Breakdown cover FAQ

If you're looking for breakdown cover - for driving in the UK or abroad - and need more information on choosing and purchasing a policy, our guide answers all of your frequently asked questions.

Jason Tassie Last updated on 16 July 2019.

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is a type of insurance policy that provides you with roadside assistance if your vehicle isn't working properly. Some - though not all - breakdown cover policies will also provide you with assistance at home.

What constitutes a 'standard breakdown cover policy'?

There is no such thing as a 'standard breakdown cover policy'. Every breakdown cover policy offers different features, different levels of service, different cost structures and different exclusions. You must carefully examine all aspects of the product to ensure it adequately meets your needs.

What product features can breakdown cover packages include?

Breakdown cover policies carry varying levels of cover and wide range of benefits. As well as standard roadside assistance and home assistance for mechanical or electrical faults, this can include glass repair or replacement, lost keys, towing, onward travel and accommodation, where required.

Other motoring-related benefits that breakdown cover policies often offer include discounts at popular motoring repair and service outlets, free car care equipment and advice, and special offers on motoring merchandise and shows.

What happens if I breakdown?

If you break down and need to use your policy, a mobile mechanic will be dispatched to your location and will attempt to return your vehicle to a functioning condition that allows you to reach your destination.

What if my vehicle can't be fixed by the roadside?

If the mobile mechanic dispatched to assist you cannot fix your car by the roadside the mechanic will tow your vehicle to a designated repair centre, your home, or another agreed destination, depending on the conditions set out in your policy agreement.

Will I be covered if I break down abroad?

Most breakdown cover policies don't cover you outside of the UK as standard. Specialist European Breakdown Cover policies can be taken out to cover you while you're on the continent.

What if I break down a long way from home?

Most breakdown cover policies will cover you nationwide in the UK. European breakdown cover policies offer varying levels of cover across the continent.

If you are stranded your policy may cover the cost of hotels and/or the cost of alternative travel home. Some cover policies will also pay for or contribute towards returning your vehicle to your home if it cannot be fixed in a local garage.

There may be additional costs to pay towards these services, and maximum pay-out levels will be stipulated by the terms and conditions of your policy.

How much does breakdown cover cost?

Breakdown cover starts at just a few pounds per month, or from around thirty pounds annually for the most basic packages. Prices rise based on the level of service and product features required, as well as sometimes by the type of vehicle being covered.

Do I have to pay for callouts?

There will not usually be a fee for utilising a callout under your breakdown cover policy. However, some packages may stipulate a fee, either as standard or if you are outside of the normal terms of service stated by your policy. This could be due to your location or the purpose of your journey - commercial use, for example.

You may have to pay additional fees for some services or parts that the mobile mechanic provides when tending to your vehicle.

Will all repairs and parts be covered?

The level of service provided with breakdown cover varies by the product and provider. The mobile mechanics often carry spare parts such as batteries and spark plugs. Some of the policies at the higher end of the market will cover you for these parts at no additional cost, as well as repairs. The more basic policies may not cover the costs of the parts. If you are unable to purchase these parts your vehicle will be towed to a destination as stipulated by your policy instead.

Does a breakdown policy provide cover for the person or the vehicle?

Breakdown policies can be taken out to cover a vehicle, a person, or only a specific person driving a specific vehicle. If a person is covered, they are usually covered even if they are only a passenger in a vehicle as opposed to driving it, although this isn't universally applied. If you are covered as a person, you do not usually need to notify the breakdown cover policy provider of which vehicle you are travelling in. However, exclusions over which types of vehicles you are covered for may apply.

Can I get breakdown cover for any car?

Some breakdown cover providers may not provide policies for cars that are over a certain age or have exceeded a specified mileage.

A specialist policy may be required for uncommon or luxury cars. Premium policies for elite cars are usually available from the well-known market players as well as through niche competitors.

Is breakdown cover available for vans or motorcycles?

Breakdown cover policies are usually specific to one type of vehicle. Although breakdown cover policies for cars make up the largest part of the market, cover for other types of vehicles such as motorbikes and vans are also widely available, from both the larger and more specialists providers.

Does European breakdown insurance cover the whole continent?

Some European breakdown cover policies cover a broad range of countries, some cover a more limited number. However, even policies with wording such as 'whole of continent', 'European-wide' or similar, rarely offer fully ubiquitous cover. Certain countries or regions may be excluded owing to remoteness or because of political issues such as trade laws or war.

With some policies you are able to select the specific countries you wish to be covered in.

How long does breakdown cover last for?

Most regular breakdown cover policies either run for a year or continuously on a month by month basis. You can usually pay annually as a lump sum or monthly by direct debit. Different companies may offer discounts and rewards for a particular payment model, such as receiving a number of months free within a yearly policy term.

Some specialist policies can be taken out for set lengths of time of less than a year if cover is required only on a temporary basis.

European breakdown cover can be taken out as an annual policy, for a set length of time, or for a single trip.

How long will I be covered for with a single trip European Breakdown Cover policy?

The length of time that you will be covered for with a standard, 'off the shelf' single trip European breakdown cover policy differs from provider to provider. Terms of '90 days' or 'three months' are common, but longer and shorter cover lengths are widely available.

With more bespoke packages, you can determine the length of time you will be covered for a single trip.

Will I be covered for my business vehicle?

Commercial or business vehicles usually require specialist breakdown cover. Domestic vehicles that are insured with a regular breakdown policy may not be covered while being used for commercial purposes.

Do I have to tell the breakdown cover provider where in Europe I'll be travelling?

As long as your European breakdown policy covers you for the country and region you intend to travel to, you don't normally need to inform the provider where and when you are travelling. However, single or multi-trip policies may require you to state which countries you'll visit as part of the application process.

If I don't have a breakdown cover policy, can I still get assistance?

Most breakdown cover policies are active from 24 or 48 hours after you take the policy out. This means you will not be able to buy a cover package and benefit from the service immediately if you have broken down without a policy in place. However, some breakdown policy companies will still provide you with assistance, albeit for a premium fee.

What exclusions to my cover should I be aware of?

Exclusions to cover may be stipulated within the terms and conditions of your breakdown cover policy, meaning you won't be able to access services in certain circumstances. One of the most common exclusions is for home assistance with the more basic packages.

The exclusions can include the type of vehicle you are travelling in if your policy covers you as a person rather than a specific vehicle. It can also include the region you are travelling in, especially with European Breakdown cover.

You may be required to pay extra for certain parts or repairs, and you may not automatically be covered for the cost of onward travel or accommodation if your vehicle can't be fixed.

Always study the policy documents containing the terms and condition of the breakdown cover you are looking to buy to make sure the cover adequately meets your needs.

Does my car insurance cover me for breakdowns?

Car insurance policies do not normally cover you for breakdowns as standard. However, breakdown cover is sometimes included as an added benefit within car insurance policies, either being administered by the same company or as a separate policy from a specialist breakdown cover provider. Some companies traditionally associated with the breakdown cover market also now provide car insurance. These companies most commonly package the two policies together.

How can I buy breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is available to buy online or over the telephone from the providers directly. You can also often find breakdown cover companies with pop-up or long term outlets in shopping centres and supermarkets.

You can sometimes buy breakdown cover policies indirectly through banks and building societies.

About the author:

Director at NerdWallet UK. Jason is a spokesperson for consumer finance and has a deep understanding of consumer behaviour in the finance market. Read more

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