Back to basics: Everything you need to know about car breakdown cover

There is little in life less pleasant than being stranded with at the edge of a motorway with a young family on a cold, wet day – although getting stuck on a remote road on your own late at night might be even worse.

Whenever and wherever it happens, breaking down in the car is stressful and inconvenient.

As most drivers break down at some point during their motoring lives, many therefore feel that breakdown cover – which provides roadside assistance at any time of the day or night – is a sound investment.

Having it certainly helps to provide peace of mind that help will come quickly if your car should let you down in a dangerous spot.

Here, we explain how breakdown cover works, what different sorts of policy are available and how to choose the right one for your needs – at the right price.

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover (also known as roadside recovery or roadside rescue) is designed predominantly to help motorists who are stuck because their cars have broken down.

The assistance offered varies depending on the provider and on the level of cover chosen, but the general aim is to allow the policyholder to continue with his or her journey as quickly as possible – whether that means a quick roadside fix or being towed to a local garage for repairs.

Do I need breakdown cover?

Breaking down is never nice, but it can be much worse if you have to spend time finding a local garage that can come and pick you up or carry out repairs – and then pay through the nose for the emergency callout.

Breakdown cover is therefore a sensible option for anyone who regularly travels by car, particularly those who own older, less reliable vehicles or often drive at night or in remote areas.

The protection offered is also valuable to families, business travellers or commuters, although those in the latter two groups may pay more for cover due to the higher mileage they rack up.

What types of breakdown cover are available?

There are two main types of breakdown cover to choose between. Standard policies charge you an annual membership fee that covers you for a certain number of callouts per year.

Simple and efficient, it is this type of policy that will result in one of the provider’s mechanics turning up and fixing your car – or arranging for it to be towed to a garage for more complicated repairs – at no extra cost.

So-called ‘pay and claim policies’, meanwhile, involve the provider calling out a local firm that you pay upfront for the callout and recovery before claiming the money back from your insurer.

This is often a cheaper option, and can also be a better choice if your car is very unreliable and might require more callouts per year than are offered under a standard policy.

What are the benefits?

Whether you go for a standard or a pay and claim policy, the benefits offered by breakdown cover will also vary depending on the level of cover you choose.

Roadside Assistance, for example, is included in all breakdown cover policies and means that someone will come to you and attempt to fix the problem there and then, before taking you to the nearest garage or your home (usually whichever is closer) if this proves impossible.

And Vehicle Recovery means you are entitled to your vehicle, along with any passengers being recovered either to a garage or to your home.

If, however, you add Home Assistance to your policy, you can also call someone out should your car fail to start or break down within quarter of a mile of your home (not covered by most Roadside Assistance policies).

For the most comprehensive breakdown cover, you can also choose Onward Travel, which generally includes extras such as a hire car, alternative transportation to your destination or accommodation while your car is being repaired.

Does breakdown cover protect my car or me as a driver?

When taking out breakdown, you need to decide whether you want the policy to cover you as an individual, or if you want it to cover your car.

The advantage of taking out cover in your name is that it protects you whatever vehicle you are in when you breakdown – whether or not you are driving it.

However, the bonus with cover that protects a specific vehicle is that it is always covered, no matter who is driving it.

If you regularly drive more than one vehicle, the first option is therefore the best, while covering the vehicle is a better bet for couple who share a car, for example.

Can I get breakdown cover for European driving?

Breaking down on UK roads is bad enough. But imagine breaking down in France or Spain, for example, where not only do you not know the local area, you don’t even speak the same language as the people who might be able to help you?

Step in European breakdown cover, which offers you the peace of mind of having access to English-speaking representatives who can organise your recovery and repairs with a reputable local garage – allowing you to get on with your trip more quickly and having undergone a lot less stress.

Most breakdown companies offer European cover, either as a stand-alone option or as an add-on to a standard policy.

A stand-alone single trip policy is probably the most economical choice if you are planning on taking your car to the Continent on a one-off visit.

However, the 12-month cover offered by the add-on European protection could prove useful if you tend to drive in Europe two or more times a year.

How can I save money on breakdown cover?

The main benefit offered by breakdown cover is the knowledge that you will not be left stranded should your car – or another vehicle that you are travelling in – break down. When comparing breakdown policies, it is therefore important to look at the level of cover provided as well as the price. That said, there are ways to cut the cost of breakdown cover, without compromising on quality.

The price you pay will often depend on factors such as how you use your vehicle and its age and condition.
However, some breakdown companies offer fixed-price premiums – and could therefore prove cheaper if you drive an old banger or cover a lot of miles, for example.

Other money-saving tips include taking out a multi-car policy if you live at the same address as several other drivers.

Above all, remember that the key to saving money is to shop around for the best deal for you, whatever type of policy and level of cover you need. You can do this at MoneySuperMarket’s breakdown channel.

Please note:
Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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