What is Breakdown Cover and What Does it Include?

Breakdown cover can act as a safety net in case your car breaks down, whether you’re several hours into a long journey or you’re commuting to work. In this guide we discuss the protection that breakdown cover offers and what exclusions may apply.

Rhiannon Philps Published on 11 October 2018. Last updated on 29 January 2021.
What is Breakdown Cover and What Does it Include?

Most drivers are likely to break down at some point, and having breakdown cover can make this situation less stressful. Your breakdown provider can send someone to help fix your car or tow it for repairs, so you won’t be left stranded by the roadside should your car stop working.

Drivers aren’t legally required to have breakdown cover, but it can be useful to have just in case something happens. So what exactly is breakdown cover and what cover can a policy give you?

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is a form of insurance that can help you out if your vehicle breaks down at home or on the road. Having breakdown cover means that, if your car stops working and needs repairs, you can call your breakdown provider to help fix the problem.

Although breakdown cover is not legally required, having this protection can reassure drivers, especially before a long journey. They can drive safe in the knowledge that, should their car break down, they won’t be stranded and they won’t need to pay over the odds for an emergency call-out from a local garage.

The assistance you can actually get from breakdown cover will depend on your provider and the level of cover you select.

How does breakdown cover work?

You can either purchase breakdown cover as a separate policy, or purchase it combined with another service such as your car insurance or even your bank account. In most cases, you will pay for your breakdown cover annually or monthly, although there are some “pay and claim” policies where you pay for the costs of recovery upfront and then reclaim them later.

If you have cover and you breakdown, once you have stopped in a safe place you can call your breakdown provider for assistance. They will send out an engineer who will try to repair your car or if they can’t repair it at the scene, they will tow you to a nearby garage at the minimum. What happens next will depend on what is wrong with your car and the breakdown cover that you have.

With most breakdown policies, you won’t need to pay an excess when you receive assistance.

» MORE: Do I need breakdown cover?

What are the different types of breakdown cover?

There are a range of different breakdown cover packages available depending on your driving habits and the level of protection you want.

Firstly, you can choose between a single breakdown policy for yourself/your car, or a policy for multiple vehicles or people.

There are two main types of breakdown cover:

You can read more about the differences between personal and vehicle breakdown cover and their respective benefits.

Whatever breakdown membership you choose, you will get the option of different levels of cover, ranging from basic roadside assistance to comprehensive, onward travel cover.

Roadside Assistance Breakdown Cover

This is the most typical and basic breakdown membership cover plan that is available. It guarantees that your provider will come to your broken down car and either fix it there and then, or arrange for it to be towed to the nearest garage, for a complex repair if needed.

National Recovery Breakdown Cover

In most cases, providers include recovery for you, as well as up to seven passengers travelling with you, to be towed anywhere across the country, either to your chosen destination or a garage near your destination.

Home Start Breakdown Cover

Home Start breakdown cover will not only include the basic roadside assistance, but should your car break down at your home or within a quarter of a mile from it, then you will be covered by your breakdown membership plan.

Onward Travel Breakdown Cover

With Onward Travel breakdown cover, your provider will supply you with a rental car or pay for other transport costs, and/or cover the costs of any overnight accommodation, so that you can continue driving while your own car is getting repaired.

» MORE: Types of breakdown cover

In addition to this, many breakdown providers offer some optional add-ons to their cover such as:

  • Key replacement.
  • Misfuel cover.
  • Tyre replacement.
  • Battery replacement.
  • Parts and labour.

Does car insurance cover breakdown repairs?

No, your car insurance will not provide breakdown cover as standard, even if you have a comprehensive policy. However, many car insurers work with breakdown providers to give drivers the option of buying breakdown cover at the same time as purchasing their car insurance policy.

Car insurance can help cover costs in the event of an accident, but not when your car breaks down.

Any claims you make on your breakdown cover won’t count as a claim on your car insurance or affect your no claims bonus as they are two completely separate policies, even if you buy them together.

What does breakdown cover include?

Although details will differ between providers and the levels of cover, as a rule, breakdown cover will provide you with 24/7 roadside assistance across the UK (and Europe, if you have European cover).

Breakdown cover will typically cover the costs of a mechanic coming to assist you at the roadside so you can continue your journey or, if necessary, by towing you to a garage for further repairs.

Breakdown cover can help out with many different faults, such as punctures, flat batteries, and any other mechanical issues that prevent you from driving.

Your breakdown cover may also include cover for any trailers or caravans towed by your car, although it’s worth checking the terms of your policy to see exactly what cover applies.

Does breakdown cover include parts and repairs?

The cost of any parts, such as a new tyre, or the cost of fixing your car at a garage, will not usually be covered by breakdown cover unless you have taken out a specific policy to include these elements.

In most cases, it will only cover any repairs made by the breakdown mechanic at the scene.

If you do add extra cover to include the cost of parts and garage repairs, there will usually be a maximum amount that the breakdown provider will permit so you would have to pay for anything over this limit.

What does breakdown cover exclude?

The exact exclusions will vary between breakdown providers and policies, but your breakdown cover may not be able to help if you:

  • Request breakdown support within 24 hours of taking out cover.
  • Request multiple repeat call-outs for the same problem.
  • Reach the maximum number of call-outs allowed by your provider.
  • Break down at home or close to home (unless you have Home Start cover). Or if you break down on private land rather than a public road.
  • Are involved in a road accident.
  • Call for help with routine maintenance or non-emergency repairs. For example, breakdown cover won’t usually cover windscreen repairs.
  • Have not looked after your car properly. For example, this might include filling up with the wrong fuel, not topping up your engine oil, or continuing to drive with a problem that then caused a breakdown.
  • Have pets or animals with you when you break down. Having a pet in the car may not necessarily be an issue, but it is something to look out for in your policy terms.
  • Use the car for racing or any other excluded activity.

Who provides breakdown cover?

There are several providers of breakdown membership to choose from: traditional, pay-and-claim or direct from your car manufacturer when you purchase a new car.

Most car manufacturers will provide free breakdown cover as part of their car warranty when you purchase a new car. Depending on the manufacturer, the level of cover and the length of the breakdown cover membership plan will vary, but the average length is up to three years, especially if you get your car serviced at the main dealership.

How much is breakdown cover?

The most basic breakdown cover could cost between £30 and £60 a year, while the more comprehensive breakdown cover policies can be over £100. However, many breakdown providers periodically run special offers which would allow you to buy cover at a cheaper price. The actual cost of your breakdown cover would also depend on:

  • Whether you choose personal or vehicle cover.
  • The number of people/vehicles on the policy.
  • The level of protection you select.
  • If you include any add-on policies with your cover.
  • The type of vehicle you are purchasing cover for (cars, motorcycles, vans, classic cars, horseboxes, caravans).

Unlike car insurance, the age and condition of the car and your age and driving record should not affect the cost of your breakdown cover premiums.

» COMPARE: Breakdown cover

How soon can you use breakdown cover?

Typically, your full breakdown cover will begin 24 hours after purchase or on your chosen start date. Some providers may offer a limited recovery service in the meantime, but this may come with some conditions.

If you have already broken down but don’t currently have any cover, you can still request assistance from a breakdown provider.

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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