What is Breakdown Cover?

7th February 2018

By Adam Smith

What exactly is breakdown cover in car insurance policies? Here, we explore everything you need to know about breakdown cover in the UK including how it works, what to expect and how to find the best policy for you.

A breakdown cover policy can provide roadside assistance and repairs to drivers at any time. These days, getting car insurance with breakdown cover as standard is very common. But is a car insurance add-on your only option when getting breakdown cover? Or would a standalone policy suit you better? Read on to learn everything you need to know about breakdown cover.

Who needs breakdown cover?

The short answer to this question is: anyone who drives a car. Although breakdown cover isn’t a legal requirement (like car insurance), it is a crucial part of driver safety. It helps to keep you and other drivers safe no matter where you are in the country.

One of the biggest concerns for car owners on the road today can be the dangers involved with breaking down in the middle of a journey. Not only is it extremely stressful and inconvenient, but it could end up costing you a lot of money if you need to source the help of a nearby garage.

Arranging one-off emergency assistance can be up to six times more expensive than an annual policy, making the latter a sensible investment for anyone who cares about looking after their finances. There are 5.5 million UK drivers without breakdown cover, with a reported 3 million of those breaking down just last year. With more than one in five drivers having to use their cover annually, breakdown cover isn’t something you should ignore.

What are the different types of breakdown cover?

When it comes to selecting the right breakdown cover, there are a few things to consider. At the very top level, there are two broad types of policies to look at. Standard cover and pay per claim cover. When choosing the right policy, remember that there is also a difference between personal breakdown cover (covers you as a passenger in any car) and vehicle-based breakdown cover (covers you in your car only).


Standard cover

Standard cover (the most common type of cover) is offered by most breakdown companies. You will either pay a monthly fee or an annual fee upfront and this will cover you for the entire year. Emergency call outs will not be charged, making it a very convenient and cost-effective option for those who spend a lot of time on the road.


Pay per claim cover

This is a cheap cover option that is suited to less frequent drivers. If you are not required to commute daily to work and only use your car for leisure, this may be an option for you. Policyholders will pay a significantly reduced fee upfront but you will not have access to your provider’s own roadside assistance. Instead, the cover will contract local recovery services. Payment will be required for the call out and you will need to claim back the cost by providing proof of receipt to your breakdown company at a later date.


What will breakdown cover entitle me to?

There are different levels of breakdown cover and these will vary from company to company. One of the biggest mistakes a driver can make when buying roadside cover is forgetting to check exactly what they are entitled to. Especially if you’ve just found the cheapest car insurance with breakdown cover online, signed a contract and let your policy renew year after year.

It’s easy to overlook the finer details, so here are some of the different levels of cover you can expect:


Roadside assistance

This comes as standard for all policies, so at the very basic level, you will be able to have roadside help if you experience a problem. This doesn’t cover breakdowns at home, though, and is only valid for breakdowns while on the road. Check if your policy states if you must be a minimum distance away from your registered address.


National recovery

This provides vehicle recovery anywhere in the UK for cars that cannot be repaired on the spot. Your broken-down car can either be towed to your home address or to a repair garage. Often, there will be transportation for passengers but remember to check the fine print for how many.


At home assistance

It’s not unusual to break down at home, especially in cold weather when engines struggle to start. Standard roadside policies do not cover this kind of assistance, so it’s important to check before purchasing. Home assistance cover usually entitles you to home breakdowns or within a certain distance of your address.


Onward travel

Onward travel is an option that can provide you with a courtesy car, alternative transport or an overnight stay in a hotel should you break down somewhere far away from home, making it ideal for anyone who is required to travel regularly for work. Types of onward travel cover vary greatly between companies so always ask for more details.


Cover for Europe

European cover can be bought as an add-on to your existing cover or as a standalone policy altogether. It can also be purchased as single-trip, multi-trip, or annual cover to suit your travel needs.


Parts and garage cover

An optional add-on that can help to minimise the costs of parts, labour and garage bills linked with a reported breakdown. There may be limited claims per year. Excess charges may also apply.

Car insurance with breakdown cover

Some car insurance companies can actually provide breakdown cover as standard, at no extra cost. For both cost and convenience, this can be a great selling point for people shopping for insurance.

Finding the best car insurance with breakdown cover isn’t always easy, though, as fewer than 20% of companies are able to offer it for free. The ones that do may not be able to give you the most suitable car insurance and with breakdown cover being a relatively affordable outgoing, it shouldn’t be your deciding factor when choosing insurance policies.

It’s also good to remember that free cover can mean a more expensive policy, so be wary of deals and always work out the true cost with an online comparison tool.

What about breakdown as an add-on?

Breakdown cover can also be included as an add-on when you buy your car insurance. This is a handy extra that can combine your car insurance and breakdown cover search, saving you time.

Note that most insurers have a chosen partner that they work with, the most popular being some of the big names you will recognise such as the AA, Green Flag or RAC. Generally, this means that getting breakdown insurance as an added extra isn’t going to be cost-effective, but for drivers who prefer to put their trust in industry leaders, this is a very suitable way of finding the best cover.

Can I get standalone breakdown cover?

If your insurance policy doesn’t offer breakdown cover as standard and you opted out of getting it as an add-on with your insurer, there is also the option of searching for your own breakdown service. One that fits your personal needs, your driving habits and your budget.

Bear in mind that when buying breakdown cover, there are some policies that offer instant cover with 24/7 roadside assistance as soon as payment is received. There are others that start up to two months after the sale date.

How do I find the cheapest breakdown cover?

The price of roadside cover can vary greatly so it’s in your best interest to explore the market. Just like car insurance deals, it’s wise to shop around for your breakdown service providers. Many drivers will auto-renew each year without comparing the prices of competitors, so if you don’t do your research, you could end up paying over the odds.

For owners of new cars that are less likely to experience faults, it could be worth downgrading from comprehensive cover to basic cover. Breakdown firms are also among the easiest companies to haggle with according to research, so you could try and talk them down into offering a discount.

Another way to save money on your breakdown cover is to buy a joint policy with a partner or a family member. There are some companies that will quote the same price for spouses as for the individual, and many others quoting just a fraction more for a couple.

Remember, finding the most suitable cover for you isn’t always about finding the cheapest deal available. Basic policies mean fewer entitlements, so it’s imperative to always check the small print.

In order to find the cheapest car insurance with breakdown cover, we recommend using a comparison service online. Comparison sites can be very helpful in reviewing different car insurance offers side by side, as well as showing you which insurers include free or supplementary breakdown.

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