Best car breakdown cover
How to buy the best breakdown cover
Article 2 of 2
Use our expert research on buying car breakdown cover to find out if you can get away with basic roadside assistance, or whether it's worth paying for a more comprehensive policy.
Car breakdown cover can be confusing. Third-party providers, such as the AA and RAC, offer different levels of service and its difficult to know how much you actually need. Pay-and-claim services are also available, and carmakers can offer their own branded cover.
We explain your options below and reveal the real risk of breaking down, so you can decide what level of cover you need. We also show you the cost of not having any cover at all.
Want breakdown cover you can rely on? We've reviewed 24 providers, and can reveal the six best car breakdown providers.
Third-party, pay-and-claim and carmaker cover explained
You can get breakdown cover in several forms, but there's no need for it to be confusing. Here are the basic types explained:
Third-party breakdown cover
The AA, RAC and Green Flag are the biggest and best-known third-party providers, but there are many more to choose from. You pay them an annual fee. If your car breaks down, they will come out and either attempt to fix your car at the side of the road, or tow you to a garage.
Pay-and-claim breakdown cover
Another type of third-party breakdown provider. You still pay an annual fee, but it is typically a lot less than what you would pay to a regular breakdown provider. However, if your car breaks down, you have to pay for the roadside repair or recovery yourself, and then claim it back.
Carmaker breakdown cover
If you buy a new car, it should come with free breakdown cover, branded by the manufacturer. For instance, if you buy a Honda, you will get free breakdown cover for three years from Hondacare Assist. However, the actual service is supplied by a third-party provider (the AA in the case of Honda).
Different car brands offer different lengths of cover – typically from one to three years. Some brands will extend this cover if you get your car serviced at a main dealership.
If you buy a new car but have existing cover with a third-party breakdown provider, phone it and ask to put your cover on hold until your free cover runs out.
Levels of breakdown cover
Many people get their breakdown cover through third-party companies, and many of these offer different levels of service. Names may change slightly, but here are the basic levels of service explained.
Prices are correct as of April 2017. Breakdown statistics from 2017 Which? breakdown survey, unless otherwise stated.
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 doesn't apply.
Extends basic roadside assistance to cover you at home. This can actually be a pricey addition to basic cover, but our research has found that more people called out a breakdown service when at home compared with any other location.
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.
Personal and vehicle cover
Breakdown cover usually applies to a specific car, and is known as vehicle-level cover.
You might want to opt for personal cover instead. It means that you as a person are covered, rather than any specific car. So you can call out a breakdown service for any car you are in, regardless of whether you are the driver or a passenger. This might be of use to someone who has several vehicles.
What if I have no breakdown cover at all?
The 2017 annual breakdown survey has revealed that as many as one in six people called out a breakdown service in a 12-month period (part of the Which? Car Survey 2017 which ran from December 2016 to March 2017; we collected data from 5,680 UK drivers who had to call out a breakdown service in the past year).
If you decide to risk going without breakdown cover and your car breaks down, you can sign up to a service at the side of the road. But beware, you'll pay a hefty premium.
Buying the best breakdown: money-saving tips
You'll find expert tips below on how to get the best breakdown cover.
Now you know the basic levels of cover, consider your needs and choose an appropriate level of service. Then visit our best breakdown providers 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 see if it will meet it or beat it.
Use other cover
Don't pay twice for breakdown cover. Your bank account or a deal on a new car may already cover you for breakdowns.
Changed bank accounts?
Some packaged bank accounts either include breakdown cover or offer it as a low-cost option.
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.
Renewal just come through? Haggle to save money
A complaint we hear about is breakdown companies jacking up the prices from one year to the next. So you need to be vigilant – especially if you've signed up to an auto-renew process.
Keep an eye out for your annual renewal letter/email. If the price has increased, shop around. Find competing quotes and ask your current provider to meet them. You may find it offers to match the price. If it won’t, don’t accept the rise. Instead, cancel and go to another well-rated provider.
In a haggling survey we conducted (October 2016) the average saving made by 519 people who contested their annual breakdown renewal quote with the AA or RAC was £52. That's enough for a full tank of fuel. A further survey a year later (October 2017*) discovered that the average saving across the industry is £35.
Haggling for car breakdown cover
Car breakdown companies expect you to haggle. It's largely cheaper for them to keep existing customers, rather than buy new ones, so haggling is being built into pricing structures. So you contacting your provider to haggle is a conversation it is expecting you to have.
When we surveyed UK customers* to ask them about which companies they haggle with, only 9% said they had haggled for car breakdown cover. Which, to us, says that more of us need to be doing it.
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 means you get to keep a written record of what was said.
We asked ex-salespeople and successful hagglers for tips they'd give people when haggling. Here's what they said:
- 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
- Do your homework: be clear what deals are being offered on comparison sites
Haggling script for car breakdown cover
Use our tried-and-tested haggling script to boost your chances of cutting your cover.
1. 'I have received my renewal and would like to know why I'll be paying more this year.'
Wait for their response. It's likely they'll mention that new customers are often offered introductory prices.
2. '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.
3. '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.
Don’t be stung twice: take pictures
We’ve had complaints of cars being damaged when they were towed, with 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 new and used car reviews.
*(Survey: October 2017, 1169 people who had haggled in the past 12 months. Figure is a median average.)