What breakdown cover is right for you?

Fact Checked
Whether you drive every day or only occasionally, breakdown cover gives you peace of mind that help is at hand if something goes wrong.
Share this guide
woman-texting-after-car-breakdown.CDN5e6611bb

While car breakdown cover is invaluable, some help may be automatically included in your existing car insurance policy. 

You should check your insurance terms and conditions carefully to make sure you’re not doubling up on cover. 

Once you know where the gaps in your insurance policy are, you can then compare breakdown cover policies in-depth to find the one that’s best for your needs.

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.

What is breakdown cover and how does it help in emergencies?

The best breakdown cover is basically an insurance policy that gives you roadside assistance and recovery to a garage if your vehicle breaks down when you’re travelling. 

To keep costs down, some cheaper policies will organise cover but ask you to pay the up-front cost, which you reclaim later with receipts. If you’re organised, have cash saved for emergencies and want the very cheapest cover, this is a good option.

Most vehicles can be covered, including classic cars, though there are no hard-and-fast rules. It is possible to buy breakdown cover on the spot if you’ve already broken down, but it will generally cost extra. 

Most policies can be paid for annually or monthly, and it’s typically cheaper if you pay for the whole year in one go.

Once you know what cover you need and how it all works, you can compare breakdown cover policies using our guide.

How does car breakdown cover work?

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

If they’re unable to fix your car, they can 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. 

Some policies take you to the nearest garage, while others will take you to any one you choose (within reason). Some also offer a courtesy car to keep you on the road while your vehicle is being repaired.

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 needs 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.

How to compare breakdown 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. 

Options include multi-car policies so you have breakdown cover that could cover all the cars in your household, or at the same address.

While breakdown cover is important and hugely reassuring, you don’t want to be relying on it too often. In other words, good vehicle maintenance is important. 

Here’s the different types of cover on offer:

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 check terms and conditions carefully before buying a policy.

All breakdown policies include roadside assistance and you can add further cover options to extend your policy at extra cost. Be aware that some policies may have a strict cap on how many times you can call them or the distance your vehicle is towed to. 

Prioritise what you think are the important features before buying. 

Vehicle recovery

This extends the cover offered by roadside assistance by giving you more options around 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. You could also be towed to the destination you were travelling to.

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 the repairs are completed

  • 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 a 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 a person or up to £500 for your whole party

Home start rescue

Home start rescue 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.

This is useful, since most breakdown policies won’t help if you haven’t got out the driveway, meaning it can be expensive and difficult to get to a garage.

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 or vice versa (the most common mistake). 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 may 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 can cost extra to add them to your policy. However, most providers will allow you to build a bespoke package that’s right for you.

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

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.

For instance, using the wrong fuel type (e.g. petrol in a diesel car) is covered by some policies but a paid extra on others).

If you’re not looking after your car properly, for instance if it’s missed its service, you might find that you invalidate your policy.

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 to not be roadworthy by your provider

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

  • A breakdown directly caused by long-term neglect 

Read each policy carefully before you choose a provider so you know exactly when you will be covered and what you cannot claim for. If there is an exclusion you’d like to be covered for, you can usually pay extra to get it added.

Do you need breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover isn’t compulsory, but having a policy means help will be at hand if you have an emergency. This means that you won’t be left stranded at the side of a busy road or motorway, struggling to get to a garage, home, or to your destination.

You won’t be stuck forever if you don’t have breakdown cover, but you might have to get a garage to do a call out, which can be very expensive.

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

  • Your existing car is out of its warranty and its manufacturer breakdown cover has expired

  • You drive an older or unreliable car, possibly a classic car

  • You drive a lot of miles

  • You drive regularly 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.

Do you need European breakdown cover too?

This extends your breakdown cover to trips you make in Europe. You might want to consider short-term European breakdown cover. Or a policy that gives you extended cover.

You get the same protection and assistance as you would in the UK, as well as extras such as:

  • Cover before you leave

  • Vehicle and passenger repatriation

  • Customs duty indemnity

You may also be entitled to some legal protection. Find out more about how European breakdown cover works here

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

If you’re unlucky and your car does break down while abroad, Covid-19 behaviour and social distancing protocols may still be in place. Keep a spare mask or two somewhere in the car, just in case, plus hand wash. Be prepared for on-the-spot health screenings. Make sure you are up to date with foreign travel advice before you leave and while abroad.

Make sure you check that your cover includes an English-speaking helpline – invaluable when you’re in an unfamiliar place and feeling anxious.

Before you spend any money, you want to check to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Use comparison sites and check with companies direct to see what’s available. 

Like with other insurance policies, it’s always a good idea to regularly check how much you’re being charged, as some companies can increase prices annually without good reason. Shopping around regularly keeps costs under control.

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.

About Matt Fernell

View Matt Fernell's full biography here or visit the money.co.uk press centre for our latest news.