The 5 main types of breakdown cover explained

There are a number of different types of breakdown cover to choose from. You can find cover tailored to your needs, whether you just want basic assistance in case of emergency or comprehensive onward travel cover to help you continue your journey.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 02 September 2019. Last updated on 14 October 2021.
The 5 main types of breakdown cover explained

Breakdown cover can seem like a bit of a riddle at times, but it doesn’t have to be a mystery. By understanding the different types of breakdown cover and how they relate to your needs, you’ll be perfectly placed to select the most suitable policy. Better awareness of your options can help you to save money and enjoy the right level of protection at the same time.

>> MORE: What is breakdown cover?

There are five main types of breakdown cover, which we will explain in more detail below:

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

Roadside Assistance Breakdown Cover

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

As it sounds, Roadside Assistance cover will provide help to drivers by the side of the road should they break down. Assistance will typically come in the form of an engineer who will attempt to repair your car at the scene. If repairs aren’t possible, your car will be towed to a nearby garage chosen by your breakdown provider (within a certain radius of the incident), where you can arrange to collect it as soon as it’s fixed. The cost of any replacement parts the engineer may use, or any repairs that need to be made at the garage, will not usually be covered under this breakdown policy.

Furthermore, standard Roadside Assistance may not cover you if you break down at home or close to home (often within approximately ¼ of a mile). You may be able to request assistance but only for an additional fee.

Do I need Roadside Assistance?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Can be the cheapest policy on initial purchase
  • You’re covered for breakdowns beyond your home
  • If your car can be fixed at the scene you can then continue your journey
  • You don’t need to pay expensive call-out fees to get assistance
  • Your car can only be recovered to a garage in the area local to the breakdown
  • Home breakdowns aren’t usually 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. As with Roadside Assistance, if you breakdown anywhere in the UK, an engineer will come to your aid and attempt a roadside repair on your vehicle.

However, rather than being limited to being taken to a nearby garage if your car can’t be fixed by the road, National Recovery breakdown cover enables you and your car to be taken to any destination in the UK for repair.

This means you can get taken to a garage and location of your choice, whether it’s your home or any other destination, which could help to minimise the disruption to your travel plans.

Do I need National Recovery?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Covers long-distance journeys
  • Suitable if you regularly drive long distances
  • Helps reduce any unexpected costs to get your car to your final destination
  • May be of less use to people that only drive locally
  • Doesn’t provide cover for emergency accommodation or alternative transport while your car is being fixed
Cars parked on UK street in winter.

Home Start Breakdown Cover

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 as your car gets older and racks up more miles.

Home Start (also called at-home) cover means, should you break down at home, or within a specified distance 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 most basic policies, as many Roadside Assistance or National Recovery policies won’t cover breakdowns within a certain distance of your home as standard.

Do I need Home Start?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Avoids call-out fees if you break down at home
  • Gets you back on the road without lengthy delays
  • Covers the area at or near your home that many Roadside Assistance cover policies do not cater for
  • May be unnecessary for those who live close to a garage or who can tow their car to a garage
  • Could be less useful if your car is new and 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 on your journey. Each policy differs, but there are some key similarities between providers.

Typically, if your car needs repairing at a garage and you still need to complete your journey, an alternative means of travel or transportation will be made available, either through a hire car or by covering the costs of public transport. Some policies will also cover overnight accommodation costs, up to a certain amount.

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 incident
  • Less necessary for those who rarely travel long distances
  • It is a more expensive type of 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 you’re simply there on holiday, 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 en route to, your destination. Some breakdown providers can also help with any language barriers by giving you access to an English-speaking helpline and, if needed, may help you and your vehicle get back to the UK if you are experiencing problems.

>> MORE: Guide to European breakdown cover

Do I need European Recovery?

Potential advantages Potential disadvantages
  • Ideal whether you regularly drive in Europe or are there for a one-off trip
  • Can help you navigate the difficulties of breaking down abroad
  • Useful for saving money on call-outs
  • Unnecessary if you only drive in the UK
  • More expensive than UK-only cover

>> MORE: Do I need breakdown cover?

Cover for yourself or your vehicle?

In addition to the above levels of breakdown cover, you can also choose between personal and vehicle breakdown cover.

As the names suggest, personal breakdown cover will cover the individual, whatever car they are in, while vehicle breakdown cover will only cover one specific vehicle. Most providers will also allow you to get cover for multiple people or vehicles under one policy.

>> MORE: Guide to personal and vehicle breakdown cover

Breakdown cover optional extras

With most providers you will be able to supplement your breakdown cover with some additional policies. Each provider may call them by slightly different names, but some common optional extras include:

Key replacement

If your keys are stolen, damaged or simply lost, this cover can help you to replace them. Details will vary between providers, but some may offer you the use of a hire car while you wait for the issue to be fixed. Some car insurance policies also offer this cover as an optional extra.

Tyre replacement

Tyre damage may not always be covered under a standard breakdown cover policy, but this extra cover can help with the repair or replacement of a tyre should you get a puncture or a flat.

Misfuel cover

This will cover you if you mistakenly fill up your car with the wrong fuel. It can cover the costs of towing, draining the tank, and other work needed to get you back on the road. Some car insurance policies offer this as an optional add-on too.

Battery replacement

If your battery goes flat or has a fault, this policy covers the costs of fitting a new battery to your car. Terms and exclusions will vary between providers.

Parts and labour

This policy can help to cover the cost of replacement parts and any garage work that is not covered under most standard breakdown policies. However, there will usually be a cap on how much you can claim at one time.

What to remember when choosing a breakdown policy

To help you choose the best breakdown cover policy for you, check out our breakdown comparison table.

>> COMPARE: Breakdown cover

With such a range of breakdown policy bundles available, each containing a different combination of cover options, it’s important to work out which cover is necessary, and which cover you may not require. Evaluate your needs carefully, while also factoring in both the short term and long-term financial implications of each policy.

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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