How to choose your breakdown cover provider and policy

As any vehicle owner will know, having a good reliable breakdown cover policy for your vehicle is enormously reassuring. From flat tyres to sudden and unexpected engine woes, a breakdown policy should, in most cases, get you sorted and on your way again quickly and safely.

With the market place having expanded quickly in this area in recent years, knowing where to start, what policy details to look for and who to ultimately choose for your provision can feel overwhelming and incredibly confusing. This overview aims to help you make the best selection for you. Navigating the array of suppliers, possible policy content and considering the qualities you may wish included, this guide aims to help you steer a clear course towards the best policy and provider for you.

There are, broadly speaking, two main types of policy:
A standard ‘traditional’ policy, with an annual fee, with no additional call-out fees – you break down, you are rescued by the company who provided the policy and have nothing more to pay. This type of policy has multiple ‘levels’ of cover so it is important you know what you will require, as the lower cost options may not cover you or your vehicle appropriately.
A call out policy, where your rescue will often be sub-contracted to a local firm – so you are rescued, will pay upfront fees for this service then have to reclaim through your policy. This type of policy may charge lower upfront fees, but you will have to invest time in reclaiming your money if you do need assistance.

There are several other significant decisions to make before deciding how to proceed, including:

How many people and/or vehicles will need cover?
You may find it more economical to include a partner on your policy, rather than have separate ones, or a son, daughter or other relation. Similarly, if you are an employer with a fleet of vehicles, then deciding the best package for your organisation as a whole is prudent. It is vital to ensure that you are clear whether it is the person or the vehicle that is covered and plan accordingly. Most of the lower cost policies, such as the standard AA or RAC policies at around £30 a year, will be vehicle cover. This means that the car/bike/van is covered regardless of who is driving it. The other option is ‘personal’ cover. This means the policyholder is covered to drive ‘any’ vehicle, which can be hugely beneficial if you own/drive more than one vehicle.

Personal cover tends to be more expensive and can be an ‘add-on’ to the AA or RAC policy or comes as standard in some of the more ‘all inclusive’ packages, such as the award winning GEM Motoring Assist policy which works out a lot cheaper that the AA or RAC if you select all of the add-ons, so its worth spending the time working out what you need and then shopping around some of the ‘smaller’ suppliers, big doesn’t always mean ‘cheapest’ or ‘best’!

Do you wish roadside assistance?
Roadside assistance is normally the most basic package available. If you breakdown, and your problem cannot be resolved at the roadside, then your car will normally be transported to a garage, usually the local garage, or to your home. If you want to specify your preferred garage then that is likely to be an ‘add-on’ so keep that in mind when purchasing your policy.

Is nationwide or European recovery important?
If you travel widely within the UK you should bear in mind that some companies offer better coverage than others. The bigger players obviously focus on the size of their fleet but some of the smaller companies have agreements with local recovery companies, often resulting in excellent national coverage.
If you are likely to travel abroad with your vehicle, you may wish to consider purchasing a policy that includes European cover – emergency breakdown assistance on the continent can be very expensive!
Most companies will allow a one off ‘add-on’ for your European holidays but some offer a certain number of days included in your standard policy so its worth looking into what you get as standard if you plan on driving to Europe anytime soon.

Do you require home assistance?
Not all policies offer home assistance and the opportunity to be helped if still at your home when your breakdown occurs. Most ‘basic’ policies will recover your vehicle if it breaks down more than a quarter of a mile from your house. So if you have a slightly older vehicle that you don’t use all that often then you’re probably going to require home assistance to get that battery jump start every not and again. Check that this is included in your policy or you’ll need to upgrade (or push your vehicle a quarter of a mile!).

Not just a car?
Motorhomes, trailers, caravans, classic cars, motorbikes…not all companies will have policies that cover these, so it is well worth investing some time to ensure that if these items are likely to be used, that your policy makes an allowance for them. As mentioned early, personal cover will cover you not the vehicle so if you own a ‘main’ car and a motorbike, caravan or classic car it is worth looking at the personal cover option as it will cover all your vehicles (a vehicle policy will require multiple policies for each vehicle).

Service levels and track record
Levels of service and customer care should never be underestimated. There is a reason why the breakdown companies that have been established for long periods continue to thrive and survive. When Auto Express magazine asked its readers to vote for the best breakdown company, the consistent winner for the last five years has been GEM Motoring Assist. This years top 5 are GEM, Britannia Rescue, Green Flag, AA and RAC (in that order) so the biggest aren’t always the best. Below is a list of some of the questions Auto Express asked in their survey, which may be helpful when considering additional company service and policy features including:

  • How you are received when reporting a breakdown
  • The speed with which they respond
  • The ability to resolve the problem
  • Friendliness and general reassurance

Would an onward travel package be required to ensure you reach your destination?
Not all policies will transport you to your intended destination – if you are travelling long distances you don’t want to get stranded in the middle of the country when you are going to stay with friends miles from your current destination. Onward travel means the breakdown cover policy will ensure you are taken to your destination whilst your vehicle is fixed, meaning you can enjoy your break with minimal disruption. Again, an important consideration when deciding on what you want your policy to cover.

Is it important that your provider prioritises women and children?
Many providers will make a concerted effort to ensure that women and children are prioritised during a breakdown and offer additional security advice. This doesn’t tend to be an ‘add-on’ option for most policies so it is worth researching into the company to make sure they have strong customer service if this is a requirement for you. You don’t want to be stranded in your car with young children for hours because it’s a busy ‘breakdown day’!