Best car breakdown cover
How to buy the best breakdown cover
By Adrian Porter
Article 2 of 2
Our expert guide to buying top car breakdown cover while keeping costs down.
Getting the right breakdown cover isn't only about finding the best provider. You need to make sure you get a level of cover that won’t leave you short and suffering big financial consequences.
The 2020 Which? Car survey is now live, please click here to take part. Completing the survey will not only enable us to find the most and least reliable cars on the road, but will also help us rate breakdown cover services. You'll also have the chance to win £2,500 (T&Cs apply).
For instance, did you know basic roadside assistance doesn’t cover you within a quarter mile of your home? If your car doesn’t start one morning, you may have to pay up to £150 on top of your regular breakdown cover just to be seen at home.
Our research shows that people called more breakdown services to their home than any other location. It’s very important to get the right level of cover.
Just want to know which providers are best? We've reviewed 27 and can reveal the six best best car breakdown cover providers.
Here is our full guide to explaining car breakdown cover:
- Car breakdown cover basics: types of cover explained
- Car breakdown cover levels
- The cost of not having breakdown cover
- Cut your breakdown cover costs
- Haggling made easy with our script
- European breakdown cover and Brexit
You can get breakdown cover in several forms. Here are the basic types explained:
- Third-party cover: You pay an annual fee. If your car breaks down, the provider will either attempt to fix your car at the side of the road or tow you to a garage. The AA, RAC and Green Flag are the biggest third-party providers.
- Pay-and-claim: You still pay an annual fee, but it's typically a bit less. If your car breaks down, you have to pay for the roadside repair or recovery yourself and then claim it back.
- Carmaker cover: If you buy a new car, it should come with free breakdown cover that's branded by the manufacturer. For instance, if you buy a Honda you get free three-year breakdown cover from Hondacare Assist. The actual service is supplied by a third-party provider (the AA, in the case of Honda).
- Bank account and car insurance: You can get car breakdown cover bundled in with your packaged bank account or car insurance. For example Nationwide’s packaged account comes with breakdown cover supplied by LV=Britannia, and NFU Mutual car insurance comes with breakdown cover supplied by the RAC.
Pay-and-claim cover seems to be disappearing. Only one out of the 13 providers we’ve rated this year offers a pay and claim option – GEM motoring assist. At the time of writing, it would save you just less than £20 a year.
You can see how GEM motoring assist compares to the 27 breakdown services we've rated - see our best breakdown cover providers.
Many people get their breakdown cover through third-party companies, and many of these offer different levels of cover. What the companies call these levels will vary, but here are the basic ones explained:
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 of a mile of your home, basic roadside assistance doesn't apply. (Or a full mile if you're with Axa Insurance.)
Home cover (extends basic roadside assistance to cover you at home)
This can be a pricey addition to basic cover, but more people call out a breakdown service when at home compared with any other single location.
If you need to upgrade your cover from basic to home cover, the cost can be up to £150.
National recovery (towed to your destination)
You and your passengers will get a tow to your destination, or the closest garage to your destination. If you only have roadside assistance, you are towed to a local garage.
Personal cover (you're covered for any car you're in)
Regardless of whether you are the passenger or the driver, personal cover means you can call out a breakdown service for any car you happen to be in (as opposed to vehicle-level cover, which applies to a specific car).
This might useful if you have several vehicles or regularly get lifts from someone else (remember to use it as a bargaining chip to get upgraded from rear seat to front passenger seat).
Find your perfect new car - see our expert pick of the best cars we've tested.
Is car breakdown cover a legal requirement?
No, it’s not. You are under no obligation to buy car breakdown cover.
In fact, you can buy breakdown cover after breaking down, but it will cost you. Signing up at the scene of a breakdown invokes hefty charges, possibly in excess of £300 depending on your situation.
You can also upgrade your cover on the spot if you’re in a situation that basic roadside cover does not cover, such as breaking down at home or wanting to be towed 100 miles to your destination.
Here is what you’ll pay in three different situations, whether you have basic cover or no cover at all.
Broken down at home
Broken down 15 miles from home
Broken down 100 miles from home
Use our expert advice to cut the cost of your breakdown cover.
Shop around for breakdown cover
- Use our best breakdown cover results to put together a shortlist of companies
- Consider your needs and choose an appropriate level of service
- Compare prices online or give the companies a call. If you’ve found a cheaper quote elsewhere, speak to your favoured provider and see if it will meet the quote or beat it.
Go beyond the big three breakdown cover companies
The AA, RAC and Green Flag have the largest market share of everyone we survey, but our results show that other companies can deliver top-quality service - often at a cheaper price.
Don’t pay monthly
If you can afford it, you can cut your costs by paying annually, instead of monthly.
- Both the AA and RAC's websites default to showing monthly payments. This charges you £13.50 a month for the same cover, totalling £162.
- At the time of writing, the AA and RAC would charge you £135 as a one-off payment for cover that includes basic roadside assistance, at home cover and national recovery.
- All you need to do is opt for an annual payment over monthly and you’ll save £27.
Buying a new car in the next year?
If you’re thinking about getting a new car in the next year, question your breakdown provider at renewal time (but before you actually renew) to find out what its cancel/refund policy is, as you'll get free cover from your new car's manufacturer. If you don’t like what your existing firm's offering, try another provider.
Typically you get a pro-rata refund based on how much time you’ve got left on your current agreement, but not always.
Sometimes the pro-rata refund comes with an admin charge (LV= Britannia charges £10 for example). If you’ve made a claim in the year your cover applies you might not be entitled to a refund, and some do not offer a refund regardless.
There is a 14-day cooling-off period: if you choose to cancel within 14 days of setting up the policy, you will get a full refund.
The AA is the only third party we’ve rated that will let you freeze your policy and allow you to resume it at a later date when it's needed again.
Thinking about renewing your car rather than your breakdown cover? Here's our expert pick of the best cars we've tested.
Free cover: car insurance and packaged bank accounts
You can get free breakdown cover bundled in with your car insurance or a packaged bank account.
Like the service but not the price, and you want to avoid haggling
With the RAC? If you choose to get car insurance with NFU Mutual, you'll get free basic breakdown cover from the RAC.
If you want home cover as well (and we recommend this) it costs just £20 a year to get cover at home or £35 to get national recovery as well.
That’s a saving of £95 or £100, respectively, compared with RAC’s named cover.
Nationwide Flexplus is our highest-rated packaged bank account. It costs £13 a month, or £156 a year.
You’ll get worldwide travel insurance with winter sports, mobile phone cover up to £1,000, plus UK and European breakdown recovery from LV Britannia Rescue (which charges £142 for European breakdown cover).
How to get a better service
Use our top tips to make sure your breakdown company can go that extra mile.
Use the app
Assuming you have signal and a smartphone, using your breakdown cover company's app has distinct advantages.
The biggest one is that your exact location is communicated to your breakdown provider. No more describing the lay-by you’re in as ‘by the tree, the one with the leaves, just after a bridge’.
Startrescue.co.uk is the breakdown cover provider company with the highest number of people using its app to report breakdowns (25% in our survey), compared with other car breakdown service providers we've rated.
We’ve had complaints from people who say their vehicle was damaged while being towed, and the breakdown company denied responsibility.
You can try to avoid this by taking photos of your broken-down car, just like you would if you’d had an accident. Then, if further damage occurs during the tow, take photos of that as well.
Be careful though - only take photos if it is safe to do so.
Car breakdown companies expect you to haggle. It's largely cheaper for them to keep existing customers, rather than acquire new ones, so haggling is being built into pricing structures.
The vast majority of people still haggle over the phone. But if the fear of an awkward conversation is holding you back, then try live chat instead. This also means you get to keep a written record of what was said.
We asked ex-salespeople and successful hagglers for their top haggling tips:
- Bring up any issues you've had with the provider
- Say the length of time you've been a customer
- Say how often you've used the service.
How to haggle
To make haggling easier, here's our script that should boost your chances of cutting your cover costs:
- 'I have received my renewal and would like to know why I'll be paying more this year.'
Wait for the response. It's likely it will mention that new customers are often offered introductory prices.
- 'I have seen better deals from other providers than I'm currently getting with you.'
Wait and see what the call handler says. If they don't offer to reduce your premium, you can push a little harder.
- 'I can get a cheaper deal with [name of provider]. If you can't match or better it, I will cancel my policy with you.'
If you're not happy with the deal you're offered, don't put up with it. There's no sense paying over the odds. Instead, use our research into car breakdown cover companies to help you find a good provider that's rated highly by its customers.
The good news is that Brexit should not affect European cover.
When we spoke to the big three breakdown companies, the AA, RAC and Green Flag, all said that those with European cover policies will not be impacted by Brexit. So no stop to services and no mid-policy price rises, even if we leave without a deal.
The bad news is that you must remember to get European breakdown cover before you leave the UK.
Your provider may not be able to help you out if you break down overseas without appropriate cover.
- The AA and Green Flag told us they would try to help someone overseas by putting them in contact with the overseas partners they work with, but you’ll have to sort the details yourself with the local provider and then pay for it.
- The RAC also said it would not be able to upgrade cover to one of its European cover policies, but it would be able to provide a tailored quote on a ‘pay as you go’ system, whether you are a member or not.
So there is help on hand. But to save yourself increased costs, hassle and stress, get European cover before you go.
You can typically buy single-trip policies from car breakdown providers, so look into that before you go - not once it’s too late.
Want a car that won't leave you stranded? We reveal the most reliable cars.