What breakdown cover is right for you?

Whether you drive every day or only occasionally, breakdown cover gives you peace of mind that help is at hand should something go wrong.

While car breakdown cover is invaluable to have, some cover is automatically included in your vehicle insurance cover. 

So check your policy to make sure you’re not duplicating your insurance before comparing breakdown cover policies in-depth. Let’s look more closely at the breakdown cover options.

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 does breakdown cover do for me?

The best breakdown cover is basically an insurance policy that gives you roadside assistance and recovery to a garage if your vehicle breaks down. 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 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 if you’ve already broken down but it will generally cost extra. Most policies can be paid for annually or monthly.

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. 

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

How do I compare breakdown cover?

After reading this guide, you can compare breakdown cover policies on this page

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.

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

But bear in mind that the best type of cover is the cover you don’t need – or need too often. In other words, good vehicle maintenance is important. However a good breakdown policy is hugely reassuring. Let’s look at what’s 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 check terms and conditions carefully before buying a policy.

However 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, then, what you think are the important features before buying. 

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 rescue

Homs 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.

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 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 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

  • Adding the wrong fuel typically petrol instead of diesel

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 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

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:

  • 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 extra cover like:

  • Cover before you leave

  • Vehicle and passenger repatriation

  • Customs duty indemnity

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

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

If you’re unlucky and your car does break down, 2020 Covid-19 behaviour and social distancing protocols may still be in place. So perhaps keep a spare mask or two somewhere in the car, just in case, plus hand wash. Be prepared too for on-the-spot health screenings. It is easy to access foreign travel advice before you leave and while travelling.

Lastly, do check that cover includes an English-speaking helpline – invaluable when you’re in an unfamiliar place and feeling anxious.

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

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.