What's the best breakdown cover for my car?

If your car ever conks out, you’ll be glad you’ve got breakdown cover. We look at all the options and find out which providers do the best job...

Car on back of breakdown truck

With many of us working from home and using our cars a lot less than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic, it might be tempting to think that paying for breakdown cover isn’t really necessary.

However, when you do venture out, it’s more likely to be in a car than on public transport – and infrequent use increases the chances of your vehicle not being in tip-top condition. That being the case, it’s reassuring to know that help is at hand if something does go wrong. 

There are three main types of breakdown cover: local and national for a specific car, plus personal cover. 

Local breakdown cover 

This is generally the cheapest option, and if you’re working at home, you could save money by opting for this type of policy. The common restriction on this type of cover – that broken-down cars can be transported for a maximum of 20 miles by a recovery truck – won’t be a concern if you only travel locally, after all.

However, the other common stipulation is that recovery patrols will only attend vehicles that are a quarter of a mile or more from their home address. That could be a problem because more than half of car breakdowns happen at home. 

Breakdown services

The RAC acknowledged this issue after the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown and decided to add home assistance to all its breakdown policies.

RAC consumer roadside managing director Andy Baker says: “Drivers told us they thought cover for breakdowns at home should be included as standard in breakdown policies. So we responded, and anyone choosing one of these policies will now be rescued, regardless of where they happen to be in the UK when they break down.” 

If you do opt for a local policy, consider taking out extra cover, or switching to a national recovery plan ahead of any longer trips, such as a UK-based holiday. 

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, then claim it back from the breakdown provider. 

While these policies are often cheaper than standard breakdown cover, they're also 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.

Breakdown services

National breakdown cover

There are three main levels of nationwide breakdown cover. The cheapest is roadside assistance, which 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.

If you opt for breakdown recovery, you still get a patrol to fix your car, but you also get transport to take you and your passengers to a destination of your choice in the UK.

Home start 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 for you or your car? 

If you decide to take out national breakdown cover, which will take you and your car home from anywhere in the UK, it’s usually cheaper to buy cover for your vehicle. This means you won’t be covered if you break down in another car, though. If you’re a multi-car family, cover for yourself in any vehicle could be better value. 

For example, while the cheapest AA vehicle-based policy is £59 for a year, it costs only £10 more to cover yourself for any car. It’s also worth investigating how you can save money on cover for your whole family. If your partner will be driving your car, you can add them to the policy for an additional fee (on an AA policy, it's £30).

Breakdown survey 2019

While most breakdown service providers offer a choice of vehicle or person-based policies, Autoaid’s Autonational Rescue and GEM Motoring Assist only do the latter. Autoaid includes free cover for a spouse on a single-car policy, though, and a 50% discount on cover for a second car. 

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.

The RAC’s local cover permits only three callouts, Emergency Assist’s allows four and Startrescue gives you six. If you have a large families, you should also check the number of people who will be offered transportation. Our research revealed that Emergency Assist offers onward travel for only the driver and up to four passengers. 

You can add cover for any repairs that are needed to fix the car after a breakdown. Although this is generally cheaper than an aftermarket warranty, it only covers 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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