ Automotive Maintenance and Repair (4101) NVQs at levels 1 and 3 allow you to prove that you have the skills to maintain and repair vehicles and get stranded motorists back on the road again. These practical qualifications will demonstrate your skills on the job, confirming that you meet national standards for automotive workers. They can take you from your first workshop repair job to a role where you supervise a team of people. You could also choose to specialise in roadside recovery (as well as a host of other areas). These qualifications give you lots of options – there are basic certificates and diplomas to get you started, and higher levels to help you move into a more supervisory role. With more experience, you could take the City & Guilds Certificate in Advanced Automotive Diagnostic Techniques (4121) at level 4, and could improve your career prospects by working towards the aforementioned accreditations offered by the IMI.

Professional institute membership

Qualifications, experience and training entitle people to membership of institutions within the industry. They also add weight and a recognisable measure of competence to a CV. Standards are set by the IMI to maintain competence at the right levels and to ensure that one employer in the industry will recognise another’s qualifications.

Institutes and associations regulate themselves and pursue high standards in an industry that takes its business very seriously. The IMI, for example, is a professional body for individuals, not companies, within the motor industry.

Major breakdown services organisations run continuation training and offer further qualifications as an ongoing element of employment and promotion within their organisations. 

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELCAS website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on the Quest website

Finding a job

Most companies will require good levels of general fitness and a clean driving licence for employment as part of a roadside patrol. Although qualifications are required before dealing with customers at the roadside, opportunities may exist to enter an organisation at a lower level of training and experience, or in a different field, such as administration or management (see the box above, ‘It’s not just for vehicle technicians’).

Your previous experience and qualifications will determine the length of training you require before starting a career in the breakdown services. Many qualified people find the shift patterns and working environment unattractive, which means there can be a shortage of patrol officers. This provides a good opportunity for the motivated Service leaver to move into this rewarding and satisfactory career area. Many Service people enjoy the fact that they are continuing to provide a service to the community, and becoming a roadside patrol officer is certainly a worthwhile way to achieve this. 

Some companies offer franchises in mobile vehicle inspection and diagnostics. These might cover pre-purchase or sale checks, servicing, emissions testing and engine tuning. This requires a serious financial commitment by the franchisee, but can be a lucrative form of self-employment, with support, training and guidance available from the parent company. 

The range of jobs within this sector of the employment market is wide and the industry is expanding due to the ever increasing numbers of vehicles on the roads. As we have mentioned, there are opportunities for technical, administrative and managerial staff, as well as health and safety advisers. There is also the chance of employment within a complementary sector such as insurance, driving instruction or windscreen repair/fitting. 



In addition to roadside repair and recovery, the major firms run other services, too, which include:

  • call centres
  • mobile vehicle inspection services and franchises 
  • national windscreen-fitting companies 
  • driving schools
  • insurance services.

To support these services, staff are required in the following areas:

  • administrative 
  • managerial 
  • training
  • on-call technical helpdesks.

Call centre staff:

  • take calls from the motorist
  • locate customers and patrols
  • are trained to deal with distressed or frightened customers
  • despatch calls to the patrol or independent recovery operator.


If you are thinking of working in this industry, the following skills and aptitudes are likely to be beneficial:

  • a thorough technical knowledge of vehicles
  • practical skills
  • good driving ability
  • excellent customer service skills
  • the ability to remain calm in difficult circumstances
  • the ability to work alone
  • an awareness of health and safety issues
  • basic computer skills.
Both the AA and RAC offer apprenticeship programmes. Contact them direct (see ‘Useful info’) for full details. Alternatively, use your favourite search engine to discover more options. Or browse the government’s apprenticeship website or Find Apprenticeships, both of which allow you to search for apprenticeship opportunities by area of interest and location.