What's the best breakdown cover for my car?

You’ll be glad to have an expert who can help if your car ever breaks down. We look at the options and find out which patrols do the best job...

Breakdown survey 2019

Although car breakdown cover is something motorists hope they won’t have to use, it’s something most want, just in case the worst does happen. After all, cover costs as little as £19 per year, so it’s an affordable way of getting peace of mind for your travels. 

There are more providers than ever to choose from, too. Rescuing stranded motorists used to be the preserve of the AA and RAC, but these days at least 13 different companies offer car breakdown policies. As well as the big three (the AA, Green Flag and the RAC), many insurers and banks have started to provide this form of insurance. Cover is often either included in a car insurance policy or offered as an add-on. Meanwhile, some banks, such as Nationwide, provide cover with ‘packaged’ current accounts that give the holder a range of benefits for a set monthly fee that’s usually less than you’d pay to buy each item separately. 

Breakdown survey 2019

Exactly who comes to your aid depends on the breakdown provider you choose. The AA and RAC employ and train their own patrols, but the RAC also uses other networks of independent recovery operators in areas where they don't have as much coverage. And other providers rely solely on independent contractors.

There are pros and cons with each of these. You’re likely to get a consistent level of expertise from in-house patrols, because they'll have benefited from internal training programmes. However, if you need assistance away from a large town or city, a provider that uses local recovery services might be able to identify an operator nearby who can get to you faster.  

What type of cover do you need? 

The cheapest option is limited local cover for a single vehicle and one annual breakdown. While this should be fine for a newer car that’s unlikely to go wrong, you’re likely to end up paying out far more overall if your vehicle is older and less reliable, because you’ll have to part with more money for each subsequent breakdown.

There are also ‘pay and claim’ policies. As the name suggests, you’ll pay for any callouts you make, including the cost of recovering your car, and then claim it back from the breakdown provider. 

While these policies are often cheaper than standard breakdown cover, they're less convenient. If you don’t want to pay for the repairs and recovery up front or you’re not good with paperwork, this type of cover won’t be for you.

Local breakdown policies that cover your car only if it’s within a 10-to-25-mile radius from your home are usually cheaper than nationwide products, although in some instances there’s very little difference in cost, so it’s worth checking this up front. 

A local policy could also prove to be a false economy even if you hardly ever venture farther afield than your local shopping centre, because you’ll have to pay either an additional mileage fee or for alternative emergency breakdown assistance if you break down outside the specified area.  

Breakdown survey 2019

Roadside assistance 

There are three main levels of nationwide breakdown cover. The cheapest is roadside assistance. It provides a patrol to try to fix your car if it breaks down when you’re away from home. If the car can’t be fixed, it’ll be taken to a nearby garage for repairs. Some of these policies stipulate that the car must be more than a quarter of a mile from your home.

Breakdown recovery

If you opt for breakdown recovery, as well as sending a patrol to fix your car, you and your passengers will be taken to a destination of your choice in the UK.

Home start

This adds cover for your car if it breaks down before you’ve left home. Some policies also include car hire, overnight accommodation and the cost of public transport if the car can’t be fixed straight away. 

Cover the car or the person

One way to save money is to opt for single vehicle cover. Most of the policies we researched charge more to cover a person in any car rather than just a single car; only Autoaid offers cover for one person in any car for less than single vehicle cover. 

Check for restrictions

If you have an older car or one that’s prone to problems, it’s worth checking the terms and conditions to see if there's an age limit or a restriction on the number of callouts each year; you’ll have to pay extra for any callouts above the limit. 

You can add cover for any repairs that are required to fix the car after a breakdown. Although this is generally cheaper than the amount you’d pay for an aftermarket warranty, it covers only post-breakdown work, not pre-existing faults with your car.

Lots of other add-ons are available, too, ranging from legal assistance and key cover to the cost of a set of new tyres. 

Next: How much does breakdown cover cost? >

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