Breakdown Cover Guide

Your questions about breakdown cover answered

If you drive, you've probably heard of breakdown cover. But you might be wondering, what exactly is it, what's included, and do I really need it?

We've got all the answers to frequently asked questions about breakdown cover, including different types of policies and what they mean.

In this article:

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is a paid service that makes sure you get assistance if your vehicle breaks down. It can apply to almost any type of vehicle, from cars to vans to motorbikes - as well as fleets and company cars.

Your car could break down for a number of reasons, like a flat battery or a flat tyre. If you're at the roadside - or even at home - a breakdown service will send a mechanic out to your car to try to fix the problem.

If the mechanic can't fix the car there and then, they'll get your car to a garage for repairs.

Is breakdown cover worth having?

Breaking down can be a scary and stressful situation - especially if you break down somewhere dangerous, like on a motorway. Breakdown cover gives you peace of mind that help will be there when you need it and you won't be left stranded.

Plus, having a breakdown policy already in place could help save you money if your vehicle breaks down.

  • The average cost of a call out from a local garage is £80.1
  • A breakdown on the motorway could cost over £150.2

It’s usually cheaper to buy a year's policy in advance than break down and be forced to call someone out in an emergency.

Does car insurance cover breakdowns?

Breakdown cover is an extra service which isn't included in standard car insurance policies. Car insurance helps you cover costs if you've had an accident. Breakdown cover helps you with recovery and repairs when your car's broken down.

However, your breakdown provider might include an extra service to help if you have an accident. Accident Assist offers our Members help with repairs, vehicle hire or personal injury assistance if they need it.

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What is personal and vehicle breakdown cover?

Most breakdown cover providers will offer 2 types of policy:

Both personal and vehicle cover can apply to a range of vehicles like vans and motorbikes, as well as cars. But there are a few differences between them.

Personal breakdown cover

This covers you whether you're in your own car or someone else's, like a friend or family member's. Whether you're a driver or a passenger, you'll be able to call out a breakdown service if the car you're in breaks down. It can be a good choice if you want cover in multiple cars.

This cover might suit you if:

  • You sometimes drive different cars.
  • Your household has more than 1 car.
  • You want to cover your children as passengers in other cars.

Personal breakdown cover usually costs more than vehicle cover. If you're the sole policy holder, you'll need to be in the car for the cover to apply. It won't cover other people driving the car without you.

But you can add other people to your policy if you take out joint or family cover.

Vehicle breakdown cover

This covers a particular car if it breaks down, no matter who's driving it. The breakdown service provider will come out to fix the car even if the person who owns it isn't there.

This cover might suit you if:

  • You only drive 1 car
  • Your household shares 1 car

Vehicle breakdown cover is a more cost-effective option as it's usually cheaper than personal cover. But you won't be covered if you break down in someone else's car, either as a driver or a passenger.

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What are the different levels of breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover isn't one size fits all. You can choose from different levels of cover with more service and flexibility to suit your driving habits.

Most breakdown cover providers will give you the choice of these cover levels, which can also be combined together:

Roadside Assistance

This is the standard level of cover and is the cheapest tier you can get. All breakdown cover providers will give you at least this level of service. Roadside Assistance usually includes:

  • 24/7 help if your car breaks down at the roadside
  • A mechanic will come out to your car and try to repair it
  • If it can't be fixed there and then, you'll get a tow to the nearest garage

But this basic level of cover has some limitations:

  • It won't cover you at home (you usually have to be a minimum distance away, for example, 1/4 of a mile from home).
  • You'll be towed to the nearest garage and not to a destination of your choice.
  • If you need alternative travel arrangements, you'll have to organise this yourself.

National Recovery - Relay

National Recovery offers you all the same services as Roadside Assistance, but with the added benefit that:

  • If your car can't be repaired at the roadside, it'll be towed back to any location of your choice, anywhere in the country.

This could be handy if you're on a trip a long way from home. You can choose to be taken back home or to your local garage, instead of to the garage nearest the place where you broke down.

Most breakdown cover providers will recover you and your passengers, but there may be a limit on how many people can be recovered with you. It'll cost more to add National Recovery to your cover.

At Home - Home Start

At Home cover provides the same services as Roadside Assistance, but with the benefit that:

  • Your car will be covered for breakdowns at home and close to home.
  • Usually this applies within a certain distance from home, for example within 1/4 of a mile from your house.

You'd be surprised how many breakdowns happen on someone's own driveway. It could be a flat battery overnight or a slow puncture that means you wake up to a flat tyre in the morning.

With At Home cover, a mechanic will come to your home to try to fix your car there and then. It'll cost a bit more to add this to a standard Roadside Assistance policy.

Onward Travel - Stay Mobile

Onward Travel has the same services as Roadside Assistance, but it also includes:

  • Help to continue your journey, so a breakdown doesn't leave you stranded.
  • A choice of a hire car, costs for public transport or an overnight hotel.

Imagine you're on your way to a special event, like a wedding, when your car breaks down. With standard Roadside Assistance, your car will be recovered to the nearest garage and you'll have to figure out how to get to the wedding yourself.

With Onward Travel, you'll get extra support so you can finish your journey. Your breakdown provider will help arrange a hire car for a few days, or a train or bus if you'd rather take public transport. If your car's being fixed overnight, they can cover the costs of a hotel stay.

It can be a bit pricier to add Onward Travel on top of the standard Roadside Assistance.

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Will replacement parts be paid for?

With standard roadside assistance, a mechanic will try to fix your car on the spot. But if you need new parts or need repairs at a garage, you'll have to pay for it yourself.

You can usually pay a bit more to add cover to your policy that helps you out with the cost of repairs.

Here's how cover for replacement parts and garage labour works:

  • It pays for many of the spare parts used in roadside repairs that normally include a charge.
  • It'll pay towards work done in a garage after a breakdown, as long as the work's included in the policy.
  • You'll usually have to pay an excess (a small sum of money) towards the cost of repairs.

Our Parts and Garage Cover lets you claim up to £535 towards repairs each time you use it. You can claim up to 5 times a year, with just a £35 excess to pay each time.

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Can I be covered in Europe?

Breakdown cover will only cover you if you're driving in the UK. If you're driving your own car in Europe, you'll need to add European breakdown cover.

This won't apply if you're hiring a car abroad - you should call your hire company to deal with a breakdown in a rental car.

You'll be able to choose between:

  • Single-trip cover, which will cover you for 1 trip to Europe.
  • Annual cover, which covers you for unlimited trips in a year.

Why should I get European breakdown cover?

The benefits of European breakdown cover are:

  • You'll be covered if you break down in your own car while driving in Europe.
  • You can get help to finish your holiday, for example with a hire car.
  • If your car can't be fixed, it can be towed back to the UK for repairs.

You'll need to double check what's included with your European Cover. Some companies' standard policy might include a replacement hire car and towing your car back to the UK. Other companies might charge extra for these services.

Things to check before you buy

European Breakdown cover might be slightly different from your usual Roadside Assistance. Things to check before you buy include:

  • Which countries are included in the policy?
  • Is the cover 24/7?
  • Will there be extra charges for call outs?
  • Is there a limit on how much you can claim?
  • Will they charge to tow you to a local garage?
  • Do they provide a courtesy car or does it cost extra?
  • If your car can't be fixed, can it be recovered back to the UK or does this cost more?
  • Can passengers be repatriated back to the UK or is this an extra cost?
  • Are extras like lost keys or wrong fuel repair included?

Factors like how long you're away for, which countries you're visiting and the level of your cover will all affect the price of your European Breakdown Cover.

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How do I get breakdown cover?

There are lots of different ways to get breakdown cover.

  • Direct - You can buy breakdown cover directly from a provider. This is usually an annual policy.
  • Insurance - Some insurance companies include breakdown cover in their policies.
  • Banks - You might find you have breakdown cover as a perk with your bank account.
  • Manufacturers - When you buy a new car, the manufacturer might include free breakdown cover for a year or so.
  • Pay and claim - This offers a cheap way to cover your car. You'll have to pay any mechanic, garage or recovery fees upfront and claim the money back from your breakdown policy provider. You'll need to make sure you have enough money to pay upfront and then send receipts to reclaim the cost, much like how expenses work.

Before you buy a new policy, you'll need to consider the best level of cover for you and whether you might already have a policy you've forgotten about.

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More FAQs about our breakdown cover

Does breakdown cover fix your car?

Breakdown cover mechanics will do everything they can to get your car going again if you've broken down. But you can't call out a breakdown mechanic for routine maintenance or running repairs.

Depending on the problem, there may be an underlying issue that you'll need to get a garage to look at. In that case, your breakdown provider will tow your car to a garage to be fixed.

The cost of fixing your car at a garage isn't included in the price you pay for your breakdown cover. But you may get some help towards costs if you've bought an extra service like Parts and Garage Cover.

Here are some examples:

  • Flat batteries - A breakdown mechanic can jump-start your battery to get your engine going again. But if it's an old battery, it'll need replacing. If your battery keeps going flat, you may have another problem that needs to be looked at by a garage.
  • Flat tyres - The mechanic will remove the old tyre and fit a new one. If you carry a spare, you'll be on your way again. If you don't, the mechanic may fit a temporary wheel to get you to a garage where you can buy a new tyre before fitting it.
  • Engine, clutch and other problems - If it's more serious, you'll have to go to a garage for repairs. Your breakdown mechanic might do a temporary fix so you can drive your car to a garage. Or your car might need a tow to a garage if it won't start up again.
Does breakdown cover fix flat tyres?

Yes - flat tyres are one of the most common breakdown causes. If you've got a flat, a mechanic will come where you are and change your wheel.

If you have a spare tyre, the mechanic will fix this for you. If not, the mechanic will replace your flat with a spare wheel from his van. They'll then drive with you to a nearby garage so you can get a new tyre.

Does it include windscreen repairs?
No, breakdown cover doesn't repair chipped or cracked windscreens. This may be included with your car insurance policy or as an optional extra.
Is there an excess?

Unlike car insurance, most breakdown cover policies don't have an excess to pay. That means a mechanic will come to look at your car and recover it to a garage if necessary without you having to pay anything extra.

We don't charge any excess for our breakdown cover services. But if you have Parts and Garage Cover with us, there's an excess of £35 on claims for repairs up to £535.

How do you prevent car breakdowns?

The best way to prevent an avoidable breakdown is to:

  • Get your car serviced regularly
  • Perform regular maintenance checks

Most cars need to be serviced once a year or every 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. But not all cars are the same, so it's worth checking your handbook. During a service, the garage will look over your car and replace the oil and filter, which helps to keep your car in good condition.

At home in between services, you can do these basic car checks to keep your car healthy. It's easy to remember them as F-L-O-W-E-R:

  • Fuel - make sure your tank is topped up so you don't run dry.
  • Lights - clean headlights and check for blown bulbs.
  • Oil - regularly check and top up your oil level.
  • Water - check your engine coolant and windscreen wash.
  • Electrics - avoid common battery problems by driving longer journeys.
  • Rubber - make sure tyres are properly inflated and don't have damage.

By following the F-L-O-W-E-R checks you can help to avoid common causes of breakdowns like a flat battery, flat tyre or overheated engine.

How much is breakdown cover for a year?

The cost of annual breakdown cover can vary. The more your cover includes, the more it'll cost. But sometimes it's worth getting a higher level of cover from a reputable brand rather than going with the cheapest option.

  • It'll cost more for personal cover (to cover you as a driver or passenger in any vehicle) than vehicle cover (cover for 1 vehicle, whoever's driving it).
  • Useful extras like National Recovery (a tow to anywhere in the UK), Onward Travel (help with transport costs to finish your journey) and At Home cover (in case you break down on your driveway) will cost more.

It's a good idea to think about the level of cover that you need and then compare breakdown cover policies before you buy.

Can you get breakdown cover for a week?

Some breakdown providers offer temporary breakdown cover or short trip breakdown cover. This could last from 1 day up to a month.

Temporary breakdown cover might come with temporary insurance. For example, if you're borrowing a friend's car for the week, you might choose a bundle like this to keep you covered.

Some providers also offer breakdown cover on a monthly rolling basis, which you pay for per month and can cancel anytime.

Do you need European breakdown cover?

It's not a legal requirement, but if you're planning to drive your car in Europe, then it's a good idea to get European breakdown cover. Some UK breakdown policies have a mutual agreement if you drive in the Republic of Ireland, but most don't include Europe.

Breaking down in a foreign country where you may not speak the language can be stressful as well as expensive. European breakdown cover gives you peace of mind that you'll get help on the road if you need it.

What do I do if I've lost my car keys?

Don't panic - it happens to the best of us. Whether your car keys are lost or stolen, it can be a shock to find out that you can't get into your vehicle.

Here are a few options to replace a car key or fob:

  • See if your breakdown cover provider can help. Many breakdown providers can get into your vehicle and cut or program a new key or fob for you.
  • Check your car insurance policy to see if it covers lost or stolen keys (though it may be cheaper in the long run to pay for this yourself rather than claim on your insurance).
  • Find a registered auto locksmith through the Master Locksmiths Association. They can help you get back into your car and provide a new key.
  • Get a key from a registered dealer. You can get a copy made from a spare. If you don't have a spare, take along your vehicle ownership certificate (V5) and driving licence.
Compare breakdown cover
Learn more about choosing the right cover for you in our guide on how to compare breakdown cover. Plus, find out what’s included in breakdown cover from the AA vs RAC.
Good to know

1 MINTEL report: Vehicle Recovery – UK, September 2014. The website of the second largest provider stated that they had 'approximately 1,500 patrols' on 8 October 2015.

2 AA Survey of Garages Nationwide, March 2015.

3 AA Staff list, January 2019, actual figure is 2,974.

4 All AA Attended Breakdowns, January 2018 – December 2018 (Relay Specific) Actual figure is 753,629

5 All AA Attended Breakdowns, January 2018 – December 2018 (Home Start Specific) Actual figure is 90.9% average repair rate

6 All AA Attended Breakdowns, January 2018 – December 2018 (Stay Mobile specific) Actual figure is 32,879

7 All AA Attended Breakdowns, January 2018 – December 2018