Broken Down with No Cover? What to Do Next

If you have an emergency breakdown and no cover, you can call a breakdown provider to get cover and immediate assistance, contact a nearby garage, or use an emergency phone if you’re on a major road. However, these can all be expensive options.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 11 February 2021. Last updated on 08 March 2021.
Broken Down with No Cover? What to Do Next

If your car breaks down and you don’t have breakdown cover, you might regret not taking out a policy.

While you can’t go back in time and change the past, you’ll be relieved to hear that you will still be able to get help even without breakdown cover. However, getting emergency assistance is likely to be more costly for you than for someone who took out cover in advance.

>> MORE: What is breakdown cover?

Sometimes you may be able to repair your car and continue your journey. But bear in mind you should never try repairs if you’re on a motorway and, in many cases, you may not be able to fix the problem. If you’re in this situation, you’ll need to call for help.

So, if you don’t have breakdown cover and you can’t repair the car yourself, what can you do?

Local garage recovery

If you break down without cover then you could try to find a nearby garage. They may be able to send someone to try and fix your car or use a tow truck to bring it back to the garage for further repairs.

However, garages are likely to charge high call-out fees for emergency breakdowns, before you even include the cost of any parts or repairs. On top of this, you would need to arrange transport for yourself, or, if your car needs considerable repairs, you may need to pay for overnight accommodation if you break down far from home. The cost of all this can soon add up!

You also need to bear in mind that most garages aren’t open 24/7, so if you break down at night or outside normal working hours you might struggle to get help. Similarly, if you break down in a remote area, it may be difficult to find a nearby garage that can get to you quickly.

Emergency motorway recovery

When you break down on a motorway or a major A road, you can use one of the emergency telephones along the side of the road to call for help. If necessary, you can then get emergency recovery to a suitable safe place, which is usually the site of the recovery operator; you can’t choose where your vehicle is taken.

This is an expensive recovery option. Highways England could charge at least £150 to recover a car, but it is likely to be more for larger vehicles or those with extensive damage. Also, although this recovery option will take your car off the motorway or A road, you will still need to pay to get your car to a garage or your home, and to pay for any repairs.

Ultimately, the clue is in the name. This option is designed for emergency recoveries when a broken down car is in a potentially dangerous situation, so you should only use it as a last resort if you can’t get help elsewhere.

>> MORE: What to do if you’ve broken down

Can you buy breakdown cover after breaking down?

You can’t buy breakdown cover online if you’ve already broken down. However, you can phone a breakdown provider and get immediate emergency cover after breaking down. They will then send someone to repair or tow your car, but this will come at an extra cost.

Getting cover after breaking down will be more expensive than buying breakdown cover in advance. You will have to pay an emergency call-out fee which could be up to £100 or more, plus the cost of a policy (if applicable) and any parts and repairs.

Individual breakdown providers offer different options if you call for help after you’ve broken down, including:

  • Only offering assistance for that specific call-out (unless you choose to buy a policy).
  • Providing limited cover (such as cover for one more call-out in the next year).
  • Requiring you to buy a full breakdown policy as well as paying the emergency call-out fee before they can send help to you.

Can I buy breakdown cover and use it straightaway?

Yes, there are some instant breakdown policies that you can buy online and start using immediately. However, these online policies are not suitable if you’ve already broken down.

If you buy a standard breakdown policy your cover won’t normally start for at least 24 hours, whereas instant breakdown cover will start straightaway. Some providers may offer you limited cover immediately after your purchase until the full cover kicks in 24 hours or so later.

Make sure you check the terms of the breakdown policy to know when your cover starts.

>> COMPARE: Instant breakdown cover

Broken down in Europe without cover

Before driving in Europe, it is a good idea to take out breakdown cover so you have peace of mind that you can get help while you are outside the UK. But, if you do break down in a foreign country and you don’t have cover, you may still be able to get one-off emergency breakdown cover from some providers over the phone.

However, only a small number of providers offer this and it is likely to be a costly option. The alternative to buying breakdown cover is to find help in the country that you are in, but, especially if you don’t speak the language, this could be difficult and expensive to arrange.

>> COMPARE: European breakdown cover

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Although you won’t be left completely stranded if you break down without cover, it is far from an ideal situation. It can be stressful working out your options and deciding who to call for help, and the costs of emergency recovery and repairs can quickly add up.

Even if you keep your car in good condition, breakdowns can still happen so it is worth being prepared.

>> MORE: Do I need breakdown cover?

Because of the added cost of an emergency call out, it would be cheaper to buy breakdown cover in advance and not wait until you’ve broken down.

If you already have breakdown cover, you will simply need to call your breakdown provider to arrange for repairs and/or recovery and you won’t need to pay a high call-out fee to get help at the scene.

The cost of a breakdown policy will nearly always be cheaper than recovery via the alternatives above and, if you have a National Recovery or Onward Travel policy, you won’t have to worry about how you will get home or to your preferred destination.

>> COMPARE: Breakdown cover

Image Source: Getty Images

About the author:

Rhiannon is a financial writer for NerdWallet, with a particular interest in personal finance and insurance guides for consumers. Read more

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