What is the best breakdown cover for my car?

Motorists whose cars have broken down in the past 12 months tell us which roadside assistance firms provide the swiftest and most helpful service...

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Claire Evans
18 December 2018

Lady with broken down car cartoon
Lady with broken down car cartoon

Car breakdown cover is something you pay for but hope you won’t have to use. However, if your car does let you down, you’ll want to know that help is on the way quickly, especially if you’re stranded at the side of a motorway or on an unlit country lane at night. You’ll also want your car either fixed on the spot or transported to a suitable repairer.

So, as part of this year’s What Car? Reliability Survey, we asked 15,384 motorists to tell us whether their car had broken down in the previous 12 months and how well they were looked after if they’d called out a roadside assistance service. Only a small proportion (1143 cars) suffered a breakdown, with 65% of that group (746) calling out the AA, the RAC, Green Flag or Allianz Assistance, four of the biggest breakdown providers in the UK.

The first area we focused on was how long the patrol took to reach them. The best sped to their rescue in less than 30 minutes and the worst sloped along more than two hours later. 

The other main question was how well the problem was resolved. The best patrols fixed the fault at the roadside, enabling the stranded motorist to continue with their journey. The least satisfactory outcome was that the broken-down car wasn’t fixed and wasn’t taken to a garage for repairs.

How long did it take for assistance to arrive? 

Company AA Green Flag RAC Allianz Assistance
Less than 30 minutes 18.0% 4.2% 11.0% 3.1%
30 minutes to 1 hour 46.8% 49.3% 37.6% 45.3%
1-2 hours 21.8% 31.0% 27.2% 25.0%
More than 2 hours 13.5% 15.5% 24.3% 26.6%
Average (hours) 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4

The award for speediest service goes to the AA. Its average arrival time was 1.1 hours and it got to nearly a fifth of breakdowns in less than 30 minutes. Patrols got to nearly half in between 30 minutes and an hour, while only 13.5% of its members had to wait more than two hours – the lowest number out of the four services.

In response to the results, AA president Edmund King said: “AA patrols often say they attend to the member first, then the vehicle. This dedication shines through in the service they deliver for around 10,000 drivers every day; fixing eight out of 10 cars at the roadside and typically arriving at a breakdown in less than an hour. We’re thrilled that the experiences of our members clearly reflect our commitment to delivering the best possible service when they need us.”

Second overall was Green Flag, with an average arrival time of 1.2 hours. Although it reached only a small number of stranded motorists in less than half an hour, it came out on top in the 30- to 60-minute category, attending half of callouts in that time. 

Nearly a third of Green Flag members were required to wait one to two hours for help to arrive, though – the highest percentage in this time frame and 9% more than the AA. Fortunately, fewer of its members had to wait more than two hours than any of the others apart from the AA.

A Green Flag spokesperson said: “We never aim to stand still and always seek to improve on what the What Car? comparison already highlights, which is Green Flag providing great service and value for our customers.”

The RAC ranked second to the AA when it came to getting to breakdowns in less than half an hour, but it was let down somewhat by having fewer patrols on site in 30 to 60 minutes than any of its rivals and failing to reach nearly a quarter of breakdowns in less than two hours – significantly worse than the AA and Green Flag. As a result, it ranked third overall with an average response time of 1.3 hours.

In defence of its service, the RAC said: “We are proud of the excellent service our highly skilled patrols provide at the roadside and their impressive four-out-of-five fix rate for the two million-plus breakdowns they attend every year.”

Allianz Assistance took the longest to reach stranded motorists. Its patrols reached only 3% of cars in less than half an hour and 27% of car owners waited more than two hours. In response, it said: “Allianz Partners UK works closely with car makers to deliver a service that achieves strong performance and customer satisfaction levels, which are monitored continuously to ensure they’re maintained.”

How well was the problem resolved? 

Company AA Green Flag RAC Allianz Assistance
Permanently fixed 17.3% 7.0% 21.4% 8.7%
Temporarily fixed 28.2% 25.4% 22.0% 20.3%
Not fixed, towed to location of choice 9.9% 19.7% 9.8% 6.3%
Not fixed, towed to garage of choice 37.2% 42.3% 42.2% 62.5%
Not fixed, not towed anywhere 7.4% 5.6% 4.6% 3.1%
Top two outcomes combined 46% 32% 43% 28%

The RAC fared better when it came to resolving problems, with the highest proportion (21%) of cars permanently fixed at the roadside so motorists could carry on with their journeys. However, if you look at the combination of the two best outcomes – permanent or temporary fixes that let motorists continue on their way – the AA comes out on top, fixing 46% of cars, versus 43% for the RAC. 

Although Green Flag’s patrols didn’t permanently fix many cars, they did well for temporary fixes, helping 25% of members to continue their journey. Allianz also carried out only a small number of permanent fixes, along with the lowest number of temporary solutions. In fact, the most common outcome for its members was to be towed to a garage. 

Which brands broke down most often? 

Brand % of cars that broke down
30. Land Rover 14.2%
29. Citroën 13.3%
28. Jeep  12.5%
27. Nissan 11.4%
26. Fiat 11.2%
25. Vauxhall 11.1%
24. Porsche 10.0%
23. Renault 9.7%
22. Mini 8.3%
21. Alfa Romeo 8.2%
=19. Peugeot 8.0%
=19. Ford 8.0%
18. Honda 7.8%
17. Volkswagen 7.1%
16. Mercedes-Benz 7.0%
15. Volvo 6.8%
=13.Mitsubishi 6.5%
=13. Audi 6.5%
12. Jaguar 6.3%
=10. Subaru 6.1%
=10. Mazda 6.1%
=8. Seat 5.8%
=8. BMW 5.8%
7. Skoda 5.2%
6. Toyota 5.0%
=4. Kia 4.8%
=4. Hyundai  4.8%
3. Lexus 3.2%
2. Suzuki 3.0%
1. Dacia 2.5%

 

Next: What type of breakdown cover do you need? >

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