Roadside assistance sounds like such a simple thing, doesn’t it? You pay some money up front and if your car breaks down a very nice patrol turns up, repairs it, and then sends you on your way with a cheery wave.
In many cases that is exactly what does happen but, as with so many things in life, the devil is in the detail; what is covered? What isn’t? Who is covered? What happens if they can’t repair my car at the roadside? These are just some of the questions that you need to ask before parting with your hard-earned money.
1. What is Breakdown Cover?
At its most simple breakdown cover is insurance. You are paying a premium to the breakdown company and they are insuring you against your car breaking down. If your car doesn’t break down (and modern cars are incredibly reliable if they are serviced regularly) then the company will make a profit. If your car does break down then they will send someone out to try and fix it and take you to a garage if they can’t.
Another way to look at it is as a bet. You are betting the cost of membership that you will break down – and the breakdown company are betting that you won’t!
2. Do I Really Need It?
The RAC answer up to two phone calls a second when they are at their busiest and the AA attend to 3.5 million breakdowns a year – and they are just two of a dozen or more companies providing breakdown cover, helping motorists get on their way as quickly as possible, helping them get on with their lives. It’s a fact of life that cars will break down, I’m afraid.
Breakdowns aren’t just an inconvenience; they can cost a lot of money. You will pay well over £100 to be towed off the hard shoulder of a motorway and then £50 an hour or more in garage labour charges for a mechanic to fix your car.
“But my car has never broken down!” I hear you cry. Well, even if your car is the most reliable in the world you could still lose your keys, run out of petrol, have a punctured tyre, be involved in an accident, or suffer a flat battery – and the recovery and labour charges don’t get any cheaper just because it’s a smaller problem!
3. What Does It Cover?
In most cases your membership will cover all of the straightforward problems such as your car breaking down on a journey, running out of fuel, having a puncture, or being involved in an accident.
The better policies also cover you against more esoteric problems including the driver becoming ill and being unable to continue to travel and even your car not starting while it’s outside your home.
4. Are There Different Levels of Cover?
Yes, there are. The simplest cover – and the cheapest – provides a service whereby the company sends out a patrol who will try and repair your car at the side of the road, something that they manage to do in about 4 out of 5 cases. If they can’t do so they will tow you to the nearest garage, where you will have to make your own arrangements to get it repaired.
The next step up is to buy a cover that pays for the breakdown company to take you on to your destination if they can’t fix your car at the side of the road. This is very useful if you are going away on holiday or need to get home. This is the lowest level of cover that is appropriate for most people.
With many car problems originating at home, all the breakdown companies also sell cover for your car when it is at your home address or close to it. This does cost a little bit more but it does mean that when you get into your car to go to work and find that it won’t start, you’ll be covered. After all, it does sound much better when you phone your boss if you can tell them that the breakdown company is on the way, doesn’t it?
More expensive policies can cover the cost of the labour and parts that are needed to repair your car, the cost of a hire car, public transport, or a hotel room if your car can’t be repaired quickly – and even a replacement driver if the main driver becomes ill and is unable to continue.
5. Who Are the Main Providers of Breakdown Services?
The main providers are the Royal Automobile Association (RAC), the Automobile Association (AA), and Green Flag. All have their individual strengths and it can be a tough job choosing between them; luckily we have produced a guide to help you!
There are also some smaller companies including GEM Motoring Assist and Autonational.
6. Are There Any Cheaper Options?
Yes, there are. All of the companies listed above will come out and try to fix your car, or tow it to a garage, free of charge. You can save money, however, by using a company like AutoAid. With AutoAid you pay for a company to come out and sort your breakdown and then claim the money back from them. They will do all of the legwork including contacting the nearest approved breakdown company and they have an excellent record of paying back claims very quickly.
This is the cheapest way to get a full breakdown cover.
7. I Have Two Cars; Am I Covered in Both of Them? What About if I’m in Someone Else’s Car?
You need to check whether you have a ‘personal’ or ‘vehicle’ cover. With personal you have breakdown cover in any car, often even if you are just a passenger.
With vehicle cover, it is the car that has the policy, not you. This can be useful if a number of people use the same car.
Most companies, like the AA, Green Flag, and the RAC, offer you the choice of covering the person or the vehicle. Others might just cover the car OR the person.
8. Is My Car Covered when I’m Abroad?
All of the companies can provide cover while you’re motoring in Europe but it does cost extra. You’ll also need to check that they cover the country that you’re going to and whether they provide an English-speaking service to contact if you have a problem with your car.
We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about breakdown cover. Please do ask and we’ll do our best to answer you as quickly as possible!