Wondering what it will cost to get covered by a breakdown firm? We crunch some numbers
Breakdown cover is essentially a type of insurance: each month or year you pay a set fee, with the breakdown firm committing to come to your rescue if you experience car trouble.
And while it’s possible to buy cover at the side of the road if and when you break down, waiting until then will not only increase the amount of time you’re stuck waiting for a recovery truck, but could also see you pay more than if you had purchased cover before your car failed to proceed.
But with numerous firms out there vying for your business, how much is breakdown cover, and what’s the difference between different policies?
What are the different types of breakdown cover?
As with many services related to cars, breakdown cover is offered in different guises, each doing (or not doing) something different. Different firms often have their own names for their levels of cover, and not all firms offer all types of cover. Some breakdown companies let you ‘build’ your policy, allowing you to choose which elements you want, and which you don’t. This is an increasingly popular approach and has, in many instances, replaced the straightforward ‘levels’ of cover.
This is basic breakdown cover, and will see a recovery technician attend to your car if you break down when out and about. The technician will try to fix your car at the roadside and, if they can’t, will transport it to a nearby garage; this will not typically be a garage of your choice – the contract will often stipulate a specific radius that they will transport your car for repairs. The breakdown company won’t come to your home if your car fails to start there – you need to be a specific distance (typically half a mile or so away) before they will come out.
This will do everything that roadside assistance does, but will take you and your passengers anywhere in the country if your car breaks down.
This is an add-on to the above two levels of cover, and will see the breakdown firm come to help you if you break down at your home address (or within a quarter mile of it to accommodate people who park on the street).
Personal cover or car cover
Breakdown firms often ask if you want your car to be covered, or you as an individual. Choose the former and, if you are driving another car that breaks down, the firm will not come out to you; choose the latter and it will.
This option will see a rental car provided to you if your car can’t be easily repaired, or will fund your public transport to allow you to get to your destination. Overnight hotel accommodation may also be provided, but there are usually price caps for this. You may also need to have broken down a certain distance from home in order for onward travel to be put into action.
Electric vehicle breakdown cover
Electric and some hybrid cars can behave differently from petrol and diesel ones when they break down, potentially locking their wheels, which prevents them from being towed. This can require them to be lifted onto the back of a lorry, while some breakdown firms offer special towing bogies that sit underneath each wheel, allowing the car to be towed by a standard recovery van.
It is likely that the breakdown company will know if your car is electric when you take out a policy, as they will be able to work out what type of vehicle it is from the registration plate you provide.
Some more basic levels of breakdown cover limit you to (typically) five call-outs a year; if you break down more than this you will need to pay, or take out a new policy.
A common cause of breakdown is a flat battery, and some firms sell an add-on that will see your battery replaced with no charge to you if it goes flat.
This works on the same principle as battery replace, and sees a set number (EG four) tyres fitted to your car, at no cost to you, if you pay for this add-on.
Unlimited call-outs obviously do away with this limit, though some breakdown firms stipulate that if it is the same problem causing your car to malfunction, you will not be covered.
As you might expect, this will see you provided with a new key for your car (complete with any necessary programming) should you lose yours.
This will cover you if you are driving in Europe and your car breaks down. Add-ons as detailed above can also be offered with European cover.
How much does breakdown cover cost?
Basic breakdown cover can cost as little as £5 or £6 a month, or around £60 a year, while more comprehensive policies can be as much as £20 a month, or £200 or so a year. The more add-ons and the higher the level of cover, the more you pay. Key replace might be an extra £3 a month, while tyre replace might be an additional £6.
Breakdown firms may also offer discounted rates if you pay annually rather than on a monthly basis, while some have sales from time to time, and offer discounted rates.
Are cheaper breakdown services as good as the more expensive ones?
No – the more you pay for, the more you get. The question, though, is what level of cover you actually need. Clearly if you have no plans to drive to Europe, there is no point in taking out European cover. Have a think about what you need, and consider some add ons
In terms of smaller, cheaper recovery firms, be sure to check they offer everything you need (EG electric car recovery) before taking out cover.
Also be aware that even some breakdown firms rely on third-party independent contractors to recover broken-down motorists, and this can lead to inconsistent service.
Should I pay for breakdown cover monthly or annually?
Annually, if you can, as this often brings with it a discounted rate.
Also be aware that you may not need to pay for breakdown cover at all: some bank accounts and insurance policies provide it for free, as do some clubs and organisations.
Also be aware that some franchised car dealers may offer free breakdown recovery if you get your car serviced with them, while some car manufacturers include it if you buy a new vehicle. In short, be sure you don’t already have free cover before taking out a policy.
Are there any additional costs to be aware of?
Yes: one not hugely welcome thing some breakdown firms do to existing customers if offer a renewal price that is significantly higher than the price you paid for the previous year, which can catch you off guard if you agreed to have automatic renewal set up when you took out the policy initially.
Companies will often bring the price down if you question it though, as with car insurance, you may get a better price from another breakdown provider, or you may just be so irked at the increase that you want to take your business elsewhere on principle.
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