Do I Need Breakdown Cover?

Breakdown cover might sound like an unnecessary expense, especially if your car has historically been reliable. However, breakdown cover can not only give you peace of mind but also save you money in the long run if an unexpected problem arises.

John Ellmore Published on 09 April 2020. Last updated on 20 January 2021.

Breaking down is concerning no matter how experienced a driver you are. Not only is it massively inconvenient, it can place you in a dangerous situation, especially if you’re unaware of what steps to follow. It can also leave with you a hefty bill.

This is where breakdown cover comes into play. We review the reasons why you may need breakdown cover, what is covered and how to choose the right breakdown cover.

What is breakdown cover?

Some cars come with complimentary breakdown assistance when you buy them, so be sure you don’t already have a policy in place that you don’t know about. After all, you can claim off only one policy at a time, so taking out cover when you already have a policy will be needlessly costly.

What is and isn’t covered by your breakdown cover depends on which type of breakdown cover you've opted for, so it may be wise to compare breakdown cover.

Basic cover may be suitable if your car is new, and can start at as little as £30 a year. It allows for your car to be either towed to a garage or fixed by the side of the road (roadside assistance).

However, you probably won’t be covered if you break down either close to or at your home address. The next level of cover is often referred to as home start and does include breakdown at or near home.

Premium breakdown cover may include onward travel to help you reach your destination (or return home) by other means. It might also include accommodation should your breakdown occur in the evening or at night.

A premium package can cover breakdowns elsewhere in Europe for a certain number of days per year. This could be worth considering if you frequently travel abroad.

You can also purchase short-term European breakdown cover if you’re driving on the continent on a one-off holiday.

Premium cover will generally start at around £200 a year, and may include all of the above benefits plus the option for your car to be transported home in order for repairs to be carried out. It’s best to check the complete policy deadlines before signing up.

What is not covered by breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover does not generally account for the cost of repairs or parts; rather, it may get you the services of a mechanic for a certain amount of time. If your car is towed to a garage then you will likely be liable for their services, including labour and parts.

It’s worth knowing that some breakdown policies place a limit on how many callouts they will accept within a year. Your provider will also make a number of judgement calls about the condition and roadworthiness of your car when you take out cover. Most providers cover cars up to 15 years old, but you may struggle to find a package if your car is older. Policy cover varies between providers so always check what is and is not included before you proceed.

Do I need breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is not mandatory; you are not legally obligated to take it out. However, it offers peace of mind and acts as a form of insurance.

What if I break down but don’t have breakdown cover?

You have two options available to you if you break down but don’t have a breakdown policy in place.

1) Contact a garage

As long as you know where you are, you can contact a local garage. On top of the costs of any services they provide, they will probably charge a callout fee, usually around £40–£50, as well as a surcharge based on how many miles you’re towed.

2) Get breakdown cover on the spot

Some drivers are unaware that they can take out a breakdown policy with immediate effect. You may incur an additional fee for doing so, but this might be a small price to pay in the long run. As soon as you finalise the cover, you will be entitled to the same services as any other customer: that is, either being towed to a garage or attended to at the roadside.

What if I break down on the motorway but don’t have breakdown cover?

If you break down on the motorway, you have a third option available to you on top of the two mentioned previously (contacting a local garage or acquiring breakdown cover on the spot). You can call the Highways Agency through the National Vehicle Recovery Service, who will charge a flat fee of £150.

To contact the Highways Agency for emergency breakdown assistance, the Highway Code advises that, rather than using your mobile phone, you instead use one of the emergency telephones that can be found at one-mile intervals along the hard shoulder of the UK’s motorways.

This is because your exact location will be automatically conveyed to whoever takes your call.

The emergency telephones provide a direct line to the Highways Agency or police. If you use one, explain your situation and help will be dispatched as soon as possible.

Remember to stand facing traffic whilst using an emergency telephone. Once you have finished, return to your car and position yourself safely on the verge alongside it.

Find the breakdown cover that’s right for you

A lot of drivers think about breakdown cover only after they have actually broken down. Breakdown cover won’t stop your car from going bang unexpectedly, but it might just prove a godsend if the worst happens.

Comparison resources can help you find the national recovery service that will provide the best breakdown cover for you and your car.

About the author:

John Ellmore is a director of NerdWallet UK and is a company spokesperson for consumer finance issues. John is committed to providing clear, accurate and transparent financial information. Read more

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