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27 Jun 2020

Is cheap car breakdown cover any good?

Use our expert tips and the results of our 2020 car breakdown survey to cut the cost of breakdown cover without sacrificing quality - we've assessed car breakdown cover from the AA, RAC, Green Flag and more

The AA and RAC are the best-known car breakdown providers, but their cover doesn't come cheap. You can save a lot of money by opting for basic cover, or even choosing a smaller provider, but is the trade-off worth it?

Breakdown cover is a service you hope you'll never need to use, but - if you do - it's invaluable. Nobody wants to be left lingering at the side of the road if their car conks out mid-way from Birmingham to Brighton.

Our exclusive survey of breakdown customers reveals that great breakdown cover doesn't always come with a high price tag, so it's well worth shopping around. There are plenty of smaller providers that offer cover starting at less than half the price of the market leaders.

There's definitely is a right and a wrong way to save on car breakdown cover, though. Choosing to remain uninsured or sticking with basic cover might mean you need to pay hundreds of pounds in an emergency.

For the results of our exclusive car breakdown survey, plus advice on how to get the best breakdown cover, check out our guide to the best breakdown providers.

Basic vs comprehensive breakdown cover

Most car breakdown providers offer three different levels of cover:

  • Basic cover - You are covered for roadside repairs and removal to a nearby garage, but call outs within a u00bc of a mile of your home are excluded.
  • Home cover - You receive all the benefits of basic cover and you'll also be covered if you break down at or close to home.
  • National recovery - You will have all the benefits of basic and home cover, and you will be covered for long-distance towing (to your home, ultimate destination, or a garage further away).

It can be tempting to opt for basic cover to save money, as it's often much cheaper than more comprehensive cover. But bear in mind that, according to our survey, 37% of call outs were by people who had broken down at home - more than any other type of location - so we'd suggest opting for home cover as a minimum.

Chart: where do cars break down?

If you only have basic cover and break down at home, it could cost you up to £165 to upgrade your cover on the spot with the leading providers. Buying home cover, rather than basic cover, at the outset would set you back a maximum of £60 extra with those same leading providers - and even less if you choose a smaller provider, as our table (below) shows.

With breakdown cover, it is better to be safe than sorry. The good news is that you can get the cover you need for less if you know where to look.

Your chances of breaking down in the first place are much lower if you have a fault-resistant car. Discover the models you can - and can't - depend on in our guide to the most reliable cars.

The cheapest and most expensive cover

The AA and RAC are the most expensive providers we've looked at; both charge around £140 for comprehensive cover.

You might be less familiar with other breakdown companies, or not have heard of them at all, but venturing away from the market leaders means you can get equivalent cover for much less. The table below shows how the cost of AA and RAC cover compares against two of the cheapest we've looked at: Green Flag and Start Rescue.

Prices are correct as of May 2020. Start Rescue doesn't offer 'Basic and home' cover.

ProviderBasic coverBasic and home coverBasic, home and national cover
Green Flag£28£42.56£51.42
Start Rescue£27.22n/a£38.77

Green Flag, the biggest challenger to the two industry leaders, offers its services at a more competitive price. It and Start Rescue offer comprehensive cover for less than even basic cover from the AA or RAC, which will set you back around £60.

Start Rescue has the cheapest comprehensive cover on the market, charging just £39.

Which breakdown providers offer great customer service?

It's not all about price though; cover that's as cheap as chips will be of little value if you're stuck in the middle of nowhere, after dark, and your knight in a shining recovery van hasn't turned up after hours of waiting.

Great customer service matters, which is why our survey tells you about more than just price.We analyse our survey results to reveal key insights such as how long breakdown companies typically take to arrive, how knowledgeable their mechanics are, and their ability to fix the car on the spot.

Knowing that you're with a provider who will communicate with you effectively, arrive on time, and know their stuff can be invaluable in a stressful situation, when all you want is to get back on the road.

To find out this year's Which? Recommended Providers for car breakdown cover, as well as those that might let you down when you need them most, head over to our guide on the best and worst car breakdown providers.

How are breakdown providers keeping customers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic?

When driving, it is best to be prepared for the possibility of breaking down, and during a pandemic this means carrying available PPE and cleaning products. Breakdown providers recommend bringing with you disposable gloves, anti-bacterial wipes, hand sanitiser and a plastic bag to dispose of used gloves and wipes.

They also advise people to maintain social distancing when interacting with mechanics. Many will provide you with instructions over the phone or through an app, so (if you were in any doubt to start with) you should know what to do by the time the recovery vehicle arrives.

Most breakdown providers will no longer allow customers to ride in the recovery vehicle for their own safety, as well as that of the mechanic, so you may be expected to sit in your own car if it has to be towed.

Where necessary, breakdown providers are willing to be flexible with the limits of their policies, taking customers to garages further away than their cover allows. However, this has rarely been an issue as many garages have remained open throughout lockdown, and those that closed are beginning to reopen.

Free breakdown cover for NHS workers

During the Coronavirus pandemic, most car breakdown providers will assist customers that work for the NHS even if their policy wouldn't usually cover their incident.

A number of providers, including the AA, Direct Line, Green Flag and RAC, have gone a step further, and will attend to the car of any NHS worker for free, including non-members.

If you are an NHS worker driving a Nissan, Toyota or Hyundai car, the manufacturer will provide you with free cover during the pandemic.

Top tips for saving on the cost of cover

Beyond choosing a cheaper breakdown cover provider, there are other ways for you save money:

  • Haggle - breakdown providers expect you to haggle. They might give you a better price if you tell them you could get cheaper cover elsewhere.
  • Bundle up- getting your cover in a package with a bank account or your car insurance can mean you get the same service for less.
  • New cars - If you're planning on getting a new car in the near future, now may not be the best time to renew your breakdown cover as most manufacturers offer one to three years of cover included with your purchase.

Check out our guide for more detail on how to save on breakdown cover.