If your car packed in during a driving holiday around Europe what would you expect from your breakdown cover? Sophie Hazan hears from a Leeds family.
it was supposed to be a holiday of a lifetime.
But a four-week driving trip around Europe was ruined when the Lowtons’ family car’s engine blew in Munich, Germany, in the last week and could not be repaired.
Brothers Joshua, 20, and Toby, 16, had been put in charge of driving the vehicle and everyone’s belongings back to Leeds.
Mum Jo and dad Mark, meanwhile, were left alone to enjoy the last six days alone in an Italian villa in celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary – before making their own way home by plane.
But after the breakdown, far from getting all passengers and possessions home again, as pledged, the family say Green Flag’s breakdown policy meant they had to ditch an estimated £600 worth of possessions, including 12 bottles of wine.
Green Flag did eventually agree to pay for return flights from Germany to Manchester, but after four weeks away the family-of-four had much more than the basic luggage allowance.
But the firm refused to pay the £400 excess luggage to cover essential personal items the Lawtons did not want to leave behind.
And to add to their misery, Jo and Mark never got to enjoy the planned anniversary break as Green Flag made a huge logistical error.
One of the company’s operators had originally suggested the family drive their belongings home in a hire car, via a ferry from Hamburg to Newcastle.
Eldest son Josh was not old enough to hire a car himself, according to Green Flag policy.
So the firm agreed to arrange for Jo and Mark to travel by sleeper train from Italy to Germany to take charge of the situation.
On arrival in Germany, they discovered the ferry crossing had not been in operation for more than a year.
The only option left to the family, now stranded in Munich, was to discard some of their belongings and travel home by air, as agreed by Green Flag.
Jo said: “They say they will get you, your passengers and all your possessions home if there is a problem when driving abroad.
“But that never happened and we have lost out on a lot of things – not least because they didn’t do their research properly.
“I am really disappointed, and Green Flag has been appalling.
“We thought it was a local company with a great reputation and we took out the cover especially for this holiday.”
The Lowtons have since managed to claw back £1,000 from Green Flag to cover the cost of flights, sleeper train and a taxi home from Manchester Airport – their flight was delayed and the car hire they had expected was not available.
These were all essential costs to get them home under the breakdown policy.
But they estimate the drama has cost them an additional £1,000 in discarded personal property, excess luggage and the cancelled villa.
The car – a 2001 Saab 93 – was ‘written off’ as the cost of repatriating it was greater than its value.
Miranda Schunke, a Green Flag spokeswoman, said the company had already gone “beyond the terms of cover” to get the family and their things back to the UK.
She said almost £600 of the £1,000 had been paid out as a “gesture of goodwill” as European breakdown cover is only meant to cover the cost of car hire, not trains, planes and taxis.
She added the Lowtons were welcome to send bank statements and/or receipts as proof of purchase to recoup the cost of any items left in Germany.
Mark said: “They are saying that it’s a goodwill gesture to pay the train fares and air fares but that’s spinning it a little bit to put it bluntly. Getting us home was the minimum obligation they had and they know it.
“You would expect a breakdown company to know what to do if you breakdown and become stuck while abroad. They didn’t have a clue and it has cost us.”