Best car breakdown cover
How to buy the best breakdown cover
Article 2 of 2
Read on for our expert research on buying car breakdown cover and how to keep costs down. 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 it's 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 28 providers, and can reveal the six best car breakdown providers.
Already know the difference between third-party cover, pay-and-claim and carmaker cover? Jump straight to our expert tips on how to save money on breakdown cover.
Third-party, pay-and-claim and carmaker breakdown 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's typically a lot less than what you would pay to a regular breakdown provider. If your car breaks down, you have to pay for the roadside repair or recovery yourself and then claim it back. GEM Motoring Assist, which we've rated, offers a pay-and-claim option and it's cheaper than its regular cover.
Go to our full car breakdown cover results to see how GEM compares with its rivals.
Carmaker breakdown 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 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.
Find out which manufacturers' cars you can trust – go to most reliable car brands.
Levels of car breakdown cover
Many people get their breakdown cover through third-party companies, and many of these offer various levels of service. Names may change slightly, but here are the basic levels of service explained.
(Prices are correct as of May 2018. Breakdown statistics from 2018 Which? breakdown survey, unless otherwise stated.)
The most basic breakdown cover. A breakdown van comes out to you and will either fix your car on the spot or tow you to the closest garage. Note that if you’re within a quarter of a 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 towed to a local garage. With national recovery, you and your passengers (usually up to seven, but check with the provider) will be towed to your destination, or the closest garage to your destination.
Personal and vehicle breakdown 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 if you have several vehicles or if you regularly get lifts from someone else.
What if I have no breakdown cover at all?
The 2018 annual breakdown survey has revealed that as many as one in six people called out a breakdown service in a 12-month period*.
If you decide to risk going without breakdown cover and your car breaks down, you can sign up to a service while you're at the side of the road. But beware, you'll pay a hefty premium.
What can help is to buy a car you can trust in the first place. Find out if yours is one of them – see the most reliable cars.
You'll find expert tips below on how to cut your breakdown cover costs without compromising on service.
Shop around for 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.
Don’t pay monthly
At the time of writing (May 2018), the RAC would charge you £121 as a one-off payment for comprehensive cover; the AA charges £119.
But both companies' websites default to showing monthly payments instead. This charges you £12.50 per month for the same cover, totalling £150.
All you need to do is opt for an annual payment over monthly and you’ll save £30.
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? Put current cover on hold, if you can
Buying a new car should bring with it free breakdown cover from the car’s manufacturer. If you have existing breakdown cover, we would normally advise you to put it on hold until the free cover runs out. But it turns out not all companies allow you to do so.
The AA will put a policy on hold but, for example, Green Flag will not. It will cancel the policy for an admin fee and you’ll receive a pro-rata refund – unless you’ve claimed within the cover period, then no refund is given.
If you’re buying a new car this year, you might want to check before renewing your current breakdown policy that you can put it on hold if need be. Or switch to a provider that will.
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 new and used car reviews.
Change provider without actually changing provider (haggle free)
What if you really like the service, but not the price? Want to avoid haggling? We have a solution.
With the RAC and like the service? If you choose to get insurance with NFU Mutual, you'll get free basic breakdown cover from the RAC. Basic cover comes free, while it costs just £20 a year to get cover at home, or £35 to get national recovery as well.
That’s a saving of £79 or £86, respectively, compared with RAC’s named cover.
Going abroad? Nationwide’s FlexPlus costs £13 a month, and you’ll get benefits such as free worldwide travel insurance and free car breakdown cover, the latter provided by LV Britannia Rescue.
While £13 a month may seem costly, European breakdown cover is pricey. If you also consider the other benefits of the bank account, it's a good option for those who like to driver overseas.
Like the AA? If you have Saga car insurance, you can get Saga breakdown cover at a discounted price and it is provided by the AA. We’ve had feedback from Which? members saying they switched from the AA to Saga to save money.
Renewal just come through? Haggle to save money
We regularly get complaints about breakdown companies jacking up the prices from one year to the next. 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.
When we surveyed UK customers** to ask them about which companies they haggle with, only 9% said they had haggled for car breakdown cover. More people 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 also 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 the response. It's likely it will 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.
New framework – no more jumping premiums?
New guiding principals were introduced in May 2018 by the industry bodies for insurers and brokers for its members to use as a policy pricing guide.
It should help to avoid excessive price differences between new customer premiums and subsequent renewal premiums. The rules came into force on the 8 May 2018.
*(part of the Which? Car Survey 2018, which ran from December 2017 to February 2018; we collected data from 7,380 UK drivers who had to call out a breakdown service in the past year.)
**(Survey: October 2017; 1,169 people who had haggled in the past 12 months. Figure is a median average.)