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What is breakdown cover?
Breakdown cover is a type of insurance policy that provides you with roadside assistance if your vehicle breaks down. As a minimum, breakdown policies will normally cover the costs of sending a mechanic to your car and, if they can’t repair it, towing it to a garage.
More comprehensive breakdown policies will offer extra features and protection, such as recovery to any location, “at home” recovery, and the costs of alternative travel and/or accommodation.
Many drivers may find it useful to have some form of breakdown cover, but if you are unsure, you can read our guide to help you decide if you need breakdown cover.
How does breakdown cover work?
If you choose vehicle breakdown cover, the policy applies to the vehicle. This means that you can only claim on the policy if you break down in that particular vehicle.
If you choose personal breakdown cover, the policy applies to a named driver. This means you can claim on the policy if you break down in any vehicle, sometimes even if you are only a passenger. Personal cover is normally more expensive than vehicle cover.
To use your breakdown cover when you’ve broken down, you will just need to contact your provider on their emergency number. With some providers you can also request assistance via a mobile app.
» MORE: What you should do if you break down
What is the best breakdown cover for me?
The best breakdown cover policy for you will depend on how far you normally drive, how important your car is for your daily activities, and how much you are prepared to spend on cover.
There are several types of breakdown cover that offer different levels of protection. Bear in mind that policy details will vary between providers.
- Roadside Assistance: The most basic, and often the cheapest, breakdown cover. It simply covers the cost of an emergency call-out to your broken down vehicle and a tow to a nearby garage if it needs further repairs.
- National Recovery: The same as above, except you can choose where your car is towed to. This policy may be more suitable for people who travel longer distances, ensuring they can get home or to their chosen destination even if they break down.
- Onward Travel: The most comprehensive level of breakdown cover, and consequently one of the more expensive options. As well as an emergency call-out and a tow to a garage, this policy covers the cost of alternative transport and/or overnight accommodation if your car is out of action for an extended period. People who want the peace of mind that they can continue their journey, whatever happens to their car, may want this cover.
- Home Start: Most breakdown policies will only cover you if you break down more than ¼ of a mile from your home. However, adding Home Start to your policy will cover you if you break down at home or in the surrounding area. With many breakdowns happening on the driveway, this cover means you won’t need to pay expensive call-out fees if your car stops working close to home.
You can find out more about the different types of breakdown cover to help you decide which is right for you.
If you own two or more cars, you may want to consider taking out a multi-car breakdown policy.
How do I compare breakdown cover?
To compare breakdown cover, you should first think about your driving habits and what protection would be most useful to you. There’s no point paying extra for cover you won’t use, but equally it may be worth spending more on a comprehensive policy if you worry about breaking down, perhaps because you have an older vehicle, and getting stranded far from home.
Once you know the type of cover you need, you can then compare policies and their costs to find the one that is most suited to you. Make sure you check the details of each provider before buying any cover as policies will have different terms, such as the limit on the number of claims you can make.
Breakdown Cover FAQs
Breakdown cover is not a legal requirement. However, many drivers will choose to get it so they are not left stranded miles from home if their car stops working.
You should be able to get breakdown cover for most cars, although some providers will only cover cars up to a certain age. There may also be further restrictions if you use your car for business or racing, for example.
Yes, some car insurance policies allow you to add breakdown cover as an optional extra. This is a convenient way of buying breakdown cover, but it may not always be the cheapest option.
Some providers offer breakdown cover with excess. An excess is a one-off, fixed payment that you would make to the breakdown provider every time you need to call them out, to contribute to the cost of recovery. Breakdown cover with an excess fee will normally have a cheaper annual or monthly premium than cover where you don’t need to pay an excess fee to get assistance.
This depends. If you only own and drive one car, it may make more sense to buy vehicle-based cover. However, if you regularly drive or are a passenger in more than one car, then personal-based cover may be more suitable.
Standard UK breakdown cover won’t normally cover you if you drive abroad. However, you can get European breakdown cover if you are planning to drive in Europe.
Some providers will allow you to add extra cover to your breakdown policy, such as misfuel, key replacement, and parts and labour cover.
Providers will set their own terms, but most policies won’t cover repeat call-outs for the same fault, routine maintenance repairs, or the cost of parts, unless specified.
Drivers typically will make a one-off annual payment to get breakdown cover for a full year, but some providers may give the option of paying monthly. There are a handful of providers that offer “pay and claim” policies, which means you pay for the recovery costs upfront and then claim them back from your breakdown provider later.
Breakdown cover will usually start 24 hours after you purchase the policy, although this varies between providers. If you need to claim on your breakdown policy before it officially starts, some providers will offer a limited service or you may have to pay an extra fee to receive assistance.
If your car breaks down and you don’t have breakdown cover, you could pay an emergency call-out fee to a local garage for them to come and help you. Alternatively, you could contact a breakdown provider and get instant cover, although this will be more expensive than buying cover in advance.
Basic roadside assistance is the cheapest form of breakdown cover so, if you don’t need more protection, this could be the cheapest option for you. Getting a vehicle-based policy rather than a personal policy could also save you money.
Comparing breakdown policies and not automatically renewing at the end of your current policy can help you find cheaper breakdown cover, especially if providers are running special discounted deals.
Price is important when looking at policies, but you should only choose the cheapest breakdown cover if it meets all your needs. If you think you will want to use the services offered by a more comprehensive policy, then it may be more useful and cost-effective to spend more on this extra cover so you avoid paying additional costs later on.
As a minimum, breakdown providers should offer a 14-day “cooling off period” which allows you to cancel your policy for any reason. You won’t face any penalties and you will receive a full refund, as long as you haven’t claimed on your cover.
If you want to cancel after this period and/or after you’ve made a claim, you may not be able to get your money back or you may need to pay a fee to get a partial refund. Terms will vary between providers.
Personal breakdown cover applies to an individual, whatever car they use, while vehicle cover applies only to the specified car, or cars, on a policy. They each have their benefits and the best type of cover for you will depend on your driving habits.
When your car breaks down, you should pull over on the left of the road, switch on your hazard warning lights, and follow the rules to stay safe until help arrives. If you break down on a motorway there are extra rules you need to observe.
Business breakdown cover can provide specialist protection for company fleets, delivery drivers and the self-employed, although standard cover may be sufficient for some people’s needs. Find out what commercial breakdown cover includes and if you need it.
If you have an emergency breakdown and no cover, you can call a breakdown provider to get cover and immediate assistance, contact a nearby garage, or use an emergency phone if you’re on a major road. However, these can all be expensive options.
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