I don't agree with your point on recovery firms hoping to make money from people with flat tyres, AA, RAC etc are usually paid a premium regardless of whether they attend a broken down vehicle or not, they'd rather not have to come out? Even cheapo 12V compressors do work for a while, will blow up many flat tyres to 40psi etc? Just don't do the woman thing and attempt to blow up air beds / dinghies with them, they're designed for low volume with pressure not vice/versa and get hot after 5 mins use. I've had a few basic ones and they really will do very high pressures, risking getting hotter even more quickly, but more risk of getting involved doing something else and blowing tyre off...? Current one is basic and works, next one will be 'digital' with pressure cut off for the extra £fiver Or maybe I'll fix the big compressor
I was referring more to the insurance policy based breakdown cover charging extra, rather than the RAC/AA for punctures/flat tyres if there is no spare present. They both operate their own fleets of vehicles and staff which has to be paid for regardless of whether it's working or not. Towing a vehicle to a destination with a flat tyre clears the job so is in essence a "First Time Fix" which boosts their figures.
Not so with the insurance policy based cover as they have negotiated deals for certain services and generally tyres including punctures are out of this agreement, or at least have been on all the ones i looked at a few years back when i decided getting breakdown cover was a necessity and not a luxury. This was one of the deciding factors for me when i chose the RAC for my cover.
As for the cheapie 12V compressors, yes some of them are pretty good these days but a lot of the units i've seen supplied by a car manufacturer have failed, usually at the worst moment. For example, a neighbour had an 05 plate Volvo XC70 which came with goo and a compressor. He would use this to check/adjust his tyre pressures periodically which was fine until he had a slow puncture. Then he was using it every 2-3 days on that one tyre and it lasted about a week and a half.
Admittedly i have one in my "Get me out of the sh!t kit" which is a 24" toolbox filled with a small and basic 1/4" drive socket set, a similar 1/2" drive set, a screwdriver set including the 1/4" hex drive version and a shed load of various bits, hammer, screwdriver and plier set, adjustable spanners etc all bought in a sale from Screwfix so total cost was about £60. I've also managed to squeeze a 2T bottle jack and a cheapie 12V compressor in there as well as a few other odds and ends that might be useful.
So far i've only used the 12v compressor to test it but even then it made a few odd noises so i reckon one use in anger and it will be FUBAR.
TBH at the end of it wouldn't you rather spend 20 minutes changing an unusable tyre than waiting hours for the recovery truck to turn up? I've got one of the tyre inflaters in each car, one of them is a draper one thats over 10 years old and works no problem at all. One of them hasn't been used as yet, and the other has been used a few times and smells of burning when used for a couple of minutes! So some are decent, but the cheap ones seem to be what you'd expect (Also discovered the gauge on the cheap digital one over reads by a few psi, so its pretty useless really!)
RAC are slow to turn up, but have got me home on a few occasions, last couple of times i would have needed to call them I managed not to need to (one was a burst coolant hose less than 5 miles from home, so managed to get a mate to tow it back home as we couldn't find where the steam was coming from in the dark the roadside - was split so as it was spraying the exhaust manifold hence the cloud of steam behind me, the other was an alternator that decided it didn't want to produce electricity anymore - This could have been tricky as I was in the middle of Belfast at the time and none of the factors i could find actually had one in the country!, ended up finding a auto electrician and got replacement the next day in time for the ferry back home!).
RAC do use a large number of contractors in the recovery side of things - the technicians that turn up in the RAC vans are their own staff, but if they can't fix it your usually passed onto the contractors for longer distance recovery from what I've found.