What is the best breakdown cover for my car?

Breakdown cover is designed to offer you peace of mind. The best policies will take much of the hassle out of breaking down. Here's our guide to choosing the right cover for you

Words By Claire Evans

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What price would you put on peace of mind? If that peace of mind is the reassurance that a knight in a shiny van will come to your rescue if your car breaks down and leaves you stranded at the roadside on a wet, wintry evening, the likelihood is that youโ€™re paying too high a price for it.

Thatโ€™s because many people automatically renew their car breakdown cover without shopping around or demanding a cheaper price from their provider. Like car insurance companies, breakdown providers often offer a cheaper rate to entice new customers and then hike the price the following year. So you could pay ยฃ120 for the first yearโ€™s cover but ยฃ200 for the next 12 months.

Itโ€™s also worth noting that although you can pay monthly for cover, there is a premium for this, so paying annually offers the best value.

What level of cover do you need?

When youโ€™re renewing your cover, itโ€™s worth checking whether itโ€™s the best type for you. First of all, you need to decide if you want cover for your current car only or for when youโ€™re driving any car. The former is generally cheaper, so if you donโ€™t switch cars too often, itโ€™ll be the better option.

Next, pick the level of cover that suits you best. The cheapest option might be to get limited cover for just a single annual breakdown; for example, the AA offers this for ยฃ32. This should be fine for a newer car thatโ€™s unlikely to go wrong, but if your vehicle is older and less reliable, youโ€™re likely to end up paying out far more overall. With the AA policy above, thereโ€™s a fee of ยฃ99 for each subsequent callout. The AAโ€™s single-car cover looks to be better value, because it costs ยฃ7 more for a year and includes member benefits such as discounts at selected eateries and service stations.

There are also โ€˜pay and claimโ€™ policies. Asthe name suggests, youโ€™ll pay for any callouts you make, including the cost of recovering your car, and then claim it back from the breakdown provider.

While these policies are often cheaper than standard breakdown cover, they are less convenient. If you donโ€™t want to pay for the repairs and recovery up front, or youโ€™re not good with paperwork, this type of cover wonโ€™t be for you.

Three main levels of standard breakdown cover

1. Roadside assistance

This will get your car fixed if it breaks down when youโ€™re away from home. If the car canโ€™t be fixed, itโ€™ll be taken to a nearby garage for repairs. This type of cover doesnโ€™t include home breakdowns. Some policies stipulate that the car must be more than a quarter of a mile from your home.

2. Breakdown recovery

As well as sending a patrol to fix your car, you and your passengers will be taken to a destination of your choice in the UK.

3. Home start

This covers your car if it breaks down before youโ€™ve left home. Some policies include car hire, overnight accommodation and the cost of pubic transport if the car cannot be fixed straight away.

Adding extra cover

There are other levels of cover that allow you to tailor the policy to your needs, including European cover, which weโ€™d recommend if you ever venture across the Channel. If your car breaks down while youโ€™re outside the UK, getting it fixed or transported home can be prohibitively expensive.

If youโ€™re making only one European trip, you can add cover for that for as little as ยฃ7 with the AA; alternatively, you can add multi-trip cover for around ยฃ110. There are lots of conditions with this cover, though, so itโ€™s important that you check the small print before choosing a policy to ensure it covers your needs adequately.

Add-ons, such as key cover, could be worthwhile if youโ€™re prone to misplacing things. The RAC lets you add this to its cheapest vehicle cover for ยฃ24 a year. If your car keys are lost, stolen or broken, theyโ€™ll be replaced along with the carโ€™s locks, while the alarm and immobiliser will be reset. The annual limit for claiming on this is ยฃ1500.

If you have an older or higher-mileage car, you might want to add cover for any repairs that are required to fix the car after a breakdown. For a small hatchback, it costs ยฃ70-ยฃ80 to add parts and garage cover to an AA or RAC policy, and this provides ยฃ500-ยฃ750 worth of cover per breakdown. Although this is cheaper than what youโ€™d pay for an aftermarket warranty on a small hatch, itโ€™s worth remembering that it only covers post-breakdown work, not pre-existing faults with your car.

Multi-person packages

Buying one policy that covers you and your partner or your whole family can work out cheaper than getting separate covers. Adding a second person to an AA or RAC โ€˜any vehicleโ€™ policy, for example, costs around ยฃ25, which is less than half the cost of individual cover. Covering a family of four on one policy is good value, too, costing only around ยฃ60 more than cover for one person to drive any car.

Whatโ€™s not included?

Around 150,000 people put the wrong fuel in their cars every year in the UK, so itโ€™s worth checking if this is covered by your policy. Higher-end breakdown cover policies often include this; but many donโ€™t, meaning youโ€™ll either be charged an extra fee to add it to a policy or youโ€™ll be asked to pay a misfuelling callout fee. While some companies offer a substantial discount to members on the misfuelling callout fee, which can exceed ยฃ100, itโ€™s worth shopping around with independent specialists, because many try to beat competitorsโ€™ quoted prices.

Although it might seem tedious, itโ€™s also worth reading the terms and conditions of your breakdown cover so that you know whether there are any other exclusions.

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