When it comes to breakdown cover, don’t pay over the odds and don’t put up with hefty renewals. Most importantly, don’t get stranded for hours on end.
You hear a bang, see a trail of smoke, then feel your car lose power and thump into limp mode. You’ve suffered a breakdown and you need help – what now?
Well, if you’ve signed up to a brilliant breakdown company, soon after making the call you’ll be met by a knowledgeable mechanic. The speediest average response time of a breakdown service is just 31 minutes to all call-outs – that’s incredibly quick.
There’s also a pretty good chance you’ll be driving away again after your car has been seen to.
But if your breakdown service is more lacklustre, it’s a different story. The slowest company, on average, took over an hour to get to the scene of breakdowns.
Another breakdown provider could fix only 37% of the cars it came across. The best repaired 86%.
So which would you rather be met by? This year we rated 28 services and found the six best breakdown companies for 2018.
How to save money on breakdown cover
There are lots of ways to save money when buying breakdown cover.
Get the right level of cover Basic breakdown policies, often called roadside assistance or similar, won’t cover you if your car breaks down within a quarter of a mile of where you live.
But according to our research, more people break down at home than any other single destination. If it happens to you, and your policy doesn’t include home cover, expect to pay a hefty premium before your breakdown service comes out to look at your car.
Don’t pay monthly At the time of writing, the RAC would charge you £121 as a one-off payment for comprehensive cover, while the AA charges £119.
But both companies’ websites offer monthly payments of £12.50 a month for the same cover, totalling £150 for the year.
All you need to do is opt for an annual payment over monthly, and you’ll save £29-£31.
Look at our results You can get comprehensive cover (which includes roadside assistance, home cover and national recovery) from our top-scoring provider for less than £80 per year.
Get more money-saving tips with our guide on how to buy the best breakdown cover.
Loyalty does not always pay
Don’t get complacent. Of the 7,230 people we surveyed this year, 43% simply renewed their breakdown company without shopping around or haggling. But if your premium has just shot up, you’ll need to haggle or switch – and long-term loyalty is no guarantee of low prices.
Take, for example, Which? member David Bardwell. David has been a member of the RAC for 36 years and he shares a personal joint breakdown policy with his wife.
He has a comprehensive level of breakdown cover, including home start and national recovery. You might think that such unerring loyalty would be rewarded, but when the last renewal notice came through, it was a bit of a shock.
‘Our last renewal quote from the RAC came in at a whopping £294.99.
‘We’ve been with the RAC continuously since 1982, but the price made it clear that we should stop auto-renewing.
‘Following the advice from your last article (Which?, Jun 2017, p35), we did a price comparison, found a better quote and called the RAC back to challenge it on the price it offered.
‘The result was a new cost of £159.99, saving me £135 – the equivalent of two tanks of petrol.’
An RAC spokesperson said: ‘The premium reflected the fact that we provided service to them twice since their last renewal. However, in recognition of the couple’s long tenure, we gave a discretionary discount.
Renewal costs should now be obvious
In April last year, following a Which? campaign calling on insurers to give clearer information to their customers at renewal, the Financial Conduct Authority brought in rules compelling insurers to be more transparent.
In a further development, the industry bodies for insurers and brokers announced new Guiding Principles for members to use as a framework for pricing policies.
The new framework encourages firms to stop excessive price differences between new customer premiums and subsequent renewal premiums. The guidelines came into effect on the 8 May.
Head of Which? Money Online, Gareth Shaw, said: ‘A review of the unfair practice that sees existing customers charged excessively steeper premiums than new customers is long overdue.
‘We regularly hear from consumers who are paying hundreds of pounds more a year than new customers because they’ve automatically renewed their cover.
‘Insurers must now act with urgency and implement much-needed changes to ensure their customers aren’t excessively penalised simply for their loyalty.’
Got a similar story? Tell us
If you’ve been affected by rising prices, we want to hear about it. Tell us about your experience – including what your policy price went from and to, if you were able to haggle it down and how long you have/had been with your breakdown company. Email your experience to email@example.com.