Motoring’s great isn’t it? The open road, the freedom to go wherever you want, whenever you want, for business or pleasure, in all weather, day or night.
So far, so good. But what happens when you hear a tell-tale bang and everything grinds to a halt, leaving you stranded at the side of the road? Even though modern cars are generally very reliable, the sight of a stranded vehicle on the hard shoulder, or stuck in a country layby with the bonnet up, is still a daily occurrence.
You could hope a failure never happens to your car and, if it does, enlist the services of a local breakdown firm to take you the hundreds of miles home at great cost. Or you could consider signing up to some form of national breakdown cover, especially if you clock up a large number of miles each year.
Choosing breakdown cover used to be simple as there were only two basic options – the AA or the RAC. Both started as motoring organisations that you became a member of, paying an annual subscription for a number of benefits of which breakdown cover was just one.
The AA still runs in that way today, while the RAC has split its members’ club and breakdown service into separate organisations.
Most car manufacturers provide breakdown cover for a limited number of years, alongside their warranty and as part of their new car buying package. But after that runs out, what next?
Some car insurers offer roadside cover with their motoring policies, usually as an add-on cost. But accepting one of these might not be the best option for you when you can sign up for cover yourself, maybe at a lower cost and with a wider range of benefits.
Meanwhile, many more providers have joined the fray. One of the first was Green Flag, which began by working with a network of local garages instead of having its own fleet of mechanics’ vans, with the goal of providing a faster service to stranded motorists. Today, Green Flag is part of the Direct Line insurance group and works in a similar fashion to the AA and RAC, while other providers – such as Britannia Rescue and GEM – have waded into the fray.
What to look for in a breakdown policy
Most breakdown providers charge an annual subscription for cover and almost all offer a full range of options, from basic roadside repairs to rescue in Europe. Most include recovery of your vehicle to your home or designated garage, and there are home-start options if your car has issues before you even set off. In most cases each of these ‘extras’ adds a cost to the annual subscription, and it can soon mount up.
Before you buy any breakdown cover, check whether you already have assistance through your insurance policy and, if you have, what level of cover is provided. That way you should avoid buying the same thing twice, and you’ll only pay for additional cover you actually want.
You should also read the small print carefully. For example, does the cover apply for any vehicle driven by anyone in the household, or for just for one person or one vehicle?
Note, too, that most providers will come out to you in an emergency if you don’t have cover with them, but that will cost you: in some cases operators will want you to pay for a full year’s membership before they come out to help.
Providers make a big deal of their ‘unlimited call-outs’ offer and not penalising you for repeated requests for assistance, unless they are to the same fault. However, very few cars will have repeated failures over and over again. If yours does, maybe it’s not a recovery service you need – it’s a replacement vehicle.
They say: “As the UK’s largest breakdown company, we rescue someone every 11 seconds.”
It’s the breakdown organisation that almost everyone has heard of, with familiar yellow rescue vehicles that have been a sight on the UK’s roads for decades. The AA traces its roots back to 1905, and at one time motorists signed up as members had the use of roadside emergency telephone boxes and AA mechanics would salute passing motorists displaying its badge.
Today’s AA fleet of patrols is around 2,900 strong. That’s more than its big rival, the RAC, but down on the 3,500 believed to have been run by the association several years ago.
AA cover is not the cheapest available. Its claim of ‘cover for £6 a month’ is accurate of course, but that is for one vehicle breakdown cover away from your home. You can get a quote for one person in any vehicle, two people, or a family. And you can add in extras such as assistance at home, nationwide recovery and ‘onward travel’ help.
These all add up, plus that £6 is an introductory offer for one year only and will probably cost more on renewal. A popular choice is the vehicle cover with ‘at home’ and ‘national recovery’ for £15 a month, discounted to £10.
As the AA is a member’s organisation, you get a number of benefits with your cover. These include discounts on an MOT if you need it, airport parking and car hire.
Admiral Breakdown Cover
They say: “Three cover options to suit your needs”
You have to be an Admiral Insurance customer to buy this breakdown cover, so the website offers two options: ‘add breakdown cover’ or ‘get a car insurance quote’.
Because of this there are no published prices shown – it will depend on who you are, where you live and what car you’re driving. However, your policy will cover you for unlimited roadside recoveries.
There are three options to choose from: Roadside Assistance Cover which gives you rescue from a patrol at the side of the road and a tow if necessary of up to ten miles. There’s National Cover which includes recovery to any destination in the UK plus home breakdown call-outs.
The third option, European Cover, adds in unlimited continental roadside recoveries. In some countries, Admiral might not be able to help you immediately and you might have to first obtain help via the normal SOS phones.
The policies also allow for handy extras such as help with lost or broken keys, misfueling assistance, alternative transport and overnight accommodation.
They say: “Drive. With confidence.”
Europe’s largest insurance company, Allianz Assistance has been offering roadside recovery services for 35 years and aims to fix the car at the roadside rather than have to fall back on recovery. It says its patrols will undertake at least an hour’s work at the kerbside before ‘full vehicle recovery’.
Up to five call-outs a year are allowed and there are four different packages to choose from. Again, no prices are published for these and you have get a quote online or call Allianz’s help centre. Cover won’t start until 24 hours after you have purchased a policy and there are no monthly payment plans – you have to pay a year’s fee in one go.
The options are: Bronze Cover, which gives you 24-hour vehicle repair and recovery when you’re one mile away from home. Silver Cover adds in breakdown assistance at home, while Gold Cover includes all the features of Bronze and Silver plus alternative transport, a hire car or overnight accommodation if you need it. European Breakdown can be added to the Gold cover, for help on road trips and holidays across the continent.
They say: “Keeps you moving from £30 a year”
Britannia Rescue consistently outranks its better-known rivals in customer surveys, earning praise for its efficiency and the turnout of its rescue teams.
Owned by the insurance company LV, Britannia Rescue quotes an average response time of 54 minutes and its most recent figures show that 92% of customers it attended to, were able to complete their journey. Mechanics are trained for both fuel and electric vehicles.
Five levels of cover are on offer, starting from £30 a year for basic roadside assistance and local recovery up to ten miles from where you break down. Trade up to the £63 cost level and you’ll get assistance at home too.
For £70 a year, the recovery extends to anywhere in the UK. For £99, you also get car hire or overnight accommodation or alternative travel if they can’t fix your car on the same day. The top-level £142 option extends the cover to Europe, including bringing the car home.
On top of all of these levels you can add ‘personal cover’ which extends cover for you and a partner for any vehicle in the UK.
If you have car insurance through LV, you’ll receive a discount on your car breakdown fees. A notable free extra is the ability to recharge electric vehicles at the roadside. You can also sign up for short-term cover, for example if going on an important long journey, and there’s also a one-off recovery option.
GEM Motoring Assist
They say: “Our aim is to keep our members on the move”
Formed in 1932 as the Company of Veteran Motorists this was another club, which renamed itself the Guild of Experienced Motorists in 1983, which is where ‘GEM’ comes from. It started offering breakdown services from 1978. Today, while best known for breakdown cover, GEM also gets involved in wide-ranging road safety activities and driver training.
As a membership organisation, GEM’s cover is for the person rather than the vehicle – although you can add more than one person at an extra cost. There are just two options, both of which include home and roadside assistance, nationwide recovery and onward travel in the annual price.
Recovery Extra, at £96.66 for one person (£129.21 for two), offers all the features of rivals’ ‘full-house’ levels, including emergency accommodation help. More unusual is Recovery Reclaim, a cheaper option at £78.50 (£98.86) where you get the same breakdown cover but pay for any repair or recovery yourself, then reclaim ‘appropriate costs’ from GEM.
This could work well for those who favour a particular garage or mechanic, such as owners of classic or specialist cars. An organisation that used be called the ‘Company of Veteran Motorists’ is certainly happy to cover that.
GEM does not have its own fleet of rescue vehicles but works with independent suppliers across the UK, which it says makes for a more rapid response. Buying cover means you become a GEM member and so get a range of benefits including a quarterly magazine, road safety advice and various discounts on insurance.
They say: “Common sense to the rescue”
Launched in 1971 as National Breakdown Recovery Club, Green Flag sought to offer a cheaper breakdown cover option than the dominant AA and RAC. By working with a network of local garages, instead of having its own fleet of mechanics, it also hoped to reach stranded motorists more quickly.
Today part of Direct Line Insurance, Green Flag still primarily targets the AA and RAC and still uses independent garages to run its patrol vehicles. Buying online promises discounts of up to 40% compared to quotes by phone, but rather like an insurance company, you have to fill in an online form with your details, including age and address, before getting a personalised quote. There are no standard prices published for you to ponder.
The four main levels of cover mirror those of the AA. Rescue offers roadside assistance, Rescue Plus adds cover at home, Recovery, as the title suggests, will take the car and occupants to the destination of their choice, while Recovery Plus adds the onward travel options of hire car, hotel or transport. European and Business cover is also offered.
All Green Flag policies cover the vehicle no matter who is driving it, though for an extra cost you can add on a personal option allowing you to summon help to any vehicle you are travelling in no matter who owns it. There is a discount applied if you renew and haven’t needed to be rescued in the previous year, plus NHS and school staff reductions.
They say: “Breakdown Cover Made Easy”
Another provider offering cover at greatly reduced prices when compared with the big two recovery players, MotorEasy says that 80% of its breakdowns are repaired at the roadside, so ‘you’ll be back on the road in no time’.
The breakdown service is part of the MotorEasy car warranty group. Part of that division’s offering is ‘recovery costs’ so the roadside assistance branch is simply cutting out the middle man. Indeed, if you have a MotorEasy car warranty policy, they pay the bill for your recovery and organise everything for you.
There are four levels of cover on offer so you can tailor something to suit your budget and needs. Starting at £36.30 a year, choose from basic UK roadside assistance to full European recovery. You have to enter your details on the website to find the other costs though – there are no published prices.
All levels get as a minimum: roadside help, overnight accommodation, misfuel assist, key recovery, help if the driver falls ill, alternative transport and a message service. That’s for what MotorEasy calls ‘Local Recovery’, and your car must be stranded more than a mile from your home and can be recovered to an address up to 10 miles away.
Level 2 ‘Nationwide Recovery’ adds in transport to any chosen destination in the UK. Opt for level 3 and you also get ‘Home Assist’, while level 4 gives you all three levels’ cover plus recovery across Europe and a hire car if you break down seven days or less before a Continental trip.
They say: “A complete breakdown service as standard”
With around 2,000 patrols, more than 100 of which are ‘heavy duty’ 4×4 pickup-style vans, the RAC aims to get to more remote areas and recover larger vehicles such as 4x4s and SUVs.
It was once a members’ organisation like the AA and goes back to the turn of the century, but the RAC’s breakdown recovery services were sold off in April 1999. Today it is part of private equity and investment firm CVC Capital Partners.
The RAC claims to outdo its competitors with a complete service, not needing to add on extras. Its Standard level costs £9.50 a month for the vehicle, no matter who is driving, or £11.50 for personal cover as driver or passenger in any vehicle. It includes rescue anywhere in the country (three call-outs), a fault report if your car needs taking to a garage and, if this happens, a taxi ride of up to 20 miles.
There are higher levels; Advanced, at £15, adds a tow anywhere in the UK with two days of alternative transport provided, while Ultimate level costs £19.50 and allows you seven days alternative transport, unlimited call-outs and a dedicated rescue line.
The RAC claims that its patrols in their bright orange vans fix four out of five faults on the spot, on average in 30 minutes. There is also the useful option for having multiple vehicles or people on the same policy, with discounts – the basic price for two vehicles for example, is £13.50 a month.
They say: “Award winning breakdown cover”
Part of the Call Assist group, Start Rescue offers some of the cheapest breakdown policies on the market: certainly it boasts on its website ‘vehicle rescue cover for a year, from as little as £19.75’. They don’t have their own patrols, but use a network of independent garages to handle the call-outs via a 24-hour control centre.
There are five cover levels: One Star (from £19.75) provides car breakdown cover in the UK, if your vehicle breaks down more than a quarter of a mile from your home. The service provides roadside assistance and roadside recovery for you, your vehicle and your passengers up to 10 miles from the breakdown. And it also covers alternative travel and accommodation and a message service.
Two Star (from £25) adds in nationwide recovery, Three Star (from £30.80) additionally includes home assist, while Four Star (from £59.80) is similar to Two Star but includes Europe as well as the UK.
The top range Five Star (£72.80) is fully comprehensive breakdown cover and includes roadside assistance and nationwide recovery in the UK and Europe, with home assist, alternative travel, emergency accommodation, and even cover for illness, injury, vandalism or theft.
Do you actually need a recovery service at all?
If your annual mileage is modest, or you hardly ever leave your local town or city, then maybe you can risk going without breakdown cover. But, for most people, it’s well worth considering signing up with a provider.
Like any insurance, you might go a whole year without ever having to call on it (and actually, that’s a good thing). But, if and when the time comes that find yourself stranded by the roadside on a rainy Sunday night, you’ll be pleased you made the investment. The cost of paying a one-off fee to an independent recovery agent to get you and your family home could well outweigh several years of premiums.
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