Money Saving Tips for UK Motorists

How to Choose the Best Vehicle Breakdown Policy

How to Choose the Best Vehicle Breakdown Policy

In this article we explain what vehicle breakdown cover is, the pros and cons of different policies, how to pick the right one for you, and how to buy cover for as little as £12.68 a year.

With so many demands on our finances these days, it’s easy to dismiss car breakdown cover as an expensive luxury that we can easily do without. But is that really true?

Imagine breaking down in an isolated spot late at night, or trying to change a flat tyre on the side of a busy motorway in the pouring rain, or discovering your car won’t start when you need to be somewhere urgently.

Under such circumstances, your decision to skimp on breakdown insurance could quickly start to look like false economy or, worse, turn out to be a very costly mistake.

The truth is that cars are very complex machines these days and self-repair, especially on the roadside, is no longer a viable option in most cases.

 

Click this link to jump straight to our list of BEST BUYS.

 

Page Contents

A Guide to the Different Types of Car Breakdown Cover

 

What is breakdown cover?

It’s an insurance policy designed to give you peace of mind as a motorist.

With basic cover, if your vehicle breaks down, you simply call the policy provider and they will send a technician to assist you. If the problem can’t be fixed at the roadside, you and your vehicle will be taken to the nearest garage.

The more comprehensive your policy, the more features and benefits you’ll enjoy. Optional extras you can add to enhance basic cover include:

  • National recovery – you and your passengers will be taken to a single UK destination of your choice
  • Onward travel – you get a hire car, hotel accommodation or help with public transport costs
  • Home start – help if you break down at home or within a short distance of your home
  • Unlimited callouts (as long as it’s not for the same issue)

Go to top.

 

Why do I need breakdown cover?

Here are the main reasons for buying car breakdown cover:

  • Peace of mind: you’ll get help 24/7
  • 94% of drivers quizzed in the Driver Power survey of 2014 had cover
  • Most faults can be fixed at the roadside; the average is 60%
  • No relying on help from good Samaritans, family or friends
  • Having no cover could prove to be very costly, time consuming and stressful
  • No need to carry extra kit or tools in your car
  • Members often receive freebies, discounts and offers on other products and services

Go to top.

 

Are there any drawbacks to breakdown cover?

Generally, the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks, but here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • It’s insurance, so if you don’t claim then you’ve ‘lost’ the money you paid
  • You are at the mercy of the provider’s response times in the event of a breakdown
  • The fix rate can vary according to the knowledge, skill or experience of the mechanic
  • The quality of the service can vary according to how busy or hurried the mechanic is
  • Not all faults can be rectified at the roadside
  • Patrols may not be able to reach you on private land or in a secured area
  • You may be penalised for excessive call-outs, depending on your policy

Go to top.

 

What are the main causes of a breakdown?

Here is a list of the top reasons for a breakdown given by the AA, RAC and Green Flag:

AA

RAC

Green Flag

Flat battery

Faulty battery

Lost keys

Damaged tyres and wheels

Alternator faults

Starter motor

Fuel problems

Clutch cables

Spark plugs

HT (high tension) leads

Battery

Wheel change

Fuel

Mechanical problems

Puncture, no spare

Electrical problems

Charging electric vehicles

Clutch

Ignition

Cooling, heating, ventilation & air conditioning

Faulty/flat batteries

Puncture

Engine faults

Clutch

Damage to fuel systems

Locking keys inside car

Overheating

Damaged brakes

Running out of fuel

(Sources:

https://www.rac.co.uk/breakdown-cover/top-10-reasons-for-a-breakdown-in-2014

https://www.theaa.com/breakdown-cover/advice/top-ten-breakdown-causes

https://www.greenflag.com/contact-us/media/press/2014/whitsun-holiday-breakdowns-0521)

Go to top.

 

What types of vehicles can you get cover for?

When most people think of breakdown cover they think about cars. That’s understandable, given that most instances of roadside assistance involve private motor vehicles, but breakdown policies cover a lot more than that.

You can get breakdown cover that guarantees roadside help for a wide range of vehicles, including caravans, light vans, mini buses, motorbikes and motorhomes.

There are also a number of specialist policies available that cater to specific niches. For instance, the RAC has a policy designed to meet the needs of Blue Badge holders, while Start Rescue markets cover aimed at owners of classic cars, starting at just £27, as does rival firm GEM, which offers comprehensive classic car cover for £65.

Go to top.

 

What types of breakdown cover are there?

Two distinct types of cover are available:

  • Personal cover
  • Vehicle cover

With personal cover, the recovery service will come to your aid no matter which car you are driving or even riding in as a passenger.

Personal cover is best suited to those who drive more than one vehicle or regularly ride with another driver who doesn’t have cover, a car share for example.

By contrast, vehicle cover applies to a specific vehicle, and the rescue service will only respond if that particular vehicle breaks down, though anyone can be driving it at the time.

Vehicle cover is usually a much cheaper option than personal cover, so if you tend to drive only your own car, then this is probably the best option for you.

Remember, if you have a number of vehicles in your household, you can often get an even better deal by choosing a multi-car policy.

Couples can save money by opting for joint or partner cover. The AA and the RAC both charge a discounted £30 for adding another driver to your membership.

If you want cover for even more people, then consider a family policy, rather than buying protection individually. All the major providers offer this option. For example the RAC lets you get one membership with up to five family members included on it as drivers or passengers in any car.

Go to top.

 

What are pay and claim breakdown policies?

With a pay and claim policy you pay the provider an annual or monthly fee as normal, but in the event of a breakdown you have to pay for the repair or recovery yourself and then reclaim the appropriate costs from your provider afterwards.

Standard policies that cover the vehicle or driver dominate the market, therefore pay and claim or refund-based policies are becoming harder to find. GEM’s Recovery Claim policy is one of the few available.

Here are a few of the pros and cons of pay and claim breakdown policies:

Advantages:

  • Usually the cheapest type of cover
  • Good for those with a reliable vehicle
  • Suitable for short-distance and occasional drivers

Disadvantages:

  • You must have the means to pay the bill on the spot
  • Providers rely on local repair/recovery services
  • All relevant receipts need to be supplied to secure a refund
  • You have to wait for a refund, which ties up your money
  • There is a risk that your claim may be queried or rejected

Go to top.

 

What different types of breakdown policy are available?

Both personal and vehicle cover are normally available in the following variations:

 

Roadside/Local

If you breakdown, a patrol will respond and if they can’t fix the fault at the roadside then they will take your vehicle and any passengers to the nearest garage for repair, typically within a 10 mile radius.

This is the most basic option and all recovery policies come with at least this level of protection.

However, even though it is the cheapest type of cover, a roadside- or local-only policy is most suited to occasional drivers and those who do not travel long distances.

You can’t normally choose which garage you are towed to with roadside insurance, you’ll just be taken to the nearest one within a certain radius. If you want a cheaper garage or an authorised dealer to take a look but they’re further away, then you’ll have to make your own arrangements to get your car there.

Also, your car has to break down a certain distance away from your home before you qualify for assistance. This exclusion zone varies by provider, so check before you buy, but it usually extends from 0.25 to 1 mile from your home.

The logic behind the exclusion zone is that you can arrange to be towed to a nearby garage or for a local mechanic to visit without the help of a patrol van.

 

Hazard triangle at roadside
(Image credit: Stux at Pixabay.com)

 

National

As the name suggests, this type of cover extends nationwide, so if you break down anywhere in the UK and your car can’t be fixed immediately, the mechanic will tow you and your passengers to any garage of your choosing, or any mainland destination, or back home.

Interestingly, Green Flag include what they call a Next Day Collection service. This means that if the garage is closed, they will take you home and then pick you up the next day (or whichever day is convenient for you) and take the vehicle to the garage at no extra cost.

National cover is ideal for drivers who travel long distance regularly and want flexibility as well as peace of mind in the event of car problems.

Again, national cover normally excludes breakdowns that occur within a short distance of your home, so always check how far the exclusion zone extends.

Because national cover is a step up from basic roadside plans, it is more expensive.

 

Onward Travel

If your vehicle can’t be fixed at the roadside or by a nearby garage the same day and you have onward cover, the provider will arrange a hire car for you to use for a set amount of time, or for overnight hotel accommodation, or contribute to public transport costs up to a set limit for you and your passengers.

Some companies, like Green Flag, will even pay the cost of a single standard rail fare, if you have to collect your car from a repairer later.

Many companies will also provide an emergency driver for you, if you are too unwell to take the wheel and none of your passengers are authorised to drive. However, be prepared to produce a medical certificate, to prove that you are unsafe to drive, if this is the case.

 

At Home

With home recovery you are guaranteed assistance even if the breakdown occurs at home or within a short distance of your home address, typically 0.25 to 1 mile. Many providers also set a limit on how far they will tow your vehicle from home, especially if you suffer a flat or damaged tyre.

Given that most breakdowns actually occur at home and not on the road, especially in cold weather, a home start policy is well worth considering, even though it is a step up from national cover price-wise.

Go to top.

 

What Optional Extras Can I Add?

Most operators provide a list of optional extras that you can add to policies, to enhance them. Each operator has their own combination of add-ons, but they generally fall into the following categories:

 

Key Cover

If you lose your ignition keys, or if they are stolen, the provider will replace them on the spot, and even fit new locks and reset your vehicle alarm or immobiliser if required.

This option can work out to be cheaper than going through an authorised dealer, because the breakdown service doesn’t need to replace every component of the locking system.

The RAC goes one better and even insures your house keys under its Key Replace service and will cover the cost of replacement up to £1,500.

 

Accident, Theft & Vandalism

The provider will help you if your vehicle is rendered immobile due to an accident, theft or vandalism.

 

Wrong Fuel Cover

If you fill a diesel car with petrol or vice versa and drive away, the consequences can be catastrophic for the engine, not to mention costly to fix. The best advice is to keep the engine switched off and call a mechanic.

However, if you have misfuelling cover, then the recovery company will come out to wherever you are and drain your fuel tank expertly, so you can fill it up again correctly.

This protection is often rolled into one of the standard packages, so check your policy.

 

Parts & Garage Cover

Opt for this extra and your policy provider will contribute towards the cost of parts and repair after a breakdown.

Of course, limits apply on how much you can claim and how often. In addition, you may be asked to pay a modest excess fee and pre-existing faults will not be covered.

 

Battery Cover

If your battery is so old and decrepit that it will not hold a charge, then no amount of jump starting is going to get you back on the road.

Certain recovery firms offer battery cover for just such a scenario, and will cover the cost of purchasing and fitting a new battery up to a fixed limit.

Go to top.

 

Who are the main providers of breakdown cover?

Ask people to name a breakdown service and most will automatically think of the big players like the AA, RAC and Green Flag, who have been around for decades and become household names in the process.

However, the UK market for breakdown insurance is highly competitive and there are a whole host of familiar and not so familiar names offering policies.

This is great news for British motorists, because the more competition there is, the keener the prices and the bigger the discounts offered by companies to win your custom.

Having said that, with a market share of 40%, 27% and 14% for the AA, RAC and Green Flag, respectively, it seems that the major players still reign supreme.

 

Breakdown service - UK market share

(Source: http://www.theaaplc.com/~/media/Files/A/AA-Plc-V2/results-presentations/2017/aa-investor-presentation-and-fy17-results-notfordistribution.pdf)

Go to top.

 

Should I consider small breakdown providers?

Absolutely.

Small roadside recovery companies typically rely on a nationwide network of independent garages and mechanics to respond to breakdowns, rather than their own patrols, which means they can potentially respond to callouts quicker than the more established players.

Less well known providers also need to work harder to win and retain your custom than some of their larger counterparts, and this may be reflected in a more personalised service too.

Of course, one of the key ways in which smaller recovery services compete is on price; they can be considerably cheaper than the big brands for the same level of cover.

Remember, though, that this cuts both ways, and smaller firms may not be able to offer many of the innovations and frills, such as mobile apps, travel kits and websites packed with car advice, that the mainstream companies can.

If you don’t care about these extras and just want peace of mind, we highly recommend you consider small companies as well as large ones when shopping for a policy.

Go to top.

 

Should I buy breakdown cover as part of my car insurance?

A good number of car insurance providers are bundling roadside recovery along with their insurance policies these days, and an even greater number are offering it as an optional extra.

Joint policies of this kind are a tempting add-on for a lot of motorists, because they seem like a great deal: you get something for ‘free’, and save time and money shopping around for separate breakdown cover.

However, packaged deals of this kind may not be quite the bargain they first appear for the following reasons:

  • It may be difficult to check the terms and conditions, exclusions, levels of cover and other details of the breakdown policy when buying a packaged deal
  • The cost of the breakdown policy will most likely be hidden in the insurance premium you pay
  • A combined breakdown policy usually covers the vehicle, not the driver, which doesn’t suit everyone
  • It is difficult to work out the true cost of the breakdown cover you are getting, or to compare it, when it is bundled with insurance
  • The recovery service the insurer has partnered with may not be the best or the most suitable for your needs
  • The policy may not be as flexible or configurable as one you buy separately
  • Buying a roadside recovery policy separately often works out to be cheaper than buying combined insurance/breakdown cover

We think you should always do your homework first, to make sure that the bundled deal is genuinely cost effective and properly suited to your needs. Don’t assume that just because a product is packaged it means that it is automatically discounted too.

Go to top.

 

How to Pick the Right Breakdown Cover

 

What exclusions apply?

The biggest caveat to be aware of is call out restrictions. Some policies restrict you to just three per year, while others impose no restrictions at all and you can call their repairmen out as many times as you need during the cover period.

Certain policies, such as those that cover you for European travel, may also place restrictions on the length of each trip.

In addition, many providers will not respond to a repeat call for the same problem, so make sure you read the terms and conditions carefully before signing up, especially if you are plagued by a recurring fault.

This is not a definitive list, but other exceptions that may cause issues and prevent you from being helped by a patrol include:

  • Breakdowns caused by you or someone else while trying to repair the vehicle on the same journey
  • Cars travelling with ‘trade plates’ may only qualify for roadside repair and not recovery
  • Cars that have just been imported or bought at auction may not be covered for recovery
  • Some providers will not respond to flat tyres, accidents or breakdowns on private land
  • Some patrols may be reluctant to transport livestock or pets in the event of a breakdown
  • Vehicle recovery from a hospital, if you are unfit to drive after receiving treatment
  • Claims caused by careless or deliberate acts
  • Unroadworthy vehicles or those with unapproved modifications

The lesson here is to always read small print and understand what you are getting before you hand over your money.

Go to top.

 

Can’t I just wait and buy cover when I actually break down?

The short answer is yes, but it depends on the provider.

Some rescue firms will force you to wait a certain period – often 24 hours – before you can call on their services, while others will respond and allow you to sign up at the roadside immediately.

Beware, though, that companies that do let you sign up on the spot will charge you a new member instant call-out surcharge on top of their normal membership fee. This additional charge is usually over £100 pounds. Ouch!

Instant cover can’t be bought online, it can only be arranged via a callout in most cases.

Go to top.

 

Fuel gauge showing empty
(Image credit: Geralt at Pixabay.com)

 

Is my car tool old to qualify for breakdown cover?

Vehicle age restrictions vary between companies. The AA, RAC and GEM will cover vehicles of any age, whereas Green Flag will not insure any vehicle older than 16 years. Some providers are even stricter, setting limits of 14 or 15 years.

Conversely, Green Flag rewards existing AA and RAC customers who have a valid renewal quote on a car that is aged 10 years or less, by offering them a discount of 30-50% on membership.

Go to top.

 

How long will I have to wait for the patrol to arrive?

This is a biggie, as nobody wants to be stuck in a car with screaming and restless kids, or stuck on the grass verge of a motorway in the pouring rain for hours on end waiting to be rescued.

Fortunately, breakdown services always aim to reach callers as quickly as possible, with most arriving within 45 minutes on average. However, they can sometimes take much longer to respond, especially in bad weather, during peak periods or on busy public holidays.

Priority is given to vulnerable customers such as lone women, the elderly or those travelling with children.

If safety is a major concern, consider Carlo’s breakdown cover, which includes a smartphone app that allows you to track your car remotely and informs the control centre if it detects a crash.

Go to top.

 

Is my caravan or trailer covered?

Personal cover normally extends to caravans and trailers too, so if something happens to your caravan while you are towing it, the rescue service will still respond.

Always check with your provider, however, and make sure you comply with any weight or size restrictions.

The most commonly cited dimensions are as follows, though some providers are stricter and some more generous:

  • Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM)of 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes)

  • 7m in length, 3m in height and 2.55m in width

Because of these caps, you may be better off purchasing a specialist policy. The Caravan and Motorhome Club, in partnership with Green Flag, offers just such an option.

Club members can choose from three tiers of cover and enjoy benefits such as no size, weight or vehicle age restrictions; unlimited callouts; and, on the top two levels, dual cover, i.e. you’ll be taken to your destination AND back home, if you breakdown en-route and your vehicle can’t be fixed.

If you are not a Club member, you can buy the policy, which is called MAYDAY, direct from Green Flag instead.

Go to top.

 

How many passengers will they take?

The majority of companies will transport up to 7 people, but check the conditions set out in your policy

In the event of a breakdown, always inform the control centre how many of you are travelling, so they can arrange for a suitable patrol vehicle to assist you.

Go to top.

 

What if my pets are with me?

Breakdown companies understand that many people take their pets with them when they travel, so do their best to accommodate them.

The catch is that the vast majority of breakdown services allow their patrol/recovery operators to ultimately decide if they will transport your animal in their recovery vehicle or tow it in your car.

There can be a number of reasons why an operator won’t allow your pet to travel with you in the cab of the patrol/recovery vehicle:

  • Your pet may be distressed or difficult to control, so pose a safety risk
  • There may not be enough room in the cab to accommodate your pet
  • Your pet may be a distraction
  • It may not be safe to move your pet from your car without the risk of it breaking free
  • The recovery driver may be allergic to animals or just may not like them

Service animals such as guide dogs for the blind or listening dogs for the deaf should be allowed to travel with their owners, unless there are safety reasons preventing them from doing so.

If you do breakdown with a pet in the car, it’s always a good idea to make this clear to the control centre, so they can send a pet-friendly driver to assist you.

You can help yourself further by ensuring you have your pet’s crate or cage with you, thereby increasing their chances of being transported with you in the cab.

Go to top.

 

Am I covered for European driving?

Unless you’ve bought a premium policy that covers you for trips to the Continent too, you will need to purchase separate European breakdown protection.

There are two main types of stand alone European cover available:

  • Single-trip
  • Annual/Multi-trip

Single-trip cover is available for as little as £6 a day from providers like the RAC, but if you are planning to make two or more trips abroad with your car in a year, then an annual or multi-tip policy will likely work out cheaper.

Benefits include English-speaking helplines, accommodation expenses and help to get you back home. Depending on your level of cover, you may also be entitled to pre-departure breakdown assistance, help with garage labour costs, replacement tickets if you miss your ferry, and other extras.

The same rules apply as when you’re buying a UK policy: make sure you understand what is offered and what isn’t, and what restrictions apply.

For instance, single-trip cover is often capped at 31 days, and some annual multi-trip policies limit cover to a total of 90 days and a maximum of 3 claims per year.

European breakdown protection may appear to be even more of an expensive luxury than UK cover, but consider these figures from the AA before making your final decision:

  • Over 4% of British drivers experience a breakdown or accident while in Europe
  • The average cost of repair on the Continent is £550
  • The cost of repatriating a vehicle from is £1935

(Source: https://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/news/cost-of-car-repairs-abroad-210698.html)

You can find out much more about holiday rescue policies in our in-depth article on European breakdown cover.

Go to top.

 

What if I use my vehicle for business purposes?

Unlike insurance companies, you don’t have to inform breakdown services that you are using your vehicle for commercial purposes.

Even if your provider does ask to be notified, your vehicle may still be covered under your personal breakdown policy.

The AA are a good example of this approach, because they let members protect up to two commercial vehicles under their UK breakdown cover, as long as they don’t weigh more than 3.5 tonnes each, so you don’t necessarily have to buy one of their business plans.

If your provider does treat commercial vehicles differently, or if you need to insure a fleet of vehicles, then you will need to buy specialist cover, referred to as business, commercial, or fleet breakdown cover. Vehicles that commonly fall into this category include:

  • Minibus
  • Hire/rental vehicle
  • Courier van
  • Motorbike
  • Ambulance, police car, or fire engine
  • Delivery/goods vehicle
  • Dairy vehicle
  • Ice cream van
  • Trade plate vehicle
  • LGV or HGV vehicles over 3.5 tonnes

Go to top.

 

Don’t forget about fleet and commercial policies

Fleet cover is ideal if you have several vehicles you want to protect. The limit varies by provider, but you can insure up to 500 vehicles under one policy; the more you vehicles you add, the bigger the discount you’ll receive.

Commercial customers looking for flexibility and value can also choose pay as you go cover. Under this option, you pay an annual administration charge and then nothing more unless a vehicle breaks down, in which case you receive an itemised bill for the callout.

As with personal policies, the more you pay for business or fleet cover, the more help you’ll receive. Most providers will also let you add extras like home start, European recovery and replacement vehicles to their commercial policy offerings.

All the major recovery organisations market some variation of business breakdown cover.

Go to top.

 

My car is brand new, do I need breakdown cover?

Most new cars come with complimentary roadside assistance, so always check before you splash out on a private plan from a breakdown service.

The length of cover varies by manufacturer, but 1 to 3 years is typical. Many schemes will let you extend cover even after the free period has expired, but there may be conditions attached, such as a requirement that you continue to get your car serviced by an authorised dealer. Again, clarify first.

If you buy a new car that comes with roadside assistance, but already have third-party cover, you may be able to put your existing policy on hold until the free one expires. Failing that, you can very often cancel your policy with a third-party provider for a modest penalty charge.

Different companies have different rules, so it always pays to phone and ask. The AA lets you freeze your policy in this way, whereas Green Flag only lets you cancel – for a fee – and gives you a pro-rata refund, as long as you’ve not had a call out during the cover period, in which case you get nothing back at all.

Also, make sure you note down when when the manufacturer’s protection expires, so you can arrange alternative cover in time.

Although most manufacturers don’t advertise the fact, in the majority of cases their roadside assistance is provided by a third-party specialist such as the RAC (used by Renault) or the AA (partnered with Toyota).

Go to top.

 

Front-end of a shiny new car
(Image credit: Fabien99 at Pixabay.com)

 

What information do I need to give if my vehicle breaks down?

  • Your membership number or name
  • A contact telephone number
  • Your exact location, including road numbers or names or landmarks
  • Your registration number or Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • A brief description of the issue
  • The number of passengers
  • Whether there is a caravan or trailer attached to your vehicle

It’s always worth mentioning any special circumstances when you call as well, such as the fact that your are a lone female, or with children or pets, or that you’re elderly, as this helps the call-taker prioritise your call or arrange for a suitable recovery vehicle to be despatched.

If you are in a secure area or on private land mention this too, and make sure you organise access to the area before the recovery operator arrives at the scene, to save their time and yours.

Go to top.

 

How to Get the Best Deal on Breakdown Cover

 

What is the cheapest option?

We all love a good bargain and with a bit of shopping around, it’s possible to protect your car with providers like RescueMyCar, and even big names players like Green Flag, for as little as £16 p.a., thanks to Britain’s highly competitive market for breakdown cover.

However, a cheap policy is only a bargain if it meets all your needs as motorist. There’s little sense in saving a few quid now, only to find yourself seriously out of pocket later on, because your cover didn’t include all the features you needed.

For example, is it really a good idea to skimp on home recovery if you own an old banger and rely on it to do the school run every day?

Here are some factors you should consider when deciding which policy is best for you:

  • The age and reliability of your vehicle
  • How far you drive and how often
  • Whether or not your vehicle is well maintained
  • The number of vehicles you drive/in your household
  • Your level of vulnerability in the event of a breakdown
  • How much your business will be impacted by a breakdown

Having said that, there are tips and tricks you can use to make big savings on breakdown cover. Here’s our list of the top 12:

 

Avoid the ‘loyalty penalty’

Is your renewal quote higher than last year, even though nothing has changed? Are new customers paying less than you for the same policy, even though you’ve been a loyal customer for years?

That’s because you could be paying what is know as the ‘loyalty penalty’.

When costs rise, prices have to as well, but firms of all kinds use the fact that we’re often too busy or too lazy to shop around as an excuse to hike up prices, just so they can increase their profits.

To help combat this problem, the Financial Conduct Authority introduced new rules on 8 May 2018, which require insurers to display the previous year’s premium on motor, home and travel insurance renewal quotes.

In addition, both the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) have pledged to reduce the gap between new customer premiums and subsequent renewal premiums that unfairly penalise long-standing customers.

That’s great news and will undoubtedly help cut excessive price differences, but you still need to make sure you compare your quote with other providers and do your homework before renewing.

 

Don’t auto-renew

Never auto-renew your policy if you can help it!

If you do just go ahead and renew automatically, you could be charged a ‘loyalty penalty’ and end up paying much more than you need to for your rescue policy.

Your renewal notice should act as a prompt for you to start comparing providers, to work out which one offers you the best deal for the level of cover you require.

Start searching as soon as you can, as there is nothing worse than having to auto-renew because you didn’t have enough time to find a better priced policy, or having to cancel and then being left without any cover at all while you look for an alternative provider.

If you do find a more competitive quote, then don’t hesitate to contact your current insurer to try to beat down their price.

If you’re not confident challenging a renewal quote over the phone, check to see if the company has a live chat facility you can use instead.

 

Pay annually, not monthly

A monthly subscription usually works out more expensive than paying for an annual policy in one go, so try to avoid the monthly option if you possible can.

It is not uncommon for providers to show monthly rates by default, but there is almost always an annual payment option there too, so make sure you click on it to compare the difference in price.

 

Be careful with Direct Debits

Some providers offer discounts if you set up a direct debit to pay for cover.

You can certainly save money this way, but there’s always the danger that you’ll stop comparison shopping and end up losing out on better deals elsewhere.

Even if you do have a direct debit set up, you should still check out alternative quotes at renewal time.

 

Haggle Hard

Discounts and incentives are built into the pricing structure of breakdown policies. Big saving are there for the asking, so make sure you take advantage of this fact.

Breakdown companies are some of the easiest companies to bargain with, and customers who do make the effort report high success rates and substantial reductions on the advertised price.

Remember, they want your business, and that puts you in a strong negotiating position.

All the usual tactics for haggling apply:

  • Research competitors’ prices thoroughly first
  • Make sure you are comparing like with like
  • Always remain calm and polite
  • Use any issues you’ve had with them to drive a hard bargain
  • No call outs in the previous year? Use that fact to negotiate
  • Play different companies off against each other
  • Don’t accept the first deal you’re offered, push harder
  • Call again, to see if another agent offers a better deal
  • Ask for extras, if they won’t budge on price
  • Be prepared to walk away (or at least to call back later!)

 

Buy Online

By buying cover from its website you’re helping a company cut its staff, administrative and other costs, and this is the reason the cheapest deals are often exclusive to the internet.

Take advantage, but don’t forget to research first and to make use of cashback sites, discount codes and vouchers to secure even bigger savings.

 

Woman paying for online purchase with credit card
(Image credit: JESHOOTScom at Pixabay.com)

 

Get Cashback

Cashback websites are a great way to save a lot money for little effort. You sign-up, then click through their site whenever you want to buy a product or service from an online merchant. Once your purchase has been verified, your cash reward is paid into your cashback account.

Always check your browser’s ad-blocker is switched off before buying through a cashback site, otherwise your purchase might not be recorded.

The two biggest players in the UK are:

TopCashback

Quidco

On the day we visited, both the AA and RAC were offering £120 off on policies worth £241+, and £35 off those worth £60-£84, at both cashback sites; many other breakdown providers were listed too.

 

Use vouchers and discount codes

The web is awash with vouchers and codes that offer serious discounts. Unlike cashback sites, you don’t necessarily need to sign-up to take advantage of them either.

It’s not always possible to combine deals, by using a discount code as well as going through a cashback site, for example, and many offers state this clearly in the terms and conditions, but it’s always worth a try.

Our favourite voucher websites include:

MyVoucherCodes.co.uk

VoucherCodes.co.uk

HotUKDeals.com

 

Make use of comparison websites

Comparison sites are an essential weapon in your armoury, when it comes to bagging a deal. They not only allow you to quickly and easily compare prices from multiple providers in one hit, but they often host exclusive discounts that they’ve negotiated with the recovery firms as well.

The biggest and best known price comparison specialists are as follows:

Compare The Market

Confused

GoCompare

Moneysupermarket

Uswitch

 

Don’t forget about loyalty card points

Don’t let your shopping points just sit gathering dust, put them to good use.

At the time of writing you could get a discount worth up to 3 times the value of your Tesco Clubcard points on selected RAC breakdown policies.

Similarly, collectors of Avios points could buy selected AA, RAC or Emergency Assist Breakdown cover for just 1,000 points when we checked.

Nectar card holders can usually take advantage of generous discounts on roadside rescue insurance too.

 

Check for free cover

A number of current accounts offered by high street banks and building societies bundle goodies like travel insurance, mobile phone insurance, home emergency cover, and UK and European breakdown cover in return for a modest monthly fee.

Do your sums first, but these types of packaged accounts can often represent real value for money and offer the convenience of not having to shop for the different policies individually.

 

Ask about free add-ons

Last, but not least, don’t forget about add-ons. Some recovery firms don’t offer steep discounts, but do throw in incentives like free MOT tests instead, which still represent a substantial saving.

Go to top.

 

What if I want to cancel or change my cover?

Under consumer rights legislation, you are entitled to cancel your policy within the first 14 day cooling off period after purchase, or when you receive your policy schedule, as long as you haven’t made a claim during that period.

The catch is that some firm’s will charge you a cancellation or administration fee when they refund your money.

For instance, AutoAid’s terms and conditions state:

“ Your cancellation rights

Within 14 days

You have the right to cancel a new policy within 14 days of when you purchase your policy or when you receive your policy documents, whichever is later. For a renewed policy this is within 14 days of your renewal date.

The insurer will charge you for the period you have been on cover subject to a minimum charge of £15 plus IPT.

We will also deduct a £15 administration charge from any refund provided by the insurer.

You may also be charged an admin fee if you try to change your policy in some way, though some vehicle recovery specialists like RescueMyCar will wave this charge if you do so online.

To protect yourself, always make sure the cover is right for you before you hit the buy button, clarify the cancellation policy and charges beforehand, and read the terms and conditions carefully to avoid disappointment.

Go to top.

 

What do I do if my provider lets me down?

As with any product or service you purchase, things can go wrong from time to time.

To help you, we’ve drawn up a list of tips and tactics you can use to fight your corner effectively:

  • Do your homework – write down all the relevant information including times, dates, names, places and costs; check the term’s and conditions to ensure you comply with the small print
  • Give them a chance – contact your service provider in the first instance and give them a chance to sort out the issue; make sure you don’t miss out any important details; remain calm and polite
  • Escalate – if you are unhappy with the response, try directing your complaint to a senior level. Alternatively, you could use the free insurance complaints tool from Resolver. It’ll help you draft and track your complaint, and escalate it to the Financial Ombudsman if you have no joy with your provider
  • Dangerous or illegal practices – if a company is not following the law, by not respecting your consumer rights for example, or if its staff or contractors have done something that is a safety or security risk, then you should alert Trading Standards
  • Court action – if you really are are unable to settle the matter through communication or mediation, you may be able to pursue your claim for money you’re owed through the County Court Money Claims Centre, often referred to as the ‘small claims court’

 

Useful Links:

Association of British Insurers

British Insurance Brokers’ Association

County Court Money Claims Centre

Financial Ombudsman

Financial Services Compensation Scheme

Money Advice Service

Resolver

Trading Standards

Which?

Go to top.

 

Summary

Cars are incredibly complex pieces of machinery these days, so it is inevitable that almost all of them will develop a fault of some kind during their lifetime. If a breakdown occurs unexpectedly, especially a long way from home, you could be left facing a large bill for recovery or repair, unless you have adequate protection. Breakdown cover not only gives you peace of mind but also makes real economic sense.

The UK is lucky in that it has a very competitive roadside assistance market, with a host of companies offering a wide range of plans to suit every pocket. However, the wealth of choice also makes selecting the right policy difficult and it is easy to be swayed by price alone. This should be avoided.

Your aim when hunting for cover should be to balance the features you require with the price you are willing to pay, and not to focus on cost alone. If you spend time to identify exactly what kind of cover you need and carefully researching the market, it is not difficult to find a suitable policy.

Once you’ve identified the policy that best matches your needs as a motorist, you can then focus on reducing its price. Discounts are built into the pricing structure of most policies, but unless you take advantage of that fact, you will simply end up missing out and paying more than you really need to for cover. Options to slash the price include using comparison websites, cashback sites, vouchers and, of course, good old fashioned haggling.

Before you pay, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions of the policy you are buying, including any exclusions, excess fees and cancellation charges.

Once you’re covered, never auto-renew your policy or just accept the renewal quote you’re sent. Instead, jot down the renewal date in your diary, so you can comparison shop in good time before your policy runs out.

Breakdown cover doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you shop for it the right way.

Go to top.

 

Best Buys

Here is our pick of the best breakdown insurance providers along with a summary of their key strengths or notable features:

 

AA

  • Biggest rescue service in the UK
  • Boasts a high roadside repair rate
  • Own fleet of repair/recovery vehicles and experts

 

RAC

  • Customer satisfaction ratings
  • Key cover includes house keys
  • Own fleet of repair/recovery vehicles and experts

 

Green Flag

  • Uses a national network of garages and mechanics
  • Competitive rates and a ‘no call out’ discount on renewal
  • Will beat AA or RAC renewal quotes by 50% *

* (conditions apply)

 

Auto Aid

  • Free cover for your spouse/partner
  • 50% discount for a second car

 

Auto National Rescue

  • Offers a protected No Claims bonus
  • Key cover standard on all policies

 

Breakdown Assist

  • Highly competitive prices
  • Message relay service standard on all policies

 

Caravan and Motorhome Club

  • Specialist policy for caravan, trailer and motorhome owners
  • No size, weight or vehicle age restrictions; dual cover; unlimited callouts

 

GEM

  • Markets a pay and claim policy
  • Covers vehicles of any age for the same price

 

Rescue My Car

  • Free Accident management service
  • UK membership with or without excess

 

Saga

  • Specialises in policies for the over 50’s
  • Which? recommended provider

 

Start Rescue

  • Average call answer time 3 seconds
  • Competitive prices

 

Cheapest

Provider: Breakdown Assist

Policy name: Local Breakdown Cover

Main benefits: roadside assistance, local recovery, misfuel cover, message relay

Price: £12.68 a year

 

NB. All prices quoted correct on 12 October 2018, but subject to change without notice.

 

Non-affiliate links: n/a

 

Go to top.