Don’t let breakdown blues drive you to breaking point

If your car has ever broken down you’ll know just how stressful it can be to stand by your stricken vehicle waiting for the breakdown recovery service to arrive.

White car driving down a long street
And it can be even more stressful if you don’t have breakdown cover as recovery services often charge a hefty fee for a one-off rescue.

However, even if you belong to a rescue service, the level of cover you have may not provide you with everything you were expecting.

Here we take a look at the levels of cover typically offered by breakdown recovery services.

But first, a cautionary tale courtesy of my latest motoring mishap…

Breakdown blues

I’m no stranger to a motoring breakdown. In the last six months alone I’ve had two cars rescued from the same Little Chef car park after both of them blew a gasket while I was driving. Unfortunately for me it was the head gasket on both occasions.

The first of these was a beat-up Toyota Corolla I bought for £50 (yes, fifty pounds) that, moments before billowing out plumes of white smoke, told me there was something wrong via a little orange warning light in the shape of a car engine.

In fairness, the fact the car was losing power and there was a weird clicking noise coming from the engine had already given me a heads up that all was not well under the bonnet.

I managed to roll the car off the motorway and into the said Little Chef car park, called the AA and was picked up within about 40 minutes and towed to my preferred garage, near to where I live. The car was a write-off but I managed to get £160 for it from a scrap dealer so being £110 up on the deal softened the blow a little.

Six months later, after splurging my £700 budget on a 52-plate Rover 25, I encountered the same problem on the same stretch of motorway and, once again, manage to crawl to the Little Chef car park, whereupon I once again called the AA.

Sure enough, the AA patrolman arrived in reasonable time and, once again, told me that there was a problem with the head gasket – and that he could tow me to the nearest garage, which was half-a-mile away.

I explained to him that my local garage was only 10 miles away and that I was taken there last time I had a breakdown. But he responded that, under the terms of my cover, I could only be taken to the garage nearest to where my car had broken down.

At this point we had reached something of an impasse. The patrolman could not take me any further than the nearby garage, but I had no way of getting home from there as the problem with the car couldn’t be fixed there and then.

The patrolman then told me that, as the car hadn’t yet overheated, I could ‘probably’ drive it the 10 miles myself. Although I was not convinced with this response, I realised that I had no other option given my level of cover, and so opted to risk it.

Sure enough, as I was driving the car eventually overheated and broke down about halfway through the journey – on the apex of a hill on a 60mph stretch of single carriageway – and so I called the AA again, explained my situation and was told I would be attended to within the hour.

However, I managed to get my car started again and made it to the garage, at which point I called the AA back to cancel the recovery.

Unfortunately, the operator had failed to notify the third-party recovery service to which they had allocated the job, and I received a phone call half an hour later asking where I was!


After cataloguing the details of my breakdown on Twitter (@LesRobertsMSM pictured, right) the AA got in touch with me via its @AA_Members Twitter account and offered to investigate the matter for me.


I was subsequently contacted by an AA customer services representative who, while sympathetic, informed me that the patrolman could have done no more as my policy only covered me for recovery to the nearest garage to where I had broken down.

With regards to my concern that the patrolman was irresponsible in suggesting that my car was still fit to drive I was told that the decision to drive the car was down to me, which I accept. But I still don’t believe that, under the circumstances, a 10-mile journey was too much to ask of the self-styled ‘fourth emergency service’. 

The only mistake the patrolman made was to not offer to upgrade my cover when he attended my breakdown, and I have since been offered an upgrade at a discounted rate.

So, as you can see from my experience, it’s vitally important that you have the right level of breakdown cover. But what do each of those levels offer? Let’s take a look…

Levels of breakdown cover

Most breakdown recovery services offer different levels of cover ranging from basic roadside assistance to Europe-wide vehicle recovery, so you need to factor in both your budget and circumstances when making your choice.

Although the names of cover will vary between recovery firms, there are generally five levels of cover on offer, which are:


The most basic level of cover ensures that a patrol will attend and attempt to fix your vehicle at the side of the road and, if this isn’t possible, will tow it to the nearest garage.


This offers the same level of cover as Roadside but also has the option of transporting you, your vehicle and any passengers to a destination of your choice, be that your preferred garage or back home.

Home start

The next level up takes all the benefits of National cover and adds the option of having a patrol sent to your home to make repairs if required. It is worth noting that if you don’t have Home start as part of your cover then recovery services will not tend to your vehicle unless it has broken down a certain distance (such as a mile) from your home – which is no good if your car breaks down on your driveway!

Onward travel

This is the most complete level of domestic cover on offer which takes all of the benefits offered by the above packages and will also cover the cost of any unexpected accommodation and car hire.


Standard recovery plans will only cover you should you breakdown in the UK, so if you are planning on driving to the continent this year you will need to take out extra cover. European breakdown cover can be added to your policy for either a single trip or the lifespan of your cover (usually 12 months) and you also need to ensure that you are covered for a breakdown not only in the country you are travelling to but any that you will be travelling through en route.

Types of breakdown cover

In addition to the different levels of cover on offer, there are also two types of breakdown cover – vehicle and personal.

Vehicle cover means that a specific vehicle is covered in the event of a breakdown, no matter who is driving at the time.

Personal cover, on the other hand, offers recovery to an individual if they are either the driver or a passenger in a broken down vehicle.

Vehicle cover is often the cheapest option but whether it is the best option for you is entirely dependent upon your circumstances. For example, if there is more than one vehicle in the household then it may be more cost effective to take out a personal policy so you are covered no matter what car you’re driving.

Choosing the right breakdown cover

As well as the factors outlined above there are other things that must be taken into consideration, such as a cap on the number of call-outs and how much the recovery service is willing to pay out for recovery – some policies come loaded with a large excess.

So when choosing your breakdown cover it is important that you pick the right level of cover for your circumstances, remembering that the cheapest policy may not necessarily be the best value for money.

It’s also worth noting that, if you have to upgrade your cover during the course of a recovery, you will have to pay a higher premium than normal, so it’s better to take out the highest level of cover you think you’ll need from the outset.

For instance, if you tend not to travel anywhere outside a 10 or 15-mile radius then Roadside cover will probably suffice. Any further and you may want to consider National cover so you are not left stranded at a garage which is, at least, an expensive taxi ride from home.

You also need to consider every possibility, from the likelihood of being caught cold on the driveway in the middle of winter to overheating on the motorway during the height of summer. In my experience, pretty much anything is possible when it comes to car breakdowns!

Article by Les Roberts

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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