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What Exactly Is An Auto Club?


These days, nearly everyone in America has heard of AAA (or Triple-A), and most of those people could guess that those letters stand for American Automobile Association. But if you think about it, this is a fairly vague name for any company—one could be forgiven for picturing a group of cars hanging out. So what exactly is an automobile association? And what does it have to do with an auto club? The answer will take us all the way back to 1902.  

So…what is an auto club?

Let’s start with what an auto club used to be. At the turn of the 20th century, most Americans hadn’t heard of AAA—because it didn’t exist yet, sure, but also because most Americans didn’t have cars. Back then, there weren’t even 100,000 cars in operation in the States—compare that to the nearly 290 million cars on the road today. This meant those who did have cars stood out, and groups of them would take to meeting up and talking about their weird hobby, driving. These early auto clubs were social groups, like book clubs or wine clubs.


But something happened when these folks got together: They realized they had a lot of the same issues and concerns when it came to driving. More importantly, they realized that they were more likely to get those issues taken care of if they banded together. Because drivers were still such a tiny percent of the population, most roads weren’t suitable for cars—and you can forget about highways entirely. So in 1902, nine regional auto clubs from across the country, with a total membership of a whopping 1,500, formed the American Automobile Association to organize and lobby for safer driving conditions.


As we all know, a lot has changed since then. The number of cars and drivers on U.S. roads today has ballooned exponentially, and AAA has grown from 1500 members to at least 61 million. It’s also evolved from a group of enthusiasts advocating for better roads to an enormous operation whose members enjoy a whole host of perks including (but not limited to) roadside assistance, auto insurance, special deals on things like lift tickets and cruises, and so on.


You’ll notice I said “members.” That’s because AAA is still an association of clubs. AAA members belong to one of 42 regional auto clubs—though these aren’t the same social groups they once were. Rather than gathering with other drivers, members pay a fee to be a part of a huge national organization that they can rely on to have their backs.



While the operations and membership of the American Auto Association has changed in the last century-plus, the principle remains the same: There’s strength in numbers. AAA may not be a book club or gardening club, but its tens of millions members know they’re part of something bigger than a hobby. And not all of them are even drivers. AAA is an auto club, but so much more: an insurance provider, a travel and hospitality resource, a value and discount provider with a robust network of partners ranging from ski resorts to the NFL, and a trusted partner and remover of just about any obstacle you can imagine while on the road—even if you’re just a passenger.


Interested in what membership could do for you? Click here to learn about the benefits of your local AAA club.