European Breakdown Cover: What You Need to Know

European breakdown cover ensures you have protection if you break down while abroad. You can choose from single-trip or annual policies, depending on how often you drive on the continent.

Caroline Ramsey, Rhiannon Philps Published on 10 October 2018. Last updated on 20 April 2021.
European Breakdown Cover: What You Need to Know

Driving abroad can be a fun and exciting experience, but what happens when something goes wrong with your car and you don’t speak the local language? Having a European breakdown cover plan in place will help to save you time and stress if your car breaks down during a business trip or holiday abroad.

What is European breakdown cover?

European breakdown cover is similar to UK breakdown cover, except that your car will be covered should it break down whilst driving in a European country.

» MORE: What is breakdown cover?

There are two main types of European breakdown policies: single-trip and annual cover.

Single-trip cover provides one-off cover when you travel to Europe. It will be valid for a single trip, up to a maximum number of days (which will be set by the provider).

Annual cover can be a more useful and cheaper option than single-trip cover if you make two or more trips to Europe in a year. An annual multi-trip policy can cover you for multiple trips throughout a year, although providers may set restrictions on how many days a single trip can be, as well as a maximum total length of all trips made in one year.

With both types of cover, you will be able to get roadside assistance if your car breaks down in Europe. Policies should normally cover the costs of emergency repairs and towing to a nearby garage, if necessary. If the problem is more serious, they may also cover the costs of alternative transport, accommodation, and/or bringing you and your vehicle back to the UK, although details will differ between providers.

As part of your cover, you should have access to an English-speaking helpline that can help you to overcome any language barriers.

You can buy European breakdown cover for a range of vehicles, including cars, motorbikes, and motorhomes. Vehicles will have to meet age, size and weight restrictions set by providers to be eligible for cover, but you may still find specialist policies for those that don’t meet the standard requirements.

There are also specific breakdown policies for vehicles that are towing a caravan, with details varying between providers.

How does European breakdown cover work?

Once you’ve bought your European breakdown cover, you use it as you would in the UK. If you break down, you call your provider and they should send someone to repair your car, tow you to a garage, or get you back to the UK.

Policies will often cover the costs of roadside repairs, towing and any onward travel or accommodation, up to a certain amount. There will be a limit on the costs you can claim for different services, and these will depend on the provider and the level of cover you have chosen.

You would need to pay for anything that goes over these limits, as well as the cost of any parts or repairs that your policy may not cover.

Both single-trip and annual policies may set a limit for the number of days that an individual trip can be, and may limit how many days they will cover in total.

There will also often be a maximum number of claims you can make under one policy.

Where can I use European breakdown cover?

Most breakdown providers will divide European countries into “zones”. When you buy a European breakdown policy, you will need to select the zone(s) you will be driving in and the cover will only be valid for the countries in that particular zone.

Zone 1 will usually cover nearby countries such as Ireland, France and Belgium, with the next zones covering countries further away from the UK. Because of the added distance, cover for more distant countries will usually be more expensive.

Some providers may not be able to provide cover in every European country, so double-check that your destination is included.

European breakdown cover also includes Ireland, as this country is not normally included under UK policies. However, if you live in Northern Ireland, some providers may extend their UK breakdown cover so you are covered in Ireland without needing to take out a European policy.

Many European breakdown policies offer “pre-departure cover”, which will cover you in the UK for a limited period before you leave for Europe. The details will differ between policies, but this cover may include a hire car to use for your trip if your own car is out of action.

Extra rules for certain roads

Be aware that if you break down on some roads in Europe, such as motorways in France, you will need to use an emergency phone instead of calling your breakdown provider.

The emergency operator will send someone to help you and tow you to a safe place if necessary, but this comes at a cost. For example, getting emergency breakdown assistance on a French motorway could cost over €126 (about £109) in fees that you will have to pay, whether you have breakdown cover or not.

Once the emergency breakdown services have taken you to a safe place, you can then phone your breakdown provider as normal if you need further assistance.

Make sure you keep the receipts of any breakdown-related charges such as the emergency motorway call-out, as you may be able to claim these back from your breakdown provider, depending on the terms of your cover.

Is European breakdown cover worth it?

European breakdown cover may seem like an unnecessary extra expense, but it can save you money and make things less stressful if your car breaks down abroad.

If you break down without cover, you would need to find and call a mechanic to come out to try to fix your car, and then make any further arrangements for garage repairs if necessary.

This can be stressful enough in the UK, let alone in an unfamiliar place where you may not speak the language or know where the nearest garage is. Breakdown cover solves most of these problems, as you can contact their English-speaking helpline and the breakdown provider will arrange everything for you, from sending a mechanic to the scene to organising alternative transport.

Without cover, you would also have to pay for everything yourself. Especially for more serious problems, you could end up paying hundreds or even thousands of pounds to get your car fixed and to pay for related expenses like replacement travel, so you are likely to end up paying more than you would have done for a European breakdown policy.

Breakdown policies cover the costs of roadside repairs, towing and more, depending on their individual terms. So, in many cases, it will be cheaper to pay for cover in advance of your trip than paying for emergency assistance at the scene.

Whether you are trying to relax on holiday or travelling for business, a break down can disrupt your plans and add more stress and expense to your trip. Because of this, although breakdown cover is not legally required, it may be worth taking out a policy so you don’t need to worry about what you will do should the worst happen.

How much does European breakdown cover cost?

The cost of European breakdown cover varies from provider to provider, with prices starting at under £10 for a single trip policy and going above £100 for the more comprehensive annual multi-trip policies.

Factors that could influence the cost of a European breakdown policy include:

  • Whether you buy single-trip or annual cover.
  • The level of cover and if you choose any optional add-ons.
  • What country, or countries, you will drive in.
  • The length of time you need your cover for.
  • The type of vehicle, such as a car, motorbike or motorhome.
  • If you will be towing anything, such as a caravan.
  • The age and condition of a vehicle.

Will leaving the EU affect European breakdown cover?

European breakdown policies should be unaffected by Brexit. You will still be able to call your provider for help if you break down, as before.

However, leaving the EU has affected other aspects of travelling to Europe, including passports, car insurance and health cards.

You can find out more about what has changed in our guide to Travelling to Europe after Brexit.

Or, for more specific information on how Brexit has affected car travel, you can read our guide to Driving in Europe after Brexit.

Where can you buy European breakdown cover?

If you already have a UK breakdown policy, you may be able to contact your provider to extend your cover to Europe. However, this option may only offer basic levels of cover for a limited period, so check whether it meets your requirements or if you need more comprehensive protection.

You can search and compare European breakdown cover online to find a policy which offers the cover you need.

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Breakdown cover isn’t the only thing you need to think about before your trip to Europe. Use our checklist to make sure you have everything you need to drive in Europe, including essential documents like your log book and compulsory equipment like a reflective jacket and a warning triangle.

About the authors:

Caroline Ramsey is a content creator who specialises in personal finance. More than a decade of working in editorial teams, she offers highly tailored content covering a number of topics. Read more

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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