New 'freewheeling' hub lets patrol vans tow electric and four-wheel-drive cars.

The AA has revealed a new kind of wheel that allows patrol vans to tow electric vehicles (EVs) and 4x4s. Created by the AA’s chief engineer, the system allows cars that could not previously be lifted and towed on two wheels, such as those with electric motors or four-wheel drive, to be hooked up to AA patrol vans.

The breakdown organisation says it has also been unable to tow some vehicles if they have seized brakes, failed wheel bearings or electric handbrakes. But the new wheel turns independently of the axle, allowing otherwise stranded vehicles to be towed to the nearest garage.

All-wheel-drive cars can be particularly difficult to tow with two wheels raised, because doing so can damage the differential that links the front and rear axles. And some manufacturers recommend not towing their EVs as the car's motor is always mechanically connected to the wheels and does not have a true 'neutral' gear.

Nissan breakdown recovery

So the AA’s chief engineer, Steve Ives, who has worked at the AA for 40 years, designed a ‘freewheeling hub’ that patrols can fix to the rear wheels of stricken vehicles. With its own high-speed bearing, the hub is paired with the AA’s Multi-Fit wheel, which was designed to let patrols fit temporary spare wheels to almost any vehicle. The bearing allows the wheel to turn independently of the axle, so the vehicle can be towed without damaging the mechanical components.

The AA says the idea, which was created in collaboration with presswork and prototyping specialist AE Oscroft, will also enable the movement of vehicles in confined spaces that cannot be reached by larger recovery vehicles.

Winter car breakdown with mother and child by side of the road

“I love the challenge of coming up with solutions to seemingly impossible situations,” said Ives. “I worked on the concept for many hours in my shed at night and eventually crafted a wooden prototype. This has now been further developed and put into production with our partners AE Oscroft, and is working well.”

James Hosking, the AA’s chief operating officer for roadside operations, likened Ives to James Bond’s famous quartermaster and gadget creator, Q. He said the innovation was now on the roads of the UK, helping 4x4 and EV owners when they get into trouble.

“We tasked the team to come up with a cleaner, safer, smarter solution to towing certain categories of vehicles,” he said. “Our chief engineer took on the role of ‘Q’ and invented the ingenious high-speed freewheeling hub.

“This fantastic innovation is now helping to rescue customers more quickly than our competitors. We have already seen an increase in interest for 4x4s and are likely to witness an electric vehicle revolution in the coming years. Our innovations keep us ahead of the game.”

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