Which breakdown cover is the best value?

If your car conks out and you call for roadside assistance, what level of service will you get? Stranded motorists help us rate the main rescue firms, and we look at which is the best value...

Breakdown services 2023

We’re all looking for ways to save money right now, but skimping on breakdown cover, or not buying it at all, could end up costing you more in the long run.

That’s because, if you’re fully covered, a good technician could get your car going for free if it breaks down, while paying for a mobile mechanic to fix it or having it recovered to a garage could be far more costly than the annual premium.

There are differences in the level of cover offered by different companies, though. For example, some policies don’t cover the cost of helping if you make a common mistake such as losing your car keys or putting the wrong fuel in your car. Choosing one of those could prove to be a false economy if that happens to you.

Breakdown survey 2019

Start by choosing the most appropriate level of cover. There are three main types of UK breakdown cover: local, national and home start, and with most policies you can choose to either buy cover for a specific vehicle or for a person driving any vehicle. The cheapest form of assistance is local cover for a specific car, which costs as little as £24 per year.

However, a local policy might not be the best option for you even if you work from home or don’t often make long journeys. That’s because it doesn’t cover your car if it breaks down at home.

Many local policies state that the car must be at least a quarter of a mile (or, in some cases, a mile) from your home address for the assistance service to come and fix it. When you consider that the most common cause of a breakdown is a flat or degraded battery – something you’re only likely to find out about when you try to start your car first thing in the morning – it’s clear how useful home cover can be.

Breakdown survey 2019

The next level of cover in terms of cost used to be national assistance, with a combination of national and home cover the priciest option overall. In many cases, it wasn’t possible to buy cover for your car at home unless you took out a national breakdown policy.

A number of providers now also offer a package that provides local recovery and home cover. LV= Britannia, Qdos and the RAC offer that level of cover at a lower price than national cover, and the AA offers a local home assist option that costs the same as its national cover. It’s worth bearing in mind that if you opt for local cover, there is likely to be a restriction of between 10 and 20 miles on how far a broken down car can be towed.

Some policies put a restriction on the number of callouts you can make, so if you use the service more than five times in a year, you’re likely to have to pay an additional fee. If you opt for local cover only, consider taking out extra cover or switching to a national plan ahead of any longer trips, such as a UK-based holiday.

One good way to cut your breakdown cover cost is to look out for special offers. While we were doing our research, the RAC was offering a half-price deal on all its policies and Emergency Assist was offering a 25% discount.

Breakdown services

It’s usually pricier to buy cover for a specific person in any car, but it can be worthwhile if you'll be driving several different cars. Multi-vehicle or multi-person cover is also worth considering for larger motoring families. While some providers charge around £30 to add a second person to a policy, others offer a 50% discount on the standard price, so it’s worth shopping around to see which is the best value.

Restrictions to watch out for

There are a few common limitations with breakdown policies that could potentially leave you stranded or out of pocket. Misfuelling – putting petrol in a diesel car or vice versa – is a common mistake can cost between £500 and £3000 to put right, according to the AA, so it’s well worth checking that you’re covered for this. The AA, Admiral, Auto National, AXA and Breakdown Assist include it, but Emergency Assist charges an extra £5 for misfuelling cover with its cheapest policy.

If you have a large SUV or a seven-seater and often make use of all those pews, it’s worth finding out how many people the provider will transport. Aviva will take up to eight people to your preferred location and Breakdown Assist seven, but Auto National will transport only six.

Some policies have no limit on the number of callouts you can make each year, but others will charge extra if you want their help more often. You’re also likely to be refused a callout for the same problem twice in the same month. That's to prevent people from treating breakdown cover as an excuse not to repair or maintain their car.

As with all insurance policies, it’s worth checking whether there is an excess to pay. While most assistance services don’t require you to pay extra when your car fails, Rescuemycar automatically applies a £40 excess to the policy when quoting it (you can scroll down on its online quote page and untick a box to see the price with no excess).

What is the best breakdown cover for my car?

It’s also worth considering whether the breakdown provider has its own team of technicians or relies on the services of independent companies. The AA and RAC have their own fleets of recovery operators, who are all trained and have to pass exams before they can go out on the road. That should mean they provide a consistent level of service.

Their training and the specialist equipment they carry also mean they are likely to be able to fix a larger proportion of cars at the roadside.

According to our survey data, the AA either permanently or temporarily fixed 68% of cars, and the RAC repaired 65%. While Green Flag and Emergency Assist, which both use local contractors, also do well, LV= Britannia Rescue managed to repair only 30% of stricken vehicles, meaning longer delays and more disruption for those motorists.

Cost comparison of annual breakdown cover

  Cheapest local cover Cheapest national cover Cheapest with home start
AA £69 £129 £129*
Admiral £45 £90 £90
Auto National Rescue £36 £45 £52
Aviva £40 £55 £76
AXA £28 £41 £58
Breakdown Assist £28 £37 £53
Cover My Breakdown £25 £25 £28
Emergency Assist £37 £37 £37
GEM Assist** na £97 £97
Green Flag £24 £45 £49
LV= Britannia Rescue £30 £70 £63*
Qdos £34 £58 £48*
RAC £74 £165 £116*
Rescue My Car £28 £27 £42
Saga*** £40 £80 £80
Start Rescue £29 £38 £48

Prices are for a 2014 Mini Paceman unless otherwise stated. *Local recovery only. **Cover is for the person not the car. ***Over 50s only. 

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