Car Breakdown Cover – The Ultimate Guide

antoine fruchard Antoine Fruchard  updated on October 8, 2020

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Let’s face it. Almost everybody has experienced a car breakdown at least once in their lives. The only thing you can bet on is that they happen at the most inconvenient times and places.

So how do you avoid finding yourself in a pickle?

What you need is Breakdown Cover for your car. And it doesn’t have to be expensive. 

Here are answers to any question about breakdown cover, including tips on how you can get the cheapest and best car breakdown cover for your vehicle.

What is car breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover offers you the chance to get assistance 24/7 so you and your vehicle are not left stranded on the roadside.

Every vehicle at some point will experience problems. If, for example, your tyres puncture or your car battery dies, you may find yourself in a helpless situation that can be stressful and dangerous unless you have been insured under a Breakdown Cover policy. 

The following are some of the most common reasons for car breakdown:

  • Engine issues
  • Faulty car batteries
  • Flat tyres
  • Misplaced keys.

This kind of cover ensures that you get roadside assistance from a trained professional to fix your car and get you back on the road no matter the time or the place.

While breakdown cover can be bought as a policy on it’s own, some insurers offer it as an optional extra, while others offer it as a standard inclusion. It’s always best to shop around and compare your options to make sure you are getting the best deal possible.

How much does car breakdown cover usually cost? 

Prices start around £30 per year.

There’s a wide range of factors to take into account like add-ons provided by different insurance companies, your own personal needs. Your quote will vary depending on if you’d like to get nationwide recovery, onward travel, or european cover options.

You can either get breakdown cover as an extra option at your car insurance provider (below list) or get stand-alone policy (comparison tool above). You must know that most UK insurers are offering inside their car insurance plan, the breakdown cover of RAC, AA etc.

But here’s a quick comparison of average breakdown cover rates provided by some of the UK’s leading companies:

Car Insurance ProvidersBreakdown Cover fee (annual) on average
logo smartdriverclub£34.00
logo my policy£34.80
logo tesco bank£39.85
logo go girl£39.99
logo endsleigh£39.99
logo brightside£40.99
o2 drive box on board£42.00
logo admiral little box£44.95
logo diamond£44.95
logo admiral£44.95
logo sterling insurance£66.00
Breakdown cover annual fee comparison (in £)

Compare some of the cheapest car breakdown policies in the UK with our car insurance comparator tool.

Does car breakdown insurance cover my vehicle or me? 

It’s up to you. Breakdown insurance cover can be applied to you or your vehicle. 

Depending on your requirements, there are different types of breakdown cover you can take out.

You can choose whether your breakdown cover applies to you or your vehicle:

Breakdown coverage optionsExplanation
PersonalWith personal breakdown you’ll be covered in any vehicle as long as it meets the requirements mentioned in your policy. You’ll be able to claim whether you were driving or a passenger.
VehicleVehicle breakdown cover lets you claim for a specific vehicle. Whether it is a car, van, or motorcycle, you might be able to include a number of vehicles in this policy up to a certain amount.
Car breakdown coverage personal / vehicle

The cheaper option is generally vehicle cover, costing an average of £37 as opposed to personal cover, which averages £54.

Or you can choose the way you want your breakdown cover to work:

Breakdown payment styleExplanation
TraditionalWith traditional breakdown cover you pay a certain amount annually, and you normally get 24/7 cover for such things as call-outs, roadside and garage repairs, as well as towing services.
Insurance-StyleInsurance-style breakdown cover requires you to pay up-front for any repairs and recovery before you can claim a reimbursement from your insurer.
Car breakdown coverage traditional / insurance-style

What are the different types of car breakdown cover?

Breakdown coverage may vary depending on the type of coverage you choose and the provider you choose, but most policies cover the following:

Breakdown Cover typesExplanation
Roadside AssistanceThis is the most basic level of breakdown cover. Your provider sends out a mechanic and recovery vehicle to try and repair your vehicle on the roadside.
Local RecoveryIf your vehicle can’t be repaired on the roadside, it will be towed to a local garage.
National CoverIf your vehicle cannot be fixed, you’ll be able to choose any location within the UK for your vehicle to be towed to.
At-home BreakdownYou’ll be able to get a call out if your car is broken down at home, or sometimes within a short distance of your home. For example, if you are unable to start your car because the battery drained overnight, at-home breakdown cover could get you moving again.
Onward TravelIf your vehicle can’t be fixed on the roadside, you’ll be provided with more options for getting to your destination such as courtesy vehicles, overnight accommodation, or alternative public travel arrangements.
Breakdown Cover types

Most breakdown policies usually only cover the cost of repairs to your car on the roadside and not the cost of replacement parts or repairs if your car needs to be towed to a garage. Some insurers provide optional add-ons such as Parts and Garage Cover to help you cover garage expenses.

What are the breakdown cover extras available?

Here’s a list of common optional extras:

  • Key replacement: standard breakdown cover might not be enough if your keys are lost, damaged, or stolen.
  • Battery replacement: you may need an extra level of cover so your provider will change your car battery if it runs out.
  • Tyre replacement: if your tyre punctures or goes flat you could might need this add-on to ensure that your provider will replace it for you.
  • Parts and Garage Cover: pays for many of the spare parts used to fix your vehicle at the roadside or in a garage after a breakdown, that you would normally be charged for.
  • Wrong fuel: you could need an additional policy if you’ve used the wrong fuel for your car and it breaks down as a result.
  • European breakdown cover: if you break down on mainland Europe then standard breakdown cover probably won’t be enough to help you, therefore it might be an idea to take out European cover – even if it’s for a single-trip holiday. 

If your household has multiple or family cars or drivers it could be cheaper and more convenient to put them all on the same policy, rather than taking out individual breakdown cover for each. If you’ve got a caravan or trailer attached to your vehicle, you might need a special policy in order for these to be included in your breakdown cover. 

What’s not covered by breakdown cover? 

While breakdown coverage is one of the most basic types of cover to be included in your policy, it’s important to note some instances which might not be included, such as:

  • Breaking down on private land: if you break down on privately owned land, your policy may not cover this. Or your provider may charge extra for their assistance.
  • Breaking down with pets and animals:  travelling with pets might not be a big problem, though you may have to let your policy provider know in advance in order for them to transport the animals. However, livestock is a different issue – it’s possible to take out separate cover for livestock or horse trailers, but it’s worth looking into that only if you think you’ll need it.
  • Breaking down as a result of a road accident: if you get into an accident that results in your car breaking down, your provider might not be able to help you as this falls under a different category of insurance. Check out our guide to Comprehensive Car Insurance here.
  • Breaking down due to lack of basic maintenance: if you break down as a result of improper maintenance, such as unchanged engine oil or topping up with the wrong fuel, this might not be automatically covered.
  • Breaking down abroad: even if you have the highest level of breakdown cover possible, if it only applies in the UK then you’ll need an extra policy for when you’re driving abroad.

Do I need car breakdown insurance? 

It’s safer to have breakdown cover. Most often, you may already have it included in your standard policy.

Breakdown cover might come as an optional add-on with your motor insurance policy or even with some bank accounts or other financial products. It may also be included in the package if you’ve bought your car from a dealership. 

 If you already have breakdown cover through another policy or financial product, make sure to check the policy documents carefully to make sure it has everything you need. 

Here’s a list of checkpoints to help you evaluate the level of breakdown cover or add-ons you might need for your personal situation:

  • Age of your vehicle: if your car is new and less likely to have problems, you might find that even the most basic (Roadside Assistance) cover could be sufficient. If your car’s older, or has a history of breakdowns, you should consider a more comprehensive policy.
  • Type of vehicle: if you regularly drive a vehicle with a caravan or horse trailer attached, your basic breakdown cover will not cover damage to the attached vehicle. You might need a special policy for these to be included.
  • Your driving habits: buying ‘Personal Cover’ is typically more expensive but if you regularly drive other people’s cars it is worth considering this over vehicle-specific cover.

What to do when I break down? 

Firstly, be prepared – keep your policy information in your vehicle or on your smartphone at all times. 

Not only is a breakdown frustrating but can also be incredibly dangerous; particularly if you are on a busy highway. 

The first thing you need to do is to contact your insurer and tell them the exact nature of the problem, as well as your location. They will send a mechanic to your location and depending on the problem the mechanic will either fix the issue on the spot, or tow your vehicle to the nearest garage.

However, you can ensure the safety of yourself and of your passengers by taking note of a few tips:

  • Park in a safe spot: as far to the left as possible to ensure maximum distance between your vehicle and the moving traffic. You may need to push your car to the side of the road if necessary.
  • Take proper safety precautions: wear a reflective jacket, turn on your hazard lights to avoid to make sure you and your vehicle are clearly visible to other motorists. Put up a warning triangle at least 50 yards behind your vehicle on the same side of the road. Make sure you and all other passengers exit from the left door so as to avoid the risk of being hit by other motorists.
  • Contact your breakdown cover provider: call your insurer immediately from your mobile phone or the nearest emergency telephone and let them know your exact location as well as the nature of the problem. Be as precise as possible. 
  • Wait for assistance: DO NOT try to repair your car by yourself.

Is my breakdown cover valid abroad? 

To drive in another country, you need to make sure your insurance covers you outside the UK.

Most insurance companies in the UK provide European Cover as an optional add on. However, if you are traveling outside of the European Union, you might have to consider travel insurance policies.

So before leaving:

  • Let your insurer know that you’re travelling overseas, and check if your existing policy covers you.
  • Get in touch with your insurer to see if they’ll upgrade your existing comprehensive policy to be covered abroad and if you have to pay extra for it.
  • Ask your insurer for a Green Card if you’re driving in Europe. This will act as proof of your European cover.
  • Ask your insurance company if they offer the option to add European cover to your policy. This would cover you while driving in the European Union.
  • Read the fine print of your policy very carefully because some insurers put a limit on the number of days you can be fully insured while abroad.

Do I really need European breakdown cover? 

Not if you don’t travel.

If you do travel frequently within the European Union it’s definitely a good idea. Also make sure you ask your insurer for a Green Card.

A Green Card is a free document which you can request from your insurer as proof of your coverage in Europe.

It is highly recommended by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) as it will make your life much easier in the event you need to make a claim while abroad. 

There are also some countries outside of the EU such as Iran, Israel, Morocco, Russia and Turkey among others that require you to possess a Green Card if you plan to drive there. 

Can I get breakdown cover for a short period? 

Yes you can! What you need is Short Term or Temporary Breakdown Cover. 

This type of policy covers a driver or vehicle for a limited period of time – it could be just for a single day, or for several days.

It’s the ideal solution if you don’t want an annual policy, but do want some form of breakdown cover alongside your insurance. 

Most insurance companies in the UK offer this type of temporary cover for breakdowns in the UK and Europe ONLY. So, always read the fine print of your policy carefully or ask your agent.

Can I buy breakdown insurance after breaking down?

Yes, but it comes at a price.

Having your car give up on you without any breakdown cover can be downright infuriating. Many breakdown providers offer instant cover, which means you can take out a policy and get assistance right away. 

Instant cover can cost much more than a standard breakdown policy, with some providers charging a one-off fee of up to £110 on top of the cost of signing up.

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