Breaking down abroad

European breakdown cover explained

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On the back of the opening of the Euro tunnel, more and more British motorists have been venturing abroad in their vehicles for vacations rather than taking public transport. This has perhaps been inspired by television programmes like Top Gear and their world famous race between the Aston Martin DB9 and the train to reach the South of France from England.

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However, the majority of European travelers do not seem to consider vehicle breakdowns before venturing off; which can be both dangerous and expensive. Green Flag estimates that recovering a car from the South of Spain could cost up to £2,500 for someone who does not have a European breakdown cover policy in place before travelling; an unexpected expense that not many of us can afford.

European breakdown cover explained

What most people do not realise is that a conventional breakdown cover policy will not necessarily cover you for European travel. This is only available through specific European breakdown cover policies, which are available on the MoneySupermarket breakdown cover site. These will be more expense, but this is an expense which you may consider worth while in order to obtain the additional peace of mind that comes with knowing that you will not be hit with an unexpectedly large bill out of the blue.

There are many different types of European breakdown cover policy available and the cheapest will not always be the best value for money. For example, some companies will offer fewer days cover for European travel in their policies than others, which could leave you vulnerable if you are planning on spending a couple of weeks abroad.

Some providers will also be more generous with the total amount payable in the event of a breakdown occurring; opting for a policy with a very small budget assigned to you in the event of a breakdown could leave you forced to dip into your own pocket. Even the number of countries covered can vary. It is therefore important that you read the small print on all the policies on offer to make sure that you are getting a policy that best suits you.

Reduce the chance of breakdowns

However, breakdowns can still prove to be highly disruptive and inconvenient during a holiday, even if you have a European breakdown cover policy in place. You would therefore be wise to take every precaution possible to reduce the possibility of that happening.

The kind of things that should be considered are:

  • Servicing- It is recommended that you get your vehicle fully serviced before setting off on your travels. This will not only reduce the chance of breakdowns, but could also marginally improve your fuel economy; something which could have a big effect on your total holiday spend given the number of miles that you will be travelling. 
  • Tyres- Tyres are the only part of the car that are in contact with the road; it therefore makes sense that they will have a big impact on performance and safety. It is therefore vital that you check that your tyres comply with the bare legal minimum tread depth of at least 1.6mm before leaving the country. Tyre pressures will also have an impact, but the recommended levels will vary depending upon the type of car being used; you should therefore consult your vehicle handbook and make sure that your tyre pressures are at the correct levels before setting off. This not only has safety ramifications, but can improve your fuel economy by up to 3% according to road safety group TyreSafe. Even with all of these precautions being taken, punctures can still occur. It is therefore recommended that you also carry a spare tyre with you at all times. 
  • Vision- It would also make sense to ensure that your vision is as clear as possible. It is recommended that you check your windscreen wipers are to an acceptable standard before travelling and ensure that you have a sufficient supply of windscreen washer fluid.
  • Lights- check all bulbs/electrics are working in your car and remember to take spare bulbs and fuses with you in case something fails while you are away from home.

Take precautions

Regardless of whether or not you have breakdown cover; there are still a number of other things that you should take with you in case a vehicle failure occurs. One of the most important things to take with you is a warning triangle; which is actually a legal requirement in certain European countries!

Sticking to the legal perspective; it is also advised that you take your driving licence and vehicle registration document in case you are pulled over by police or commit an offence.

Breaking down on a motorway/carriageway

Motorways and carriageways are potentially the most dangerous roads to breakdown on due to the high speeds that vehicles reach; particularly if you are unfortunate enough to suffer a failure on the German Autobahn.

However, if this does occur there are five steps which should be followed:

1. Pull over to the hard shoulder and park as far away from the traffic as you possibly can with your wheels pointing towards the grass verge in case you are on a hill and your vehicle rolls.
2. Activate your hazard warning and side lights so that your vehicle has a better chance of being seen by other road users. Don’t forget that you need to be seen as well, so remember to wear your reflective jacket.
3. Phone up your breakdown cover provider by following the steps outlined to you in the policy documents for when a breakdown occurs abroad. You will likely have been given a specific phone number for such an occurrence. Your breakdown cover provider will then arrange for local services to attend to you at the side of the road; meaning that you do not have to go to the trouble of locating such a service and potentially conversing in an unfamiliar language.
4. Given the speeds other vehicles will likely be travelling at, it is vital that you do not attempt repairs yourself. Make sure that you and your passengers exit through the side of the vehicle which is not nearest the road so that you are not vulnerable to passing traffic.
5. Be careful when pulling off if your vehicle has been fixed at the side of the road. Be aware that it is possible that there could be other stationary vehicles on the hard shoulder and be careful not to pull out into the path of other road users.

Breaking down on quieter roads

Breaking down on a side road, country lane or in a city centre doesn’t place you in such a precarious situation, but any time you are left vulnerable and stranded at the side of a road has the potential to be a dangerous occasion.

The steps you should follow are largely similar to those if you breakdown on a motorway where vehicles are travelling at higher speeds:

1. Pull over in a safe place (if possible) and activate your hazard warning and side lights.
2. Put on your reflective jacket and place the before mentioned warning triangle approximately 50 yards back from your vehicle so that other motorists have sufficient time to prepare an avoidance strategy.
3. Ensure that your passengers get safely away from your vehicle once the road clears.
4. Contact your breakdown cover provider using the method advised for when breakdowns occur abroad and wait for assistance to arrive.
5. If you car is repairable, remember to retrieve your warning triangle once the traffic is clear and take care when getting back into the flow of traffic.

Breaking down without breakdown cover

If you breakdown without having a sufficient European breakdown cover policy in place, then you have two available options:

1. Arrange to be towed back by a local mechanic who can conduct repairs. This will of course leave you susceptible to potentially excessive call out fees and it is of course entirely possible that the mechanic will not be fluent in English; which could make life difficult.
2. You could arrange for a breakdown cover policy to take effect on the spot so that you will be treated like any other customer, but you will be forced to pay an additional joining fee which could cost up to £90.

The problem with both of these options is that they will likely cost more than an annual European breakdown cover policy.

However, it of course up to you whether or not you feel it is worth risking going without any cover at all which would of course save you money in the short term, but could result in you being forced to deal with potentially large unexpected expenses over the course of the year.

If you decide to play on the safe side, please feel free to take advantage of MoneySupermarket’s European breakdown cover quotes which are available through some of the UK’s leading providers.

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