Can you get breakdown cover when you have broken down?

Breakdowns are always bad news and worse when you haven’t bought cover in advance and the weather’s ugly. But you can still get help if your vehicle has let you down – though the cost can soar. Here are your options.

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Some banks offer breakdown cover with their standard bank accounts. So before calling for help, check that you’re not already covered. Your car insurer may have also bundled its own breakdown cover with your policy. Again, check.

Your first priority, above anything else, is keeping yourself and any passengers safe – more of this shortly. Let’s move to the mechanics of getting help as soon as possible. 

Broken down at home

Some breakdown operators will penalise you if your car’s broken down and you try joining a breakdown service from home. If this is the situation it may be sensible to make alternative travel plans and join online. 

That means you can swerve any new member call-out penalties – though be aware most companies will not cover call-outs inside the first 24 hours.

At the roadside?

If you have broken down without cover and you can get online you can compare providers offering instant cover online. Or you can call free on the numbers below to pay a breakdown service to come to you as soon as they can – but pay extra.

AA: 0800 88 77 66

RAC: 0330 159 8743

Green Flag: 0800 400 600

Can you fix the problem yourself?

Possibly, but many common car problems are electrics-related and beyond the know-how of most of us. 

  • A flat tyre may be fixable with the help of your car boot jack. But it’s not a good idea to change a spare wheel on the hard shoulder of a busy motorway, especially in bad weather

  • A car let down by a flat battery may be got going with jump leads. Some modern car batteries have their own jumpstart lugs where cables can be attached. But some car makers take a dim view of jump-starting and warn it could void a warranty

  • So read your handbook – then make a decision on the facts. If your car battery continues to lose charge after the breakdown, it’s probably time to renew it

Best of all, get professional help as soon as you can. 

What are the breakdown alternatives?

The AA and RAC control close to 70% of the market. The rest of the breakdown market is made up of smaller firms who contract out, including some big name insurance companies. For example, Direct Line contracts their own cover to Green Flag. 

Other options include AutoAid where you pay for all breakdown and recovery costs up front, then recover the money through AutoAid. 

If you do leave one breakdown provider for another, don’t forget to cancel any direct debits paid automatically to them. Many companies automatically raise their rates after the first year. 

Prioritise everyone’s safety

Six sensible ideas to keep you and your passengers safe:

  • If you’ve a high-viz jacket or vest, put it on. If you’re driving in Europe it may be compulsory to carry high viz-jackets in your car

  • If you don’t have a high viz jacket, buy one (or several if you carry passengers regularly). They’re cheap to buy online and usually pack down to a small size. Keep them stowed away in the boot

  • Many vehicles contain a high-viz warning triangle in the boot. Place it around 50 metres behind your car if it’s safe to do this. It is a bad idea to do this on a motorway where warning signs can block access or even be blown away by fast-moving traffic – so you will need to assess the situation

  • Weather allowing, get all passengers out of the car and positioned behind a motorway safety barrier, if possible

  • Some ‘smart motorways’ have special rescue areas where you can stay safe till help arrives

  • Always keep your hazard lights on

By comparing breakdown cover providers, you can find a policy that gives you the level of cover you need at a price you can afford.