UK Vehicle Breakdown Cover Checklist
We list the top 25 traps to watch out for when shopping for breakdown insurance, so you can avoid the mistakes others commonly make.
The UK has a highly competitive market for breakdown cover, with a raft of firms fighting for your business and a dizzying array of plans to choose from.
But with so many different options on offer, it’s important that you take your time, research thoroughly and compare policy features carefully, to ensure that you are buying the right product for your needs.
If you don’t take this approach, you could easily end up with cover that is too costly, provides inadequate protection or is of the wrong type completely. Worse, you may only discover this is the case when its too late, leaving you stranded or facing a nasty bill.
Sadly, far too many of us end up snapping up breakdown insurance in one of the following ways:
- Automatically renewing a policy when the reminder arrives
- Buying the lowest priced cover just to save money
- Buying emergency cover at the roadside after a breakdown
- Picking a provider simply because they well known
Avoid the Pitfalls
To help you avoid these traps, we’ve compared breakdown policies from all the main providers, analysed their sales blurb and pored over their terms and conditions, and used the information we’ve gathered to create a checklist of 25 key points you need to keep in mind when shopping for cover.
Our list is not exhaustive, by any means, and it is definitely not a substitute for reading insurers’ terms and conditions properly, but it should help you avoid the most common pitfalls and empower you to buy with confidence.
For detailed information on choosing a UK breakdown policy or to view our list of best buys, check out our guide here.
Here’s our top 25:
Vehicle type restrictions
All the mainstream recovery services cover private cars, but not all of them cover other types of vehicle as standard. Even if they do, it may only be under a specialist policy. Always contact the company or refer to their terms and conditions to ensure your motorbike, light van, mini bus, caravan or motorhome is definitely covered.
Vehicle age restrictions
Most recovery firms impose clear limits on the age of the vehicle they will insure. Some even reward owners of cars under a certain age by offering them discounts on cover. However, only a select few providers will cover your vehicle regardless of its age.
When buying cover, verify if your insurer takes your vehicle’s age into consideration and if this influences the price they quote you.
Multi-car or multi-person cover
If you and your partner both drive, see if you can save money by opting for a couples or joint policy, as this will usually cost less than buying cover individually. Similarly, if there are a number of drivers in your household, ask if there’s a family or multi-car policy available; most rescue companies offer these kinds of cover, so take advantage and save a bundle.
Never assume that similarly named policies from different breakdown companies provide the same features or benefits.
For example, basic cover from one firm may entitle you to assistance as soon as you’re 0.25 miles from home, whereas a competitor’s policy will only cover you if you are at least 1 mile away.
Inspect the fine print before you sign up.
Policy benefits can vary considerably between providers, as some may offer certain features as add-ons only, to keep their headline price down, while others include them as standard.
Take these variations into consideration when shopping and make sure you really are comparing like with like. Benefits commonly offered as optional extras include cover for:
- Low/wrong fuel
- Faulty battery
- Parts and labour
- Lost/locked/faulty key
- Accident, theft, vandalism
Home start towing limits
If you breakdown at or near your home, some firms limit the distance they will tow you, especially if you’re suffering a flat or damaged tyre, as opposed to a mechanical issue.
Watch out for these limits in the terms and conditions.
It’s common for breakdown providers to limit the maximum number of people they will transport in the event that your car can’t be fixed immediately. Most specify 7 persons, including the driver, but this can vary by provider and we’ve come across caps as low as 5 persons.
When it comes to larger groups of people, some recovery services will automatically assist a driver and up to 16 passengers, if they are together in a minibus, but others will only cover you if you buy a group policy.
Be sure to establish the maximum number of people you are insured for as standard before you commit.
Many cut-price policies include an excess which you have to pay before they will contribute towards your repair/recovery bill.
If this is the case with the policy you are considering, be sure to confirm the exact amount you will have to pay and under what circumstances, and if there are any other conditions that apply.
Normally the T&Cs are pretty clear cut, but it never hurts to double check.
Parts and garage insurance
Unless you buy a premium policy, this benefit will normally be an optional extra. It can be a useful addition to your cover, but the amount of money your provider will contribute towards spare parts and labour, should garage repairs be required, will almost certainly be capped.
Always clarify what this limit is and what if any exclusions apply to the cover.
Also, remember that you will usually have to foot the bill for any parts that are used by the patrol to fix your vehicle at the roadside.
Most providers aim to be with you in 45 minutes or less, but some are better at this than others. Don’t hesitate to ask them to supply details about their average response times, if you can’t find them posted on their website.
Response times are a crucial differentiator between firms, so worth paying attention to when deciding which one to go with.
There can be big differences in callout limits, not only between companies, but even between policies from the same provider. Some will strictly cap the number of times you can call them out during the membership period, while others will allow unlimited callouts.
This is an important consideration and one you should pay special attention to if you own a particularly unreliable car.
In addition, if you make more than a set number of claims in a year, you may be charged extra at renewal time. Ask your provider if they apply this rule.
Always read the small print carefully, so you know exactly what is covered and what is not, and so you are aware of all the important clauses and exclusions.
Terms and conditions can normally be downloaded from the company’s website to read before you buy.
There can be a lot of legalese in these documents, but more and more companies are making a real effort to write clearly these days, so don’t be too intimidated to dive in and read them.
Here are some of the most common restrictions listed by road recovery specialists:
- Repeat calls for problems the provider has already assisted you with
- 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 punctures, accidents or breakdowns that occur 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 of those with unapproved modifications
Breakdown specialists will often prevent you from making a claim within the first 24-48 hours of you taking out cover. This is to stop motorists from taking advantage by only buying cover when they really need it.
Be sure to enquire if there is a waiting period before you can make a claim.
Priority for vulnerable customers
Most recovery services prioritise calls for assistance from vulnerable customers such as lone females, elderly drivers and anyone who has kids with them, but it always pays to clarify if this is standard procedure for your chosen insurer.
Towed vehicle cover
The majority of breakdown firms will automatically assist you if you breakdown while towing a caravan, trailer, mobile tent, etc., but never assume that this is the case, as there are some providers who either don’t or who charge extra for the service.
Also, check what size, weight and age restrictions apply to towed vehicles, because almost every recovery company will have some kind of limit in place. If your vehicle doesn’t meet the guidelines, you may be better of buying a specialist policy instead.
Unless they are service animals, recovery services aren’t obliged to transport your pets or livestock if you breakdown. Even if they do agree to take them, your animals may not be allowed in the patrol van for safety reasons.
To avoid any issues later on, always ask your provider to spell out their policy on animal transport clearly when you sign up.
Check if you’re covered for breakdowns in Europe. Certain premium policies include this as standard, which means you don’t have to arrange separate cover.
However, if you travel to Europe regularly and want comprehensive cover, then consider a standalone annual policy instead, as it may well offer more benefits than an add-on policy.
Alternatively, if you only intend to go away for a short trip once or twice in a year, then a single trip policy will be much more effective.
Regardless of which policy type you choose, make sure it covers you for all countries you plan to visit and for the full length of your trip.
Commercial vehicle cover
Some breakdown companies treat vehicles used for business purposes differently from private-use vehicles. Check if this is the case with your provider, because you may need to buy a specialist commercial policy to be properly protected.
Businesses that own a number of commercial vehicles should consider purchasing a fleet policy, as it will normally work out to be the most economical option.
Fleet operators can also sign up for Pay As You Go cover. Under this plan, you pay the insurer a monthly administration fee and then nothing more unless one of your vehicles breaks down.
Ask your recovery service if they offer either of these options.
And don’t forget that you can add on extras like home recovery, European cover and replacement vehicle hire to commercial policies too.
Manufacturers breakdown cover
These days it’s common for new cars to come with free breakdown cover for the first few years. However, there are often conditions attached to these policies, such as a requirement to ensure that your car is regularly serviced by an authorised dealer, so check the small print.
If it’s good value, then find out if the cover can be extended for a fee when it expires.
If you already have breakdown insurance with a third-party provider when you buy your new car, ask if they will let you freeze or cancel your membership until the manufacturer’s policy runs out, as many will allow you to do this.
New customers often get the best deals, so avoid auto-renewing your policy and shop around each year instead, that way you can be sure your loyalty isn’t being taken advantage of.
Even if you’re happy to stick with your current provider, don’t just accept their renewal quote, always try to haggle the price down instead.
Direct debits can also make you less inclined to comparison shop. Don’t fall into that trap, do your research.
By law, if you buy your policy online you are entitled to cancel it within 14 days of purchase, so long as you haven’t used it.
Even if you purchase cover over the phone or using some other method, most firm’s will still let you cancel within this period.
However, many firms charge an administration or cancellation fee when you attempt to alter your cover or to request a refund.
To be safe, always confirm your rights before you take out cover.
All reputable breakdown insurers in the UK belong to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which handles complaints between financial companies and their customers. They also normally belong to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), which pays out if your provider can’t meet its liabilities.
The majority of insurers in this country are also members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) or the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA), and agree to follow the code of conduct set out by these organisations.
We recommend that you scrutinize your insurer’s website or its terms and conditions, to establish if it has signed up with the Financial Ombudsman Service and the FSCS.
Firms save money on sales staff and other overheads when you purchase online. For this reason, their best deals are often only available on the Internet.
Our advice is to always compare any renewal or telephone quote you are given with the rates available on the firm’s website, to see if you really are being offered the best price.
Also, if possible, pay in one go, rather than monthly, as this will normally work out cheaper.
Comparison websites like Compare the Market, Confused, Go Compare and Moneysupermarket not only offer a quick and easy way to compare policies from multiple providers in one hit, but often host exclusive deals they’ve negotiated with the recovery companies as well. They’re a really useful research and money saving tool, so don’t overlook them.
Special offers and discounts
The Internet is full of discount codes, vouchers, cash back offers and exclusive deals from almost all the main breakdown providers.
We recommend you explore these offers and use the one that saves you the most money. Usually, you don’t have to do anything more than click a link or cut and paste a special code to snag the deal.
And don’t forget about supermarket points either, because they can often be a worth much more than their face value when used to buy products like breakdown insurance.
Here is our list of recommended discount websites:
We’ve put together a list of breakdown services that we consider to be the pick of the bunch, along with reasons why we think you should consider them. To find out more, please visit the Best Buys section of the following post:
As a British motorist, you are spoiled for choice when it comes to vehicle breakdown cover. But, unless you know what to look for when comparing insurers, you could easily end up buying a policy that is overpriced or simply unsuitable.
However, by using our check list of important considerations as a guide, you should be able to avoid the most common mistakes car owners make when searching for a recovery policy.