Understanding the 5 main types of breakdown cover

We’re here to help you untangle the various types of breakdown cover available to motorists and guide you towards choosing the cover which suits your wallet and lifestyle.

Jim Kersey 11 November 2020

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Breakdown cover can seem like a bit of a riddle at times, but it doesn’t have to be a mystery. By understanding each level of cover and how it applies to your needs, you’ll put the power back in your hands. An awareness of your options can help you to save money and enjoy the right level of protection at the same time.

When you’re ready to compare options, check out our breakdown cover comparison table, which is always updated with the latest deals from leading providers in the UK breakdown cover market.

Main types of Breakdown Cover:

  • Roadside Assistance Breakdown Cover
  • National Recovery Breakdown Cover
  • Home Start Breakdown Cover
  • Onward travel Breakdown Cover
  • European Breakdown Cover

Roadside Assistance Breakdown Cover

Car breakdown can happen at any time of year to any car no matter its age or mileage. Roadside Assistance ensures you’re supported and back on the road asap.

This is the most basic form of breakdown cover; indeed, providers often refer to it as a basic policy.

Roadside Assistance, as it sounds, offers assistance to drivers by the side of the road, should they breakdown. In addition to recovery on A roads and B roads, with this policy motorway recovery is often automatically provided on some level.

Roadside Assistance will typically come in the form of an engineer who will attempt to repair your car through your insurer’s repair network. If repairs aren’t possible, your car will be towed to a local garage, where you can arrange to collect it as soon as it’s fixed.

Policy variations

  • Vehicle make and model
  • Distance restrictions
  • Engineer lead time
  • Number of callouts

Do I need Roadside Assistance?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Can be the cheapest policy on initial purchase
  • You’re covered for breakdowns outside of your home
  • Engineers can often fix your car on the spot
  • Your car is only recovered to a garage in the area local to your accident
  • Home breakdowns aren’t covered
  • Doesn’t provide cover for alternative transport or emergency accommodation

National Recovery Breakdown Cover

For drivers who regularly traverse the highways and byways of the United Kingdom, National Recovery is a useful breakdown service. Wherever you break down an engineer will come to your aid and attempt a roadside repair on your vehicle.

As a step up from Roadside Assistance, National Recovery will also transport you and your car to any destination in the UK for repair. It costs British drivers without insurance an estimated £104 million a year to pay for roadside assistance, as reported by the AA. So, it could pay to take out a policy with National Recovery insurance. This cover option is sometimes offered as an add-on to Roadside Assistance policies.

Policy variations

  • Number of passengers on the policy
  • The time taken by the engineer to reach you
  • How long the mechanic will attempt to fix your car roadside

Do I need National Recovery?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Covers long-distance journeys
  • Suitable for UK holidaymakers
  • Helps reduce any unexpected costs to get your car to your final destination
  • May be unnecessary for people who only drive locally
  • Doesn’t provide cover to get drivers/passengers to their final destination
  • Doesn’t provide cover for emergency accommodation
Cars parked on UK street in winter.

Home Start Breakdown Cover

Sometimes, policies excluding Home Start will not provide Roadside Assistance to drivers when they break down close to their homes. This makes Home Start a highly attractive option for drivers.

If your car doesn’t start at home, you’ll be relieved that you had the foresight to select a Home Start policy, also known as Home Assistance.

Home Start cover means, should you break down at home, or within a mile of your home (distance cap varies by policy), your provider will send an engineer to attempt to kick start your vehicle. If it is not possible to restart your car, most Home Start policies will include a tow service to a garage local to your address.

You can choose to add Home Start as an optional extra to basic policies, as most insurers will be happy to allow motorists to add Home Start to their existing policy.

Your car is as likely to fail to start at home as it is to breakdown on the road, especially on cold, wet and icy winter mornings. This is because the likelihood of experiencing car battery problems or other difficulties increases when it has been sitting in the driveway all night. This problem only gets worse if your car has accumulated a high mileage.

So, if your car is old, or has completed significant mileage, it would be wise to add Home Start protection to your breakdown cover policy.

Policy variations

  • Distance restrictions
  • When the engineer will come to your aid
  • Whether parts and labour are included

Do I need Home Start?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Avoid call-out fees if you break down at home
  • Get back on the road without lengthy delays
  • Covers the distance from your home that many Roadside Assistance cover policies do not cater for
  • Unnecessary for those with mechanical skills
  • Unnecessary for those who live close to a garage or have neighbours that can provide a tow
  • Your car is in good condition and unlikely to break down at home

Onward Travel Breakdown Cover

If you’re stranded with a broken-down car far from your destination, Onward Travel cover will help you to continue your journey. Each policy differs, but there are some key similarities between providers.

Typically, if your car needs repairing in a garage, and you still need to complete your journey, an alternative means of travel or transportation will be made available. Some policies will also include paying for a hotel stay and most providers include a hire care option so you can travel under your own steam.

Alternatively, the costs of coach, plane or train tickets may also be reimbursed by your provider, depending on your insurance policy details.

Policy variations

  • The make and model of hire car
  • The number of passengers covered
  • The maximum cost of accommodation covered

Do I need Onward Travel?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • You can continue your journey if you break down
  • A hotel stay is reimbursed while your car is being fixed
  • You can still get to important work meetings or appointments after an accident
  • Unsuitable for drivers who wish to ‘pay and claim’
  • Unnecessary for those who rarely travel long distances
  • Additional cost to your breakdown cover

European Breakdown Cover

This is the only form of breakdown cover tailored to European travel. Whether you travel to the continent regularly for business or holidays, you’ll need breakdown cover to get you back up and running in case of a breakdown or emergency.

European Cover is flexible, and you can typically tweak it to match your circumstances. If you travel infrequently, say once or twice a year, a single trip policy may be suitable. If, however, you regularly go to Europe, you might consider taking out an annual policy.

European policies will often include hotel accommodation or a hire car provision, which is crucial when breakdowns occur away from, or on-route to, your destination.

Policy variations

  • The number of passengers covered
  • Acceptable hotel costs
  • Number of days covered for driving in Europe

Do I need European Recovery?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Ideal when driving outside the UK and an accident occurs that could derail your plans
  • Useful for saving money on callouts
  • Unnecessary if you only drive in the UK
  • An extra cost on your policy

What to remember when choosing a breakdown policy

It’s key to choose the best policy for you, you can determine this with the help of our breakdown comparison table.

With such a range of policy bundles available each containing a different combination of cover options, it’s important to work out which cover is indispensable, and which cover you might not require. Evaluate your needs carefully, whilst also taking note to factor in both the short term and long-term financial implications each policy will have for you.

About the author:

Jim brings together unique data insights, contextual knowledge and thought provoking themes, to shed new light on important issues affecting both UK businesses and individuals. Read more

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