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What is breakdown cover… and do you really need it?

Is there anything worse than seeing a plume of black smoke in your rear view mirror only to realise it’s coming from your own stricken vehicle? Your heart sinks. Your day is irreversibly disrupted. Who are you going to call? A friend? One that drives, is somewhere near you and just happens to be conveniently available with engine repair knowledge and a tow bar? Or a garage, whose a one-off recovery fee could run into the hundreds? 

This, friends, is where breakdown cover could save your backside. Here we’ll clarify what breakdown cover is, what levels of service there are and whether you really need it.

What is breakdown cover, and do you really need it?
What is breakdown cover, and do you really need it?

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is a policy that covers the costs of repair or rescue in the event your car stops working. The three main players, AA, RAC and Green Flag (as well as a host of smaller companies) will send a patrol vehicle to investigate any faults with your vehicle with a view to repairing the problem in situ or towing you home or to a garage if the problem cannot be rectified at the roadside.

So what are the options?

There are two options: personal or vehicle. Personal as the name suggests, covers the person, so you can call for help whether you’re in your own banger or a friend’s. Alternatively, there’s vehicle cover. This is generally a cheaper form of cover that is ideal for those who only have an interest in covering one vehicle — it’s great for families or housemates that car-share, for example.

What levels of service are available?

All operators offer graduated levels of service, all of which have different names depending on who you buy them from. These include: roadside assistance, national assistance, home start, onward travel, and European cover, all of which we’ll explain below.

Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance means that the mechanic who comes to your aid will attempt a fix at the roadside. Depending on the scale of the problem this can be a complete repair or a temporary fix — enough to get you to your destination. If the mechanic is unable to fix it at the roadside, they’ll tow you to a local garage. There’s usually a certain radius to define ‘local’, e.g. 10 miles. That’s pretty much it.

National Assistance

National assistance means that if the mechanic is unable to fix the car at the roadside, they will take you and your passengers to a single destination within the UK mainland, e.g. your usual garage or your own driveway. There are usually restrictions on how many passengers the patrol vehicles can take, so don’t expect them to rescue your entire Sunday league football team.  Crucially, you have to have purchased the National Assistance membership package prior to breaking down to use this service.

Home Start

Home Start gets you assistance on your driveway — handy for those with cars with a penchant for refusing to start on a cold winter’s morning. Home Start can be used up to quarter of a mile from your home. Conveniently, The AA even offer an appointment service, so if you opt to ditch your car and run for the bus, you can call later and book a repair.

Onward Travel 

If your car needs to go into the garage, this scheme will guarantee car hire, overnight accommodation or public transport to get you to your destination.

European Cover

European Cover can be added to your existing policy or bought as a standalone policy. If you frequently cross the channel or Irish Sea, it is a worthwhile consideration to give you peace of mind.

Which breakdown company should I chose?

That will depend on your requirements and how much you have to spend. Shop around and check out our guide to the top three players. Other providers include GEM Motoring Assist. Your car manufacturer may also provide its own rescue service.

So do I really need breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is incredibly useful if you drive a car more than a few years old — particularly if it hasn’t been very well maintained or if it has a history of breaking down on you. Paying for breakdown cover might, at times, feel like you’re throwing your money away, but it’s a great way to mitigate the potentially huge inconvenience that can be caused in the event your car decides not to play ball.

Looking for cheap breakdown cover? Check out our amazing breakdown cover comparison tool!


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