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How to buy breakdown cover

How to buy the best breakdown cover

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How to buy the best breakdown cover

Is it really worth buying breakdown cover? Do you need anything above basic assistance? We compare breakdown cover policies to find out.

One in six people we spoke to last year called out a breakdown service – but what if you’re one of the five that didn’t? Are you bitter about spending money on a service you’re not using?

Of course, you could go for the most basic cheapest option – or you could even go without cover at all. But what happens if you break down and you're not covered?  Find out below.

Shopping for breakdown cover? Here are the best car breakdown providers we recommend, plus those we think you should avoid.

£100Car won’t shift off the driveway? If you’ve broken down within a quarter mile from home and don’t have home start cover, you could be looking at over £100 in call-out and upgrade fees.

Breakdown costs compared

The image below compares three breakdown scenarios for three people with different levels of cover (including one without cover at all). But first here is a quick explanation of the main different levels of cover, please note that different companies may call these by slightly different names:

Roadside assistance: The most basic cover. A breakdown van will come out to you, and will either fix your car on the spot or tow to you to the closest garage. Note that if you’re within a quarter mile of your home, roadside assistance won’t cover you.

Home start: If breaking down on your driveway or close to home is a risk, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got home start in addition to roadside assistance. Now, regardless of how close to home you are, you can get someone out to look at your car and tow you to a local garage if need be.

National recovery: With roadside assistance, you get a tow to a local garage. With national recovery, you and your passengers (usually up to seven, but check with the provider) will get a tow to your destination, or the closest garage to your destination.

Scenario 1 - broken down at home:

Gail: Gail is covered. A breakdown van will come to her house, and the car will be fixed if possible. If not, it will be towed to a garage.

Jack: Basic cover only applies when you’re at least a quarter of a mile from home. Upgrade and call-out costs vary. The AA charges £107, Green Flag £108. RAC call-out costs £25, plus up to £62 to upgrade, depending on how much of his annual membership is left.

Dave: Dave would have to sign up on the spot for both roadside assistance and home start. The AA would charge £232 in this scenario, the RAC £184 and Green Flag £108.

Scenario 2 - broken down half a mile from home

Gail: Gail is covered. As before, a breakdown van will assist her and tow the car to a garage if needed.

Jack: As he’s more than a quarter of a mile away from home, Jack will be covered and his car would be towed to a garage if it can’t be fixed there and then.

Dave: Dave needs only roadside assistance – usually costing just £31 – but the same cover will now set him back £108 with Green Flag, £129 with the RAC or £164 with The AA.

Scenario 3 - broken down 100 miles into a 200 mile journey

Gail: Gail is covered again. If her car can’t be fixed at the roadside, her national recovery cover means she (and up to seven people) can be taken to any destination in the UK.

Jack: If Jack’s car can’t be fixed, he will be towed to a garage. If it’s more than 10 miles away, he may have to pay extra. If Jack insisted on being towed to a garage near his final destination, The AA would charge £248 in total, RAC £265, and Green Flag £306.

Dave: He’ll initially be charged the same as last time (£108-£164). But to be towed to his final destination, The AA would charge £338 to £363, the RAC £314, and Green Flag £414.**

(All scenario research carried out in June 2015, prices are subject to change.)

*Based on an average of the prices from all breakdown companies assessed by Which? in 2015.

**Green Flag charges per mile outside of the 10-mile recovery zone. Local contractors set the price per mile, but a typical cost is £3.60 per mile.

Buying the best breakdown: money-saving tips

Shop around

Now you know the basic levels of cover, consider your needs and choose an appropriate level of service. Then visit our best breakdown cover providers page to find out which companies we rate as the best.

Once you have a shortlist, compare prices online or give the companies a call. If you’ve found a cheaper quote elsewhere, speak to your favoured provider and challenge it to meet it or beat it.

A frequent complaint we hear about is breakdown companies jacking up the prices from one year to the next – so you need to be vigilant if you sign up to an auto-renewing process.

Keep an eye out for your annual renewal letter/email. If the price has increased, shop around. Find competing quotes and challenge your current provider to meet them. You may find it offers to match the price but, if it won’t, don’t accept the rise. Instead, cancel and go to another well-rated provider.

Go beyond the big three

Breakdown cover does not stop with the AA, RAC and Green Flag. Our research proves there are lesser-known companies that provide an equivalent or superior service. Check out our best breakdown providers to see which four third-party companies we recommend.

Use other cover

New car? If you’ve been offered carmaker cover but you currently have existing breakdown cover, call the third party and defer your existing cover until your own-brand cover runs out.

Changed bank accounts?

Some packaged bank accounts either include breakdown cover or offer it as a low-cost option. 12% of respondents in the 2015 Which? Car Survey got their breakdown cover this way.

Bought a new car?

Manufacturers tend to provide breakdown cover free to new car owners. If you already have breakdown cover, call your current provider and put your regular cover on hold until your free period runs out.

Don’t be stung twice - take pictures

We’ve had complaints of cars being damaged when they were towed, and breakdown companies then denying responsibility. As long as it’s safe to do so, take photos of your car at the scene as you would do if you’d had an accident. Then, if further damage occurs during the tow, take photos of that as well.

Find your perfect new car with our expert impartial car reviews.