Buying European Vehicle Breakdown cover – A Check List
Use our check list of the 25 most important points to remember when shopping for breakdown insurance for travel abroad.
A breakdown or accident while driving on the Continent is not only highly stressful, but could potentially derail your holiday plans and, worse, leave you facing an enormous repair or recovery bill, especially if you have to be repatriated back to the UK because your vehicle can’t be fixed.
The best way to avoid such a scenario is to buy a good European breakdown insurance policy before setting off on your journey. Cover is surprisingly affordable these days and if you do have to claim, it will pay for itself many times over.
However, as with any insurance product, your cover will contain important conditions and exclusions, which if you don’t pay close attention to, could leave you insufficiently protected when things go wrong. European recovery policies also differ from UK-only ones in terms of the the benefits they provide.
To make things easier for you, we’ve drawn up a list of the top 25 factors you need to consider when shopping for European cover.
What to Look Out for When Buying Holiday Breakdown Cover
Check if you’re already covered
Although most insurers sell European breakdown cover as a standalone product, or an add-on that you have to pay extra for, some premium policies include European breakdown cover as standard in their UK policies. A good example of this is Saga’s Premier plan for drivers aged 50+, because it provides cover for roadside repair and recovery in 39 countries across the European Union and beyond, as well as holiday departure cover, as a standard feature.
In addition, selected current accounts that charge a monthly fee, such as the Nationwide’s FlexPlus , Barclays Travel Plus Pack, or the Co-operative Bank’s Everyday Extra, include UK and European breakdown insurance as one of the benefits.
Before splashing out on separate cover, we recommend you scrutinize the relevant policy documents or contact your recovery service, or whoever you bank with, to ensure you’re not already covered.
Covered for just one instance
If you wait until you actually breakdown and the buy instant cover at the roadside you may only be covered for that one incident and not for the rest of your journey. The AA, for one, applies this rule. If you buy it’s one-off cover, you’ll only receive help in a single instance. And remember, buying insurance on the spot will be much more expensive than arranging it beforehand.
Try to arrange adequate cover before setting off if you can. If you are forced to buy a policy on the spot, make sure you understand exactly what you are covered for, where and for how long.
This is a very important consideration when it comes to European rescue. All recovery services specify exactly which European countries they cover you for, but many go a step further and divide these countries into zones for which they charge different prices.
Matters are further complicated by the fact that certain regions of Europe are not covered, because of their remoteness, or due to political or security considerations.
When taking out cover, ensure you are covered for every country – and region of a country – you plan to visit, even if you’re just passing through.
Also, shop around before buying a policy because there can be considerable differences in the number of countries different providers cover.
All providers cover private motor vehicles as standard, but many treat other types of transport differently. If you own a motorbike, minibus, motorhome or commercial vehicle of any kind you may be asked to pay a premium or even to take out a specialist policy.
In addition to vehicle type, almost all firms limit the maximum size and weight of your vehicle. It’s also common for insurers to set age limits on vehicles, either by charging older ones a higher premium of by refusing cover altogether.
Never assume your vehicle is automatically eligible for cover or that it’s of the right dimensions. Instead, confirm it with your provider.
The vast majority of European breakdown policies promise to assist as many people as there are in the vehicle – as long as they have individual seats. So, if you are in a 7 seater and there are 7 of you travelling together when you break down, there shouldn’t be an issue.
However, some providers do impose limits on the number of persons they will assist and almost all exclude hitchhikers from the cover. When you buy a policy, verify the maximum number of insured persons your provider allows.
If you are travelling in a large group, then opt for group cover, which is available from many recovery firms. For instance, the AA markets policies that insure 9-15 people travelling together on a road trip or one-way.
Trip duration limits
Single-trip policies normally cover you for trips of up to 31 days, though some generous providers allow up to 90 days away. The limits for annual policies differ even more wildly, with some firms restricting each trip to 31 days and the total number of days abroad in a year to just 90, while others let you take unlimited trips, with each one lasting up to 364 days!
Trip length is one of the big ways in which firms differentiate themselves from each other, so make sure you compare the travel allowance offered by different providers thoroughly before clicking on the buy button.
The number of times you can make a claim during the period of insurance varies greatly between firms and even between different policies from the same provider, so watch out. Single trip policies will normally only allow just one claim, whereas annual policies allow anywhere from 3 to an unlimited number, depending on the cover provider.
We advise you clarify this limit with your insurer, and make sure it definitely suits your travel plans and trip duration, before you commit.
All benefits will be subject to a cap, as will the total amount your insurer will pay for any one breakdown or during the entire period of cover. In particular, the amount recovery services will pay for repatriation, emergency accommodation expenses, car hire and help with public transport costs vary considerably between insurer, so pay special attention to these features when searching for cover.
Not all policies are the same
When comparing policies from different providers make sure you are comparing like with like. The devil is often in the detail and two policies that seem to offer similar benefits may not in actual fact. Take key cover as an example, one firm may be happy to replace your broken key, while a rival may only help you source a replacement, nothing more.
Before handing over your money, read the small print thoroughly and make sure you understand what benefits the policy actually entitles you to.
Caravan and trailer limits
Whether or not your policy automatically extends to any vehicles your are towing, such as caravans, trailers or mobile tents, depends very much on your insurer; some cover them automatically, others charge a supplement.
Firms also vary on the size and weight restrictions they apply to towed vehicles, and these differences can be substantial. For instance, we found one firm restricted the length of vehicles to just 6 metres, whereas a competitor allowed up to 8m.
Another thing to watch out for is that certain providers either don’t take your caravan or trailer into consideration at all when calculating the market value of your car for repatriation purposes, or charge extra if they do.
Pets not insured
Normally, pets and livestock are not insured under European breakdown cover, so if anything happens to your car while your abroad, you will have to foot the bill for their transportation.
Bear this in mind if you’re planning to take your animals along with you.
No or minimal breakdown insurance for hire cars
Car hire brokers often source vehicles from numerous suppliers, so can’t always confirm if breakdown cover is included in the price or if it’s an optional extra. Even if it does come as standard, cover may be minimal or only apply to accidents and not breakdowns, leaving you at risk of a big bill if anything goes wrong.
When booking your rental car, verify what roadside cover, if any, is included and exactly what costs you are liable for.
As long as you haven’t made any claims on your breakdown cover, the majority of insurers will refund your money in full within the first 14 days. In fact, if you bought the policy online and haven’t used it, you’re entitled to a refund by law during the cooling off period. Beware though, as you may have to pay an admin fee for changing or cancelling your cover.
We suggest you investigate your cancellation rights and any associated fees before buying any type of European breakdown protection.
All reputable insurers in the UK belong to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which handles disputes between financial businesses and their customers. Most are also part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), a compensation scheme which pays out if your insurer goes bust.
For peace of mind, make sure your provider has signed-up with both organisations.
Essential documentation and equipment
There are a number of important documents you need to take with you in order to drive abroad legally. You’ll also have to pack essential equipment if you want to comply with local laws; spare bulbs, a reflective jacket and a warning triangle are compulsory in most European countries.
To help you work out what paperwork and kit you need to take with you to the Continent, and for a host of useful links on the topic, check out our detailed guide to European breakdown cover.
In some European countries the breakdown service cannot assist you until the police or a police contractor has towed you off the highway or a service station. What’s more, you may be charged for the privilege!
If that happens to you, then keep your receipt because most insurers will refund this expense, though usually only up to a limited amount.
Our advice? Check beforehand if your provider definitely reimburses the cost of being towed to a secure area.
If your patrol agent only speaks limited English, then that’s going to complicate the repair/recovery process. To assist you, we’ve created check sheets detailing vehicle parts and traffic signs in French, German, Italian and Spanish.
Click on the following link to view or print the tables:
Garage and labour costs
Repair costs are generally much higher on the Continent than they are in the UK for a number of reasons, so garage and labour cost insurance is worth considering.
However, there are normally restrictions on how much your breakdown service will pay out and what is covered. There may also be an excess fee specified, which you have to pay before your provider will step in.
Research thoroughly before forking out for this optional extra.
Pay and claim exclusions
Pay and claim breakdown cover, where you pay in full for repair/recovery and then reclaim the money from the insurer afterwards, is often great value for money.
When taking out a policy of this kind, make sure you understand fully any exclusions that apply.
Equally importantly, if you do break down, keep hold of all relevant receipts, so you can get back all the money you are owed. In fact, this rule applies regardless of the type of cover you’ve opted for.
Auto-renew and you could end up paying more for a policy than new customers or those who bother to haggle. Instead, mark the renewal date in your calendar and shop for the beast deal before your cover expires. Even if you decide to stick with your current provider, try to negotiate the renewal price down.
Direct debits discourage comparison shopping as well, so consider carefully before setting one up.
Don’t assume that the biggest roadside assistance services automatically offer the best deals. Often, some of the smaller breakdown specialists provide the same level of cover for less money. Remember, no matter which firm you buy cover from, they will all be relying on a third-party company based in Europe to actually respond to your call in the event of a breakdown.
So shop around, compare thoroughly and always aim to secure the most cost effective deal you can.
It costs firm’s much less to sell you cover online than over the phone or any other way, which is why the keenest prices are usually found on their website. When shopping for cover off-line, compare the quote against the firm’s online price, to make sure you’re definitely getting the best deal. If you’re not, push back.
Also, many providers show the monthly price for cover by default online, even though it is normally cheaper to pay annually. Always pay in one go if you can, never in instalments.
Websites like Compare the Market, Confused, GoCompare and Moneysupermarket let you compare policies from dozens of breakdown services with just a few clicks of the mouse and often include exclusive discounts they’ve managed to negotiate with insurers too, which is why we recommend you make full use of them when searching for cover.
Special offers and discounts
Whatever you do, don’t overlook the discounts codes, vouchers and money back offers available on the Net, as they can often save you serious money on breakdown insurance. Here’s our pick of the bunch.
Another tactic you can use to save money on a recovery policy is to use the supermarket points you’ve been accumulating. These can be worth considerably more than their face value when used to purchase products like breakdown cover.
We have compiled a list of recommended European breakdown policies to suit different types of motorists, including those looking for long-term cover and those who just need protection for a single trip, as well as caravan or motorhome owners, and drivers aged over 50.
To view the list, please click on the Best Buys section of our What is European Breakdown Cover? – A Buyer’s Guide.
In this guide we’ve highlighted the 25 most important pitfalls you need to watch out for when buying European breakdown insurance.
Navigate them successfully and you should end up with a policy that’s not only fit for purpose, but a bargain too.
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