Which is the best breakdown service in 2024

No one wants to face the cost and inconvenience of their car breaking down. But if it does happen, which recovery services will minimise the pain? We reveal the best...

Breakdown survey 2019

If you've ever experienced that sinking feeling in your stomach as your car grinds to a halt at the roadside, you'll know all too well how much disruption a breakdown can cause, and the importance of minimising the strain it can put on your schedule and wallet.

That’s why drivers take out breakdown cover. If the worst does happen, this cover should provide a technician who will – hopefully – arrive promptly and fix your car so you can carry on with your journey. Even if it can’t be fixed, the cover should get you and your car to a garage that can sort the problem out. However, with at least 13 different providers to choose from (as well as cover that’s provided as part of a bank account or insurance deal) and prices that range from £21 to £182 for a year’s cover, it’s difficult to know which is the best to sign up for.

To take the guesswork out of choosing the best breakdown service, we’ve done the legwork for you. We asked 21,732 drivers about their experience of car breakdown assistance providers over the past two years. The research was carried out as part of the annual What Car? Reliability Survey, conducted in association with MotorEasy. We gained enough data to analyse the responses for 10 different options. Of these, eight are consumer breakdown services that motorists can subscribe to, such as the AA and the RAC, and one – Allianz – is the allocated new car breakdown provider for a number of brands, including BMW, Mazda and Volvo.

Breakdown survey 2019

The 10th – independents – is made up of other forms of breakdown service provider that motorists have used. These include nationwide chains such as National Breakdown, as well as local garages and workshops. Common to all of these is that you pay when you need to use them, rather than paying an annual subscription. Many have callout services that aim to help stranded motorists in 1-1.5 hours, and offer similar solutions (such as effecting a roadside repair or taking the car to a location of your choice) to the subscription services.

Where car owners told us their breakdown cover was supplied free with their new car, but they didn’t specify the provider, we allotted their responses to the relevant company. For example, all cover for brands within the Volkswagen Group is provided by the AA, Mercedes owners are served by the RAC, and several others have Allianz cover.

How we rated breakdown cover providers

Whichever form of breakdown assistance you choose, there are two significant aspects of a breakdown that determine the quality of the service: how long it takes for assistance to arrive and how well the issue is resolved. We asked users to rate the level of service they have experienced in these areas, awarding the highest marks to the companies whose technicians arrived in less than 30 minutes, and the lowest scores to those who took more than two hours to reach stranded motorists.

The way the issue is dealt with is even more important than speed of service. That’s because it determines whether you are able to carry on with your journey, or if a day (or longer) of your time will need to be written off. The best outcome here is for the fault to be permanently fixed at the roadside, so providers gain top marks when this is achieved. The worst outcome – the car being neither fixed nor towed for repair – received the lowest ratings.

Breakdown survey 2019

The scores for each of these areas were turned into a percentage, enabling us to see who provided the best – and worst – level of cover for each aspect of the recovery process. They were then averaged out to create an overall score so we could rank the 10 providers featured (including independents).

The good news is that most drivers don’t experience breakdowns at all; in our survey, only 15% of respondents needed assistance. However, when they did, the level of service they received varied enormously.

Read on to find out the companies that provide a first-rate level of service and those that let a minor breakdown turn into a nightmare.

Which is the fastest breakdown service?

The best company at reaching stranded customers promptly is LV Britannia. It scored 75% – the highest of all the providers in our survey. LV Britannia was also best at getting to motorists in less than 30 minutes, reaching 26% of breakdowns within this time.

Although Start Rescue reached only 14% of stranded vehicles in half an hour or less, 84% of breakdowns were attended in less than an hour, boosting the provider’s overall score to 73% and putting it in second place.

The next best performers here were the independent providers. On average, they reached 21% of motorists within 30 minutes, with 53% reached in between 30 minutes and an hour, giving them a score of 71%.

Breakdown survey 2019

The RAC finished last for speed of service, with a score of 58%. Its patrols reached only 15% of motorists within 30 minutes and 50% within an hour. However, the overriding factor that drags its overall score down is the fact that 31% of its customers had to wait more than two hours for help. In contrast, only 4% of LV Britannia customers had to wait this long.

Which breakdown service is best at fixing cars?

The independent services scored the highest for permanently fixing cars at the roadside; on average, they enabled 53% of drivers to get on their way without the need for further repairs.

However, when permanent and temporary ‘get you home’ repairs are counted together, the major providers are more likely to enable you to continue your journey without resorting to a tow truck. In this regard, the AA performed best, sending 64% of its members on their way, whereas AutoAid trailed the pack, with all but 39% of its members requiring a tow truck.

The worst outcome for motorists is for their car to be neither fixed nor towed, and it’s here that the independent services fared the worst. On average, they failed to fix or tow cars in 16% of callouts, whereas no one who called LV Britannia for help was left marooned.

When promptness of response and quality of service are added up for an overall satisfaction score, LV Britannia comes out on top. Its operatives reached 78% of stranded motorists in less than an hour, and they either permanently or temporarily fixed 49% of vehicles, towing the remaining 51% and leaving no one without some form of assistance.

How they compare for time taken to reach broken-down cars

Provider Up to 30 min 30 min - 1 hour 1-2 hours more than 2hrs Time score
LV Britannia 26% 52% 18% 4% 75%
Independent 21% 53% 16% 11% 71%
AA 19% 45% 23% 13% 68%
GEM Motoring Assist 10% 48% 29% 14% 63%
Start Rescue 14% 70% 11% 5% 73%
Emergency Assist 15% 46% 27% 12% 66%
Green Flag 16% 45% 28% 12% 66%
AutoAid 13% 57% 22% 9% 69%
RAC 15% 35% 20% 31% 58%
Allianz 12% 42% 30% 16% 63%


How they compare for fixing broken-down cars and overall

Provider Perm fix Temp fix Towed Not towed Quality score

Overall score

LV Britannia 33% 16% 51% 0% 71% 72.8%
Independent 53% 5% 26% 16% 74% 72.4%
AA 36% 28% 28% 8% 73% 70.3%
GEM Motoring Assist 48% 14% 33% 5% 76% 69.6%
Start Rescue 27% 22% 41% 11% 66% 69.6%
Emergency Assist 39% 15% 42% 4% 72% 69.2%
Green Flag 34% 20% 34% 7% 70% 68.2%
AutoAid 24% 15% 57% 4% 65% 66.6%
RAC 36% 24% 30% 11% 71% 64.9%
Allianz 18% 31% 43% 8% 65% 63.5%

Which is the best value breakdown cover?

With everyone feeling the pinch due to the cost of living crisis, getting the best value cover is more important than ever. There are two main levels of cover: local and national, with or without home start. It’s worth researching to determine which level is the one that’s most appropriate for you.

The cheapest option is local cover, which will provide assistance if your car breaks down within a set distance from your home. This is usually 10 miles, but some policies offer a 25-mile radius. If you rarely travel more than a few miles from home, this could be the most cost-effective option.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that many breakdowns happen at home and all the policies we examined stipulate that the car must be at least a quarter of a mile from your address when it breaks down, in order to qualify for assistance. This is where home start comes in; adding it to your policy means you get help before you even begin your journey.

The next level of cover, national, means your car will be taken to a location of your choice within the UK if it can’t be fixed at the roadside. Policies are available with or without home start, and in many cases, national cover with home start costs little more than local cover with that facility. This being so, national cover is better value for many motorists, providing reassurance for those occasional longer trips.

Policies can be arranged to be specific to a car or an individual. For households with only one car, it’s cheaper to buy cover that relates to that car. However, if you’re a two or three-car household, it’s more economical to buy cover for the main driver, which will be valid in any car they travel in – even if they don’t own it.

We looked at breakdown cover prices for a 2014 Mini Paceman located in Kent. We opted for the cheapest local and national cover that each provider offered, as well as their most affordable policies that include home start.

Breakdown services

Cover my Breakdown and Emergency Assist offer the cheapest local cover, at £25 and £21 respectively, and our top-performing breakdown provider, LV Britannia, is also one of the cheapest options, with local cover for £33.

Rescuemycar’s national cover and home start cover were the cheapest; it’s worth noting, though, that a £40 excess is automatically applied to the premium, and you need to untick that on the online quote generator to opt out. We did so when obtaining our quotes. Although the prices then rise by a small percentage, it will still work out cheaper than paying the excess if you have a callout.

While the prices levied by the big names such as the AA and RAC are far higher than those of lesser-known companies, they do offer the peace of mind of in-house-trained patrols, who will attend breakdowns in liveried vehicles.

If you decide not to subscribe to a breakdown provider and instead seek out an alternative service only at the moment you need it, prices will vary significantly.

National Breakdown quoted a fee of £126 to attend our Mini at its home address. However, organisations such as local garages, among whom breakdown recovery usually isn’t a core service, might charge considerably more.

Cost of annual breakdown cover

Provider Cheapest local cover Cheapest national cover Cheapest cover with home start

National and home start

AA £85 £130 130* £180
AutoAid n/a £36 £52 £52
AXA £32 £42 £73 £73
Cover my breakdown £25 £25 £28 £28
Emergency Assist £21 £35 £35 £35
GEM Motoring Assist** n/a £97 £97 £97
Green Flag £39 £57 £53* £60
LV Britannia £33 £73 £66* £102
Motoring Assistance £46 £54 £51* £59
Qdos £40 £68 £56 £76
RAC £77 £127 £182 £182
Rescuemycar £28 £24 £42 £23
Start Rescue £35 £43 £53 £103

Cover is for a 2014 Mini Paceman unless otherwise stated; * local cover; ** Cover for an individual rather than a car

What to look out for

There are a lot of small differences between policies, and these are sometimes hidden in the small print, so rather than simply opting for the cheapest quote, it’s worth checking for exclusions before you buy.

Common limitations include restrictions on the number of callouts permitted in any 12-month period and on the maximum age of vehicles, with many providers not accepting vehicles more than 16 years old.

It’s also worth checking whether cover for loss of keys, and for misfuelling – putting petrol in the tank of a diesel car or vice versa – are included, because both of these are common reasons for needing to call out a breakdown provider.

Failure of the car’s 12-volt battery is the most common callout reason, so the RAC’s offer of a free replacement battery with its cover might appeal to anyone whose car battery hasn’t been replaced for many years.

The most common causes of breakdowns

Most car breakdowns are caused by minor issues, and in many instances you could prevent your car from letting you down by doing some regular checks and maintenance. Here, we look at the six most common culprits and how to prevent them.

1. Flat or faulty battery

Battery failure is the number one reason for recovery callouts. It’s more common in the winter, when low temperatures can affect the electrolyte liquid inside a battery, making it less able to hold a charge.

Breakdown survey 2019

The winter months also involve more driving in dark, cold conditions, and the lights – together with features such as heated seats and heated rear windscreens – putting more strain on the battery.

In addition, cars are often not used over the Christmas break or when it snows. Batteries are more likely to fail then, because they gradually lose charge when they’re not being used – particularly in cold weather.

If your car becomes tricky to start, have the battery checked at a service centre. If you’re not going to drive the car for a week or more, run the engine for 10 minutes at some point during that time to freshen the battery. A battery charger and a jump starter can be useful tools to keep in your boot.

2. Damaged or punctured tyres

Driving over a sharp object or hitting a kerb or pothole are the most common reasons for punctures, but worn tyres and faulty valves can cause problems too, so it’s important not to skimp on maintenance in a bid to save money.

Checking your car’s tyres regularly could help you spot a nail or gash early so you can have the tyre repaired, rather than risking a sudden failure when you’re driving. A tyre pressure gauge, and a tyre inflator are invaluable pieces of kit to keep you moving.

LT Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce - checking tyre pressures

3. Misfuelling

Putting diesel in a petrol car or vice versa is a common error made by around 150,000 people a year in the UK. Misfuelling can be expensive to sort out if the fuel gets into your car’s engine, but if you realise straight away and get the fuel removed from the tank before the car has been started, you’ll be faced with a much smaller bill. There are specialist services around the country who can help.

4. Low AdBlue level

Many newer diesel cars have a Selective Catalyst Reduction (SCR) system that uses a liquid called AdBlue to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from the exhaust. This fluid, also known as urea or diesel exhaust fluid, needs to be topped up occasionally. If it runs out, the car might refuse to start. The car will warn you when the level is running low, and this should be heeded promptly.

5. Lost keys

Many cars have a start button and keyless entry, and once started, some models can be driven without the key in them. That means there’s a chance you could begin driving, having left the key behind, leaving you stranded later when you turn the engine off and it won’t restart.

Key fobs are complex and often have a microchip inside to protect the car from being stolen, so you’ll need to visit an authorised dealer if you need a duplicate.

6. Other electrical issues

One tell-tale sign that the alternator is worn out is if the headlights are dimmer than usual when the engine isn’t being revved. If you notice this, asking a mechanic to check the car early could prevent a breakdown.

Rescuing cars that can't be towed

In the event of them not being able to be repaired at the roadside, many cars can be recovered without any difficulty. However, some cars with automatic gearboxes, many four-wheel-drive vehicles, and certain hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs), are unsuitable for being towed in the usual way, with two wheels lifted from the road. Attempting to do so could damage their gearboxes and other drive components.

If you should break down in such a car, it’s important to tell the breakdown company up front so they can send out a vehicle equipped to tow them correctly.

RAC roadside with Peugeot 308

Nine out of 10 RAC patrol vans are now equipped with an All-Wheels-Up flatbed-style trailer. That allows a wide variety of vehicles – including cars with automatic gearboxes, EVs and those with multiple punctures – to be safely recovered with all four wheels off the ground if they can’t be fixed at the roadside.

The compact, foldable trailers can be deployed quickly when needed and are useful in locations where traditional flatbed transporters are unable to gain access, such as on red routes in city centres, narrow country lanes and car parks.

The AA’s solution is the freewheeling hub. One of these can be attached to each of a stricken vehicle’s rear wheel hubs, enabling the fitting of a pair of universal spare wheels (in place of the original wheels). These are independent of the car’s mechanical components and cause no damage in use.

AA freewheeling hub

Electric car breakdown recovery

Another issue that’s becoming more common is EVs running out of charge. To address this, the RAC developed a lightweight EV charger for its patrol vans in 2019 to give stranded out-of-charge vehicles enough range to get to a nearby public charge point. The majority of them now carry 5kW chargers that can add around 10 miles of range in half an hour; a 7.5kW charger and other mobile charging solutions are in development.

LV Britannia has set up two partnerships to assist EV owners. The first, with vehicle assistance company AFF, provides its members with roadside charging in emergencies. AFF’s vans are equipped to provide a range boost of up to 15 miles in around 30 minutes, at a rate of 7.2kW. LV Britannia is also working with LAR Traffic Services to help EV owners in London, offering help from fully qualified technicians with the tools and diagnostic equipment necessary for repairing electric car breakdowns at the roadside. Fittingly, the patrols operated by the partnership use fully electric Renault Kangoo vans.

Meanwhile, AA research suggests that EV owners who run out of charge prefer their cars to be recovered to a charging point where they could fully replenish the battery, rather than getting a short boost from a patrol van. For this reason, AA technicians use the freewheeling hubs to tow cars to chargers. However, AA is also trialling 7kW vehicle-to-vehicle chargers.

What Car? says...

Breakdown cover may seem pricey, especially if you opt for nationwide coverage that includes home start, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a good recovery technician could repair your car for free if it breaks down, potentially saving you a hefty garage bill.

However, it’s important to choose cover that’s appropriate for your needs, and to read the small print carefully to ensure there are no clauses that could restrict or invalidate your policy.

Alternatively, you could hold on to your money and not buy cover, instead paying an independent provider for assistance or recovery if your car breaks down. However, you won’t necessarily receive as consistent a level of service as you would from one of the subscription-based providers, which have teams of trained technicians and patrol vehicles full of specialist equipment.

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