How does breakdown cover work?

It is an insurance policy that can give you roadside assistance and recovery to a garage if your vehicle breaks down.

For example:

If you are driving on a road or motorway and you experience car trouble, you can pull over and call your breakdown provider. They will send an engineer to you who will try to fix your car there and then.

If they are unable to fix your car, they will tow you to a garage. You can also get help carrying on with your trip, and assistance if your car breaks down at home depending on the policy you choose.

Here is what you need to do when your car breaks down.

What vehicles can you cover?

Most vehicles can be covered under a breakdown policy, including:

  • Cars

  • Light vans

  • Motorhomes

  • Minibuses

  • Motorbikes

To be eligible your vehicle will need to meet certain specifications, for example weigh no more than 3.5 tonnes and be a maximum of 6.4 metres long including a tow bar.

If you use a vehicle for work, or you manage a fleet of cars or vans, you can get commercial breakdown cover to protect them.

Types of cover

There are two ways breakdown cover can protect you:

  • Person or personal cover, which covers you whenever you are travelling in any vehicle as the driver or a passenger

  • Vehicle cover, which covers one specific vehicle so you can only call out for assistance when you break down in that car

There are also several levels of breakdown cover, which all offer different benefits. The more you are willing to pay, the better cover you can get.

Here is how to work out which level of breakdown cover is best for you and your vehicle.

Roadside assistance

This is the most basic level of breakdown cover, and means you get help by the side of the road if you break down.

Roadside assistance only covers you if you break down a certain distance from your home, usually at least a quarter of a mile.

If your car cannot be fixed there and then, it will be towed to:

  • The nearest garage

  • A garage approved by your provider

  • A destination of your choice, provided it is not further than an approved garage

Not all providers offer to take you to another destination, so read the terms and conditions carefully before you buy a policy.

All breakdown policies include this cover, and you can add further cover options to extend your policy.

Vehicle recovery

This extends the cover offered by roadside assistance by giving you more options of where your vehicle can be towed to.

You can choose to be returned to a garage of your choice, or any other location in the UK. For example, you can be towed back to your home address even if you break down a long distance away.

Onward travel

This covers the cost of continuing your journey if you break down on a trip.

Most breakdown providers offer three options:

  • A hire car: If you want to continue your journey while your car is being fixed your provider will arrange a hire car, usually for a maximum of two or three days, or until your car is fixed.

  • Alternative transport: If you would rather continue your trip by bus, train or taxi, your provider will cover the cost up to a set amount, for example 150 per person or up to 500 for your whole party.

  • Overnight accommodation: If you want to stay overnight while your car is being fixed, this policy can cover the cost of one night's hotel accommodation up to a set amount, for example 150 per person or up to 500 for your whole party.

Home start

This covers breakdowns that happen at your home, for example, if your car does not start in the morning.

Home start also means you will be able to call for help if your car breaks down close to your home, for example within a quarter of a mile.

Home start gives you the same level of cover as roadside assistance, so you can be towed to a garage if the engineer is unable to fix your car at your home.

European cover

This extends your breakdown cover to trips you make in Europe.

You get the same protection and assistance as you would in the UK, as well as extra cover like:

  • Cover before you leave

  • Vehicle and passenger repatriation

  • Customs duty indemnity

Find out more about how European breakdown cover works here.

You can either add this to a standard policy, or buy a separate European policy for a specific trip.

Optional cover extras

Most providers offer additional cover benefits you can add to your policy, including:

  • Mis-fuelling cover: This covers you if you put the wrong fuel in your vehicle, for example putting petrol in a diesel car. The engineer will drain, flush and clean out your fuel system and add some of the correct fuel to get you back on the road.

  • Parts and labour: This covers the cost of any parts and labour if your vehicle cannot be repaired at the roadside and is towed to a garage. You need to have evidence of your last service to be able to claim under this section.

  • Tyre replacement: This covers any breakdown that results from a punctured tyre. The engineer will either repair your tyre, fit a replacement or take your car to the nearest approved garage.

  • Battery cover: This covers the cost of a new battery if your breakdown provider is unable to recharge your current battery. They also dispose of the old battery, and there may be a claim limit, for example no more than 600 in a policy year.

  • Key replacement: This covers the cost of new locks, keys and locksmith charges if your keys are lost, stolen or broken. It can also give you a hire car while your car is being fitted with new locks.

Not all providers offer these options, and it costs extra to add them to a policy that does.

What breakdowns are covered?

You should be able to get help in most situations when you have car trouble. The most common causes of a breakdown include:

  • Flat or faulty batteries

  • Damaged tyres or wheels

  • Starter motor failure

  • Broken clutch cables

  • Adding the wrong fuel

Check the terms and conditions of each policy before you buy cover because there will be some breakdowns you will not be able to claim for.

What is not covered?

Every policy will have different exclusions, but most will not cover:

  • Any failure that does not cause a breakdown, for example if your air conditioning breaks

  • Any fault that has not been properly repaired after a previous call out

  • Cost of a spare or replacement wheel if you do not have one

  • Parts or labour costs if you have not added this as extra cover to your policy

  • Any vehicle that is deemed unroadworthy by your provider

  • Any breakdown on private property, unless it is your home and you have home start cover

Read each policy carefully before you choose a provider so you know exactly when you will be covered and what you cannot claim for.

Do you need breakdown cover?

It is not compulsory, but having a breakdown cover policy means help will be at hand if your car breaks down and you are left stranded by the side of the road.

Breakdown cover can give you peace of mind no matter your circumstances, but you should seriously consider a policy if:

  • You drive an old or unreliable car

  • You drive a lot of miles

  • You drive late at night when it is harder to get help

Here is more information on what breakdown cover you need, including how to find the best policy.