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What is European Breakdown Cover? – A Buyer’s Guide

What is European Breakdown Cover? – A Buyer’s Guide

We take an in-depth look at European breakdown cover and reveal how you can get protection abroad from as little as £6 per day.

All vehicle insurance policies sold in the UK provide the minimum third-party cover to drive in EU countries.

A lot of motorists think the similar rules apply to breakdown cover and that if they run into trouble while driving on the Continent, their UK recovery company will simply come and rescue them.

That is not the case – most rescue policies don’t cover you outside of the UK as standard.

In this article, we’ll explain what European breakdown cover is all about, why you need it, what to look out for when shopping for a suitable policy, and offer advice on how to get the best deal.

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How to Choose European Breakdown Cover

 

What is European Breakdown cover?

It’s a type of insurance policy that guarantees help from a repair/recovery service, should you break down while driving in European countries.

If your vehicle can’t be fixed at the roadside then, depending on the level of cover you have bought, you will either be towed to the nearest garage, transported to a destination of your choice or ferried back home.

Bear in mind that even the largest British breakdown services do not operate in Europe. If you breakdown, then your cover provider will rely on a local repair/recovery service, or garage, or contractor to assist you.

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Why do I need European Breakdown Cover?

Millions of motorists head for the Continent each year confident that nothing untoward is going to happen to them. The figures, however, tell a rather different story.

According to the AA:

  • Over 4% of British drivers will experience a breakdown or accident while in European
  • The average cost of repair on the Continent is £550
  • The cost of repatriating a vehicle from Italy is £1,935

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

Figures from the RAC paint an even more alarming picture. According to a survey it carried out in 2009, 12% of those it approached had experienced a vehicle breakdown while on holiday overseas and 10% had been involved in an accident.

(Source: https://www.motorhomeplanet.co.uk/european-breakdown-cover-for-motorhomes)

It’s bad enough breaking down in the UK, especially if it happens a long way from home, but when it happens abroad the stress and complications are much, much worse. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Cost
  • Language barriers
  • Unfamiliar territory
  • Unfamiliar road rules
  • Lack of local area knowledge

Holidays can be a costly affairs, as we all know, and a breakdown policy can seem like an added expense that you can easily do without, particularly if your car’s fairly reliable. However, good cover is a small price to pay for peace of mind, and one that will easily pay for itself if you have to claim.

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Doesn’t a UK breakdown policy cover Europe too?

No, not as standard. Some providers package European cover with their premium breakdown policies, but in most cases you need to opt for it specifically.

For instance, both the AA and RAC sell European cover as a separate product, whereas Saga includes it as standard in its Premier plan.

Always check with your current provider, to find out if you’re already covered.

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Can’t I just buy cover when I need it?

Yes, you can, but certain restrictions may apply. The AA, for example, offers one-off cover, but this is only for a single instance, so you won’t be covered after that.

Buying cover on the spot is also much more expensive than arranging it beforehand, because you’ll be asked to pay a new member instant call-out surcharge on top of the normal membership fee.

In addition, its more complicated to arrange cover immediately when you are abroad, and you may end up having to dip into any foreign currency you have with you to take out membership.

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What kind of European breakdown cover can I get?

There are two key types of holiday breakdown cover available:

  • Single-trip
  • Annual Multi-trip

A single trip policy is ideal if you are only going on a one-off holiday or on one or two short breaks in a year.

If you plan to make several trips in a year, to visit family or friends abroad, or on business, or if you own a second home which you usually drive to, then an annual multi-trip policy will be more economical.

Both single-trip and annual cover are usually available in different tiers with more benefits and more generous limits included the higher you go.

Private vehicles are usually covered as standard, but some providers may ask you to pay a supplement or even purchase a specialist policy for motorbikes, minibuses or motor homes. Specialist breakdown insurance is almost always required for commercial vehicles heading overseas.

Other niche product include group cover and one-way cover. The AA is one of the few providers that offers both options: a group policy that covers 9-15 persons, as well as one-way and group one-way protection that gives you outbound cover if you’re flying back to the UK or returning with your vehicle after 31 days.

Regardless of which type of policy you choose, it is worth noting that you may get more comprehensive cover by choosing a standalone plan, rather than just adding European protection to your existing UK breakdown policy.

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What are the benefits of European roadside assistance?

The benefits offered by a breakdown policy very much depend on the provider and the level of cover you have opted for. Here is a list of the most common features listed by various companies:

  • 24/7 access to an English speaking helpline
  • Emergency roadside repairs
  • Towing to the nearest garage
  • Emergency accommodation and meals
  • Help with the arrangement and cost of car hire
  • Emergency labour costs *
  • Help with the location and delivery costs of spare parts *
  • Repatriation of vehicle and passengers to the UK
  • Help with legal expenses
  • Limited garage labour costs
  • Replacement driver in the event of illness
  • Pre-departure breakdown assistance in the UK
  • Help with the cost of collecting a vehicle left in Europe for repair
  • Replacement tickets for a missed connection
  • Cover for actual or attempted break-ins
  • Emergency message relay to family, friends or work
  • Import duty if your vehicle can’t be fixed and has to be scrapped abroad

* Does not include the cost of the parts themselves

All policies will include roadside repairs and local recovery, and the majority also include national recovery, onward travel, car hire and emergency accommodation as standard, but all other features will vary, so always check exactly what you’re getting before you buy.

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How many countries am I covered for?

The number of countries and which countries you’re insured to travel in varies by provider and your level of cover. For instance, Saga’s European policy protects you in 39 countries, whereas the AA covers 44 and the RAC trumps them both with 49, including some quite exotic destinations like Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus and Moldova.

Most companies divide their list of countries into three distinct zones so that, for example, France and Germany fall into zone 1, and Spain and Italy into zone 2.

Basic cover may only include zones 1 and 2, meaning you have to upgrade if your journey includes a country in zone three. Always check to ensure your policy covers all your planned destinations.

Here’s how the AA categorizes the countries it covers:

 

Zone 1: France, Ireland and the Low Countries (8 countries)
Andorra, Belgium, Channel Islands, France, Germany, Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland

Zone 2: Western Europe (17 countries)
Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Channel Islands, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, San Marino, Spain (excluding Ceuta and Melilla), Switzerland, Vatican City

Zone 3: The EU and beyond (37 countries)
Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Isle of Man, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania,, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Republic of Ireland, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey in Europe (plus Üsküdar), Ukraine

All zones (44 countries)
Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Isle of Man, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Mediterranean islands (European), Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain (excluding Ceuta and Melilla), Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey in Europe (plus Üsküdar), Ukraine, Vatican City”

 

Watch out for exceptions. A lot of providers exclude certain countries or regions due to remoteness or because of political issues such as trade laws or war.

Ceuta and Melilla in Spanish Africa are commonly excluded; the RAC will not provide assistance in Northern Cyprus; and most companies will only cover you in the parts of Turkey actually in Europe, plus Üsküdar on the country’s Anatolian shore.

Some companies let you pick and choose which countries you want cover for, especially if you are buying a single-trip policy.

If you decide to take a detour while on holiday and venture into a country you didn’t plant to visit originally, then you must check if your policy covers you there too. If not, update your provider before entering that territory or else you may be left high and dry in the event of a breakdown.

Regardless of where you’re heading, always check the Foreign Office’s website for the latest safety and security updates beforehand, in case there are any travel warnings:

Gov.uk

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Toy car on map of Europe
(Image credit: Maxpixel.net)

 

What countries are members of the European Union?

EU Member Countries
Austria Italy
Belgium Latvia
Bulgaria Lithuania
Croatia Luxembourg
Cyprus Malta
Czech Republic Netherlands
Denmark Poland
Estonia Portugal
Finland Romania
France Slovakia
Germany Slovenia
Greece Spain
Hungary Sweden
Ireland United Kingdom *

 

* Planning to leave the EU on 29 March, 2019

 

For more information about each country, or details about which members use the Euro as their currency or are members of the Schengen border-free area, please visit the EU’s official website:

European Union

Note that many European policies cover you in non-EU territories too, including:

  • EFTA members (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland)
  • Balkan countries (e.g. Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia)
  • Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)
  • Commonwealth of Independent States (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Russia)
  • Georgia
  • Turkey
  • Ukraine

If planning a detour, always check with your provider first that your covered, never assume.

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How long does the cover last?

That very much depends on your policy.

Single-trip policies can last from 1 day to anywhere up to 90, though 31 days is a more typical limit.

Annual policies generally state that any one trip cannot be longer than 31 days and that your vehicle cannot be outside the UK for more than 90 days in any membership year.

Others, though are a lot more generous. For example, under its annual policy, the AA let you make unlimited trips, as long as no single trip lasts longer than 364 days!

As mentioned earlier, many policies also restrict the number of claims you can make during the cover period, so bear this in mind when shopping for cover.

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How many passengers are covered?

It depends on your provider.

The majority will protect up to 7 persons – including the driver – as standard, but some set the bar as low as 5 occupants and some as high as 9.

Of course, all the passengers must be travelling together in one vehicle and they must have individual seats for the cover to be valid.

If you are travelling in a large party, then you will need to buy a specialist group policy. For instance, the AA sells single-trip and one-way cover for groups of 9-15 persons, and the RAC provides cover for up to 17.

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Are there any limits to how much I can claim?

Most benefits will be subject to a cap, so you may find yourself out of pocket for things like emergency car hire and accommodation, if you haven’t understood the terms and conditions clearly.

Talking of transportation and accommodation benefits, some firms will only pay your hotel costs or your car hire costs, while others will happily cover the bill for both, so choose wisely.

Similarly, certain insurers will pay all your repatriation costs, if you get stuck abroad due to a breakdown or accident, whereas others will only pay up to the market value of your vehicle.

Some providers even set a maximum claim limit (e.g. £15,000) per period of insurance, while others don’t set one at all. Always check with your insurer.

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Will repair costs be covered?

It’s not uncommon for insurers to foot the bill for sourcing and delivering spare parts for your car in the event of a breakdown abroad, but relatively few will cover the cost of the actual spare parts. Even if they do, it will only be up to a set limit and on specific policies, not as standard.

The AA is one such company. It offers optional parts and labour insurance, which provides help with garage and repair bills abroad, up to £500.

Despite any cap, parts and labour cover may still be a worthwhile extra when you consider that spare parts can be much more expensive on the Continent, especially if they are different between right and left-hand drive vehicles, and that many repairers abroad will only carry out work in accordance manufacturers’ strict guidelines, which can result in eye-watering bills.

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Are there any callout limits?

Yes, but these can vary considerably according to policy type and insurer.

For example, it’s common for single-trip policies to restrict you to just one callout per trip, whereas the limit for annual policies can range from as little as 3 callouts per year right through to an unlimited number.

Always read the small print before handing over your money.

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What kind of vehicles are covered?

Private cars are covered as standard. Light vans, campervans, motor caravans and minibuses, and motorcycles are often covered as standard too, but not always, so check.

Some providers ask you to pay a supplement or take out a specialist policy if you want cover for anything other than a private car, particularly if its a commercial vehicle.

Regardless of what you are driving, maximum size and weight restrictions will apply.

Typically, the laden weight, or Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM), will be limited to 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes), and the dimensions of the vehicle to 7m in length, 3m in height and 2.55m in width.

These are the most common specifications we’ve come across; certain companies are far stingier (e.g. 5.1m length, 1.95m height, 2.1 wide) and others slightly more generous.

An important point to note is that these dimensions include anything that is attached to your vehicle, such as a bike or luggage.

The age of your vehicle will also be taken into consideration. Vehicles over 10 years old may attract an additional charge or may not be eligible at all. So if you own an old motorhome, you may have to shop around for cover.

For example, if you want cover from Green Flag and your car is 11-15 years old, then you will have to purchase their comprehensive Euro Plus package.

Few firm’s will cover a vehicle more than 16 years old, though both the RAC and Stuart Collins are an exception and set no limit on the age of the car.

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Are my pets or livestock covered?

Its rare for European breakdown policy providers to extend cover to animals travelling with you abroad.

In most cases, you are responsible for any costs involved in accommodating your animals, transporting them to your destination, or repatriating them to the UK.

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Will my caravan, trailer or mobile tent be covered automatically?

Some recovery services will automatically extend cover to caravans, trailers, mobile tents, etc. (as long as they are attached to you vehicle when it breaks down), while others will charge an additional supplement, it really depends on the insurer.

Even when they do cover towed vehicles as standard, providers invariably set size, weight and other restrictions. Typically, these are as follows:

  • 7m in length, 3m in height and 2.55m in width
  • Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes)
  • Fitted with a standard 50mm tow ball coupling hitch

To stress, these are the most commonly quoted figures, and we’ve found restrictions as low as 6m for length and 2.25m for width.

In contrast, Breakdown Assist will cover any caravan or trailer, provided it is less than 8 metres long (including the A Frame), 3 metres high and 2.55 metres wide.

Size restrictions quoted by insurers usually include anything attached to the main or towed vehicle, such as a roof box or bike rack.

Many rescue specialists don’t take your caravan or trailer into consideration when calculating the market value of your car for repatriation purposes, so check if you need to pay extra for this, or if it is covered at all.

Furthermore, if you are forced to leave your caravan or trailer with your car while it is being repaired, the recovery service will not pay for you to hire an alternative caravan or trailer.

One last point, the Caravan and Motorhome Club offers a breakdown policy designed specifically for the needs of caravan, trailer and motorhome owners.

You can choose from three tiers: Single Trip, Annual Multi-Trip and Long Stay, with cover for trips of 122, 66 and 365 days at a time respectively.

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Caravan in camping park
(Image credit: Jo Turner at Geograph.ie)

 

How long will it take to repatriate my vehicle?

If you can’t return home with your vehicle for some reason, and it needs to be delivered back to you in the UK, then expect a wait of 7-14 days, and even longer than that during peak periods such as the summer holidays.

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Are there any exclusions I need to be aware of?

Exclusions vary by insurer and by level of cover, so always check.

To help you, we’ve drawn up a long, but by no means complete, list of the main exceptions you need to watch out for:

  • Cost of repairs or recovery capped
  • Restrictions on the cost/length of emergency accommodation
  • Limits on the total number and duration of trips
  • Cap on the total number of claims allowed in the cover period
  • Zoning of countries/country not covered
  • Weight and size restrictions on vehicles/caravans/trailers
  • Caravans, trailers or mobile tents not covered
  • No cover if you drive to a holiday home regularly
  • Cost of spare parts not included or capped
  • Replacement keys not covered
  • No transportation or repatriation of pets
  • Hitchhikers not covered
  • Sundry expenses such as telephone calls, faxes, food and drink excluded
  • Vehicles that are not being driven legally or are unroadworthy at the start of the trip
  • No legal cover for alcohol, drug or parking related cases
  • Emergency repairs that do not render your vehicle unsafe to drive
  • No cover for non-essential items, e.g. air conditioning, radio or sat-nav
  • Fuel issues excluded

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Is my hire car automatically covered for breakdown?

This subject is a major grey area, because many hire brokers do include breakdown cover as standard and just as many do not.

Brokers usually source vehicles from dozens of different suppliers and because of that you may not find out who is actually providing your rental car until you actually pick it up.

That makes it hard to check beforehand if roadside assistance is included.

Even if the hire charge does include breakdown cover, it may only be a very basic policy, which means you will be stung with a hefty bill if your hire car needs to be towed.

To complicate matters further, breakdown cover may well be included with your car hire insurance policy, but only apply in the event of an accident, not if your rental car suffers a mechanical fault.

For these reasons, we recommend you do the following when dealing with hire agencies or brokers:

  • Check what, if any, breakdown cover is included when you book if possible
  • Clarify if you will have to pay any costs or admin fees in the event of a breakdown
  • Read the terms and conditions of your car hire insurance and breakdown policies carefully
  • Purchase adequate breakdown protection from the hire car provider or a recovery specialist

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Can I cancel my breakdown policy if I need to?

Yes, most will let you cancel and get a full refund within the first 14 days of taking out cover, as long as you haven’t claimed. If you have, then you’ll likely be entitled to nothing.

After the two week ‘cooling off’ period you may receive a pro-rata refund at most, as long as you haven’t claimed.

If you do cancel or amend the policy in any way, you may be hit with an admin fee.

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Can I get long-term European breakdown cover?

Most standard European recovery policies cap the number of trips you can take or their length or both during the membership period, which renders them unsuitable for UK drivers or expatriates who need long-term cover for breakdowns abroad.

Luckily, a number of providers market suitable policies, either through their websites or over the phone:

AA – its annual policy lets you make unlimited trips overseas and a single trip can be up to 364 days long

ADAC – ideal if your a UK registered driver who needs low-price cover for a long stay in Germany. Their website is in German – unsurprisingly – so probably best to give them a ring

LV Britannia – allow you to rack up a generous total of 180 days abroad with their UK & European Assist policy

Saga – if you’re over 50, then Saga’s Premier plan offers 365 days cover for overseas use

Stuart Collins – a specialist insurer with no limit on the age of your car or the time it spends in Europe during the cover period

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What if I need to complain about my provider?

Firms place a lot of emphasis on customer service these days, but it is inevitable that things are going to go wrong from time to time.

If you feel you have been unfairly treated by your provider or are dissatisfied with the service they have provided, the first thing you should do is complain to them direct, to give them a chance to address your grievance.

Alternatively, you can use the free service from Resolver, an online complaint handling tool, to generate appropriate complaint letters and track your dispute.

If you are still dissatisfied with your provider’s response and have escalated the matter as far as you can internally, then you should take your dispute to the Financial Ombudsman Service, the UK’s main body for helping resolve disputes between financial service providers and consumers.

Your insurer should be part of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, so you are protected if it can’t meet its obligations. Check the FSCS website for full details about how they protect you.

Other handy sources of information about insurance products include the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA).

For issues relating to a company operating in the EU, use the Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) service created by the European Commission to channel your complaint to the correct Alternative Dispute Resolution scheme.

If you 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’.

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Going Abroad

 

Do I need to do anything before going abroad?

In some instances, your policy will only be valid and active if you notify the insurer of your trip. This condition often applies to annual cover.

Always check if this is the case with your provider and, if it is, let them know your itinerary before you set off.

And remember, if you decide to take a detour during your journey, call and check with your provider first, before you cross the border, to ensure you are covered in that country.

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How can I avoid a breakdown?

While breakdowns and accidents are normally sudden and unexpected, and therefore unavoidable, you can significantly improve your chances of not suffering an incident by taking the following steps before you set off on your journey:

  • Ensure your vehicle is fully serviced regularly and on schedule
  • Check your tyres are at the correct pressure and tread depth; pack a spare
  • Inspect your windscreen and wipers for damage and replace them if they are
  • Ensure fluids such as engine oil, power steering fluid, radiator anti-freeze/coolant, brake fluid, transmission fluid and windscreen washer are properly topped up
  • Test front/rear/side lights, hazard lights and the horn, to ensure they all function correctly
  • Ensuring that anything you are towing or that is attached to your vehicle is safe and secure

In addition, try to inspect the following items on your vehicle if you can:

  • Battery
  • Brake system and linings
  • Exhaust
  • Fan belt
  • Water hoses and clips

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Dipstick with engine in background
(Image credit: Robert Course Baker at Flickr.com)

 

What should I take with me?

Our list is not exhaustive and is provided for guidance only. We therefore recommend that you seek specific advice on what equipment and kit you will require to drive legally in the countries you plan to visit.

 

Documentation:

Passports – check they are still valid and have enough empty pages for any entry stamps

Visas – check entry requirements, as some non-EU countries require you to have a visa

Breakdown provider’s details – policy details, membership number, telephone numbers

Credit Cards – may be needed to pay for emergency car hire, accommodation, garage bills, etc.

Driving License – if you have a photo card license, take the paper counterpart with you too; many countries require you to carry an International Driving Permit as well

Vehicle Registration Document (V5C) – to prove you’re the registered owner of the vehicle; also known as the ‘log book’; must show your most recent UK address; takes 1-6 weeks to update or to get a replacement; your vehicle still needs to be taxed, MOT’d and insured too

European Health Insurance Card – entitles the holder to free or discounted medical care across the EU states and other European countries; not a substitute for travel insurance; it’s totally free, so don’t order one from an unofficial website

Note: if Brexit goes ahead, the EHIC will still be valid during the transition period, which is planned to last from 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020.

International Driving License – no such legal document; please refer to the IDP entry below

International Driving Permit – required in addition to your driving license in 150 countries; it validates your driving license; most countries require the 1949 Convention IDP, a few the 1926 Convention IDP, so check this handy guide from the AA; available only from the Post Office after 1st February 2019

Note: UK drivers will need an IDP to drive in Europe after 29th March 2019, if Brexit goes ahead.

Green Card – proves you have minimum insurance cover to drive abroad; internationally recognised; available from your insurance provider; free, but there may be an admin fee to pay; issue of Green Cards overseen by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) in the UK; overall, the system is managed by the Council of Bureaux

Note: UK drivers will need a Green Card to drive in Europe after 29th March 2019, if Brexit goes ahead.

Crit’Air Vignette – air quality certificate for vehicles; required to drive in major French cities; costs €3.11 plus postage; do not buy from unauthorised sites

Breathalyser – French law requires all drivers to carry an unused, single-use breathalyser that is in date and features the French certification ‘NF’ mark

Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103) – to prove you are allowed to drive the hire car you’re in; has to be purchased; valid for 12 months; visit the Gov.uk website for application information

Carnet de Passage en Douanes (CPD) – an international customs declaration required to take your vehicle into certain non-EU countries; you can buy it from CARS UK, the national CPD provider

MOT certificate – not compulsory, but useful to have with you, in case you get asked

 

Equipment:

Fire extinguisher ~

First aid kit *

GB sticker and/or EU number plate ^

Headlamp beam deflectors/converters *

In-car phone charger

Maps / sat-nav

Reflective jacket *

Side rear-view mirrors x2 (if towing) ~

Single-use breathalyser (for France)

Snow chains ~

Spare bulbs *

Spare car keys ~

Spare glasses/contact lenses ~

Spare tyre ~

Warning triangle *

Wheel chocks x 2 ~

Winter tyres ~

^ Mandatory in every foreign country (incl. caravan, trailer, etc)

* Mandatory kit in many countries (2 warning triangles required in Turkey; visitors to Spain also recommended to carry 2)

~ Mandatory kit in some countries

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Useful Links

A list of handy websites and online tools to help you plan your road trip abroad:

AA – contains detailed information about mandatory car kit, important documents and road regulations in countries across Europe

Caravan and Motorhome Club – caravan, motorhome and trailer owners heading abroad can tap into a wealth of information in the ‘Overseas holidays’ section of this portal

Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile – guidance for disabled drivers on parking spots and on using their Blue Badge overseas

Foreign Office – the foreign office provides safety and security updates on 200+ countries and territories worldwide, as well guidance on entry requirements and much more

Going Abroad – visit this micro-site from the European Commission to brush up on the road rules and driving laws in EU member countries, or to download the free mobile app for drivers

Google Maps – calculate your route to any destination in Europe or beyond with the aid of Google’s direction finder

RAC – country-by-country guides to road rules and regulations across the Continent

RAC – find out more about European Euro emissions standards, which are being introduced by an increasing number of cities across the continent

Sixt – information about toll roads across Europe and further afield

Wayze – driving directions, traffic reports and GPS on your mobile phone with the aid of this free app

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How do I call the breakdown service from abroad?

Should the worst happen and your car breaks down, take the following steps:

  • Park safely and switch on the hazard lights and side lights
  • Put on a high visibility/reflective jacket and a place warning triangle 30-100 meters from your vehicle (rules vary by country). Its illegal to use a triangle in the UK, for road safety reasons
  • Move with your passengers to a safe area, well away from moving traffic
  • Call your breakdown provider from your mobile phone or a SOS call box. Dial your provider’s international helpline number

You can also call their UK number, but remember to add 0044 at the beginning and to drop the zero off the STD code, e.g. 03069 990044 would become 0044 _3069 990044.

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What information do I need to give the rescue service?

When your call is answered, provide the helpline agent with the following information:

  • Breakdown service membership number/policy document number
  • Your exact location/address, including any landmarks or identifiers
  • The make, model, colour and registration number of your vehicle
  • A telephone number you can be contacted on at the time
  • UK motor insurance certificate and policy number
  • Green card (if applicable)
  • Vehicle registration document (V5C)
  • An SOS callbox number (if this applies)
  • Number of passengers; details of any pets

An important point to note is that French highways and service stations are privately operated and repair/rescue vehicles aren’t allowed access to them.

In the event of a breakdown in France, you’ll have to call the police and wait for them to tow you off the motorway or service area before your provider will send a mechanic to assist you.

This is not an exceptional scenario or unique to France. In fact, in some countries you may even be presented with a bill for being towed off a highway or rest stop.

If you are billed, keep the receipt, as most insurers will refund the cost, usually up to £150. However, there is no harm in checking with them beforehand if this is definitely the case.

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Who will the rescue company send to help me?

British breakdown providers – even the major players – do not operate patrols overseas. Instead, they maintain agreements with various national and local repair recovery operators overseas.

If you contact your insurer from abroad, they will arrange for one of their partners in that country to assist you, which will either be a national breakdown firm, an independent contractor, or a mechanic from a local garage.

The AA, for example, is part of an international roadside assistance network called ARC Europe Group. You can check ARC’s website to see which operator the AA relies on in different territories:

ARC Europe Group

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European tow truck loading a car
(Image credit: Pxhere.com)

 

What if I can’t communicate the problem to the repair/recovery operator?

To help you, we’ve created cheat sheets that detail common vehicle parts and traffic signs in four major European languages, namely French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Click here to view or print the two lists.

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Will I have to pay out of my own pocket?

Unless your policy includes parts and labour cover, you will be responsible for the cost of any spare parts used to fix your vehicle at the roadside, as well as any garage repair bills.

Even with cover, there will be limits on how much your insurer will contribute towards these costs.

Most other benefits are likely to be capped too, so make sure you are aware of the limits. Plus, some providers apply an excess, especially to single-trip policies, which you will be liable for.

Large operators normally take care of your breakdown costs automatically, but they may ask you to pay for things like accommodation and car hire if they can’t arrange them for you, or if what they offer is not suitable, and then refund you on your return to the UK.

However, some of the small insurers work on a pay and claim basis, where you pay your recovery costs in full on the day and then request reimbursement when you get back home.

Always check which approach your provider takes. More importantly, always keep a debit or credit card with you when you travel abroad, so you can take care of any emergency payments on the spot.

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What do I do with my receipts?

If the worst does happen and you have to contact your provider to request help while abroad, it is vital that you keep the receipts for everything you spend money on that is related to the incident and that your policy allows you to claim for.

Unless you retain evidence of your expenses, you will not be reimbursed for things like towing charges, emergency accommodation and car hire.

If you paid with a debit or credit card, but then lost the receipt, you should be able to use the relevant bank statement as proof of purchase.

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How can I get the best deal on European breakdown cover?

Many of the tips and tricks for bagging low-cost UK breakdown cover also apply when shopping for European roadside recovery protection. So, for detailed guidance, please check out the relevant section of our guide to buying a UK recovery policy.

That said, here is a brief rundown of the main tactics you can use:

  • Avoid the ‘loyalty penalty’ – many firms charge new customers lower rates than existing customers, to win business. Don’t let them take you for granted, always shop around for the best deal
  • Don’t auto-renew – this year’s quote could well be higher than last year’s, even though nothing has changed. Cancel automatic renewal and mark your calendar to search for a better price instead
  • Pay annually – if you are buying an annual policy, pay for it one go, not monthly, as it will normally work out cheaper that way. If the monthly rate is shown by default, make sure to click on the annual option
  • Be wary of direct debits – some providers offer a discount if you pay by direct debit, but setting one up may discourage you from comparison shopping at renewal time
  • Haggle – there is no shame and certainly no harm in bargaining hard with your provider, especially if you can prove a rival is offering a better deal
  • Buy online – by buying from the company’s website you are helping it save money on sales staff and other overheads. These savings are often passed on in lower online rates and no/low admin fees
  • Get cashback – buy your policy through an online cashback site and save pounds on your policy. It’s free and easy – all you have to do is sign-up the once. The two biggest cashback specialists in the UK are:

TopCashback

Quidco

  • Use vouchers and discount codes – there are always discount codes for breakdown policies floating around on the web, so make sure you use them! Notable sites for grabbing codes include:

MyVoucherCodes.co.uk

VoucherCodes.co.uk

HotUKDeals.com

  • Use comparison websites – comparison sites not only make it easy to compare multiple providers side by side quickly and easily, but they often have exclusive discounts too. Here are the main ones:

Confused

Compare The Market

GoCompare

Moneysupermarket

  • Use up your loyalty card points – don’t leave all those Tesco Clubcard, Nectar or Avios points you’ve been collecting all year lying around, use them to slash the price of your breakdown cover instead

 

  • Make use of freebies – packaged current accounts like the Nationwide’s FlexPlus often include European breakdown cover in their bundle of goodies. If the sums add up, then take advantage

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Summary

A vehicle breakdown abroad could ruin your holiday plans and land you with an eye-watering recovery bill, unless you have adequate European breakdown insurance.

Selected premium UK policies include European breakdown cover as standard, but most drivers opt to buy a stand-alone single-trip or annual multi-trip policy.

Regardless of which policy you choose, you need to make sure it includes all the features you require and covers all the countries you plan to visit.

You should also be clear about exactly what is covered, any exclusions that apply, and any limits to how much the insurer will contribute towards things like car hire and accommodation.

Before travelling, make sure you check your vehicle thoroughly and familiarise yourself with the road rules at your destination. Equally importantly, don’t forget to take with you all the mandatory documentation and equipment needed abroad.

In the event of a breakdown, always inform your provider before paying for any part of the recovery yourself, and keep your receipts, so you can request a refund later.

The market for holiday breakdown cover is very competitive, and you can buy single-trip cover for as little as £6 per day. However, you can slash the cost of roadside insurance further by shopping around and employing the same tactics you use when buying a UK recovery policy.

European breakdown cover is quick and easy to arrange, especially if you’ve done your homework beforehand, and provides invaluable peace of mind. We wouldn’t go abroad without it.

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Best Buys

 

AA

  • Sell one-way and group cover for 9-15 persons
  • Trips under annual cover can be up to 364 days long

RAC

  • No age limit on vehicles they will insure
  • Provide cover in 49 countries, the most of any provider we found

Green Flag

  • Emergency garage labour costs covered (first 30 mins, excludes spare parts)
  • Free message relay service to friends and family in the even of a breakdown

Allianz

  • Vehicle recovery for lost keys and incorrect/contaminated fuel
  • Courtesy car on return to UK, if own car left in Europe for repair

Breakdown Assist

  • Single-trip cover lasts up to 90 days;
  • Cover for 8 metre caravan or trailer (excl. A-frame)

Caravan and Motorhome Club

  • Cover for emergency hire of caravan, motorhome or trailer tents
  • Long Stay cover for trips of up to 365 days at a time

Cover My Breakdown

  • Keenly priced single-trip and annual policies
  • Unlimited callouts

LV Britannia

  • UK & European Assist policy allows you up to 180 days abroad

Saga

  • Specialise in cover for the over 50’s; clear terms and conditions
  • Premier plan offers 365 days cover for vehicles taken overseas

Stuart Collins

  • No limit on the age of your car
  • No limit on time vehicle can stay in Europe during the cover period

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Cheapest

Provider: Nova Direct

Policy name: Gold Excess

Main benefits: European cover, homestart, hotel, local recovery, national cover, onward journey, roadside assistance

Price: £50.00 a year (£30 excess)

 

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

 

Non-affiliate links: n/a

 

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