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What is breakdown cover?


Whether you use your car for daily commutes or your weekly shop, breakdown cover offers piece of mind if your car gives up the ghost.


Why do I need breakdown cover?

Even the most reliable cars can have a few problems and there’s nothing worse than being stranded on the side of the road with a car that just won’t start.

If your car breaks down and you're not covered, unless there's a passing charitable mechanic walking by, you’ll have to shelling out to get it sorted.

Without cover, and in the best case scenario, you’ll have to pay a local garage’s callout charge and get fixed roadside. Here are the most common reasons for a breakdown callout:

  • flat or faulty battery

  • flat tyres

  • lost keys

  • engine problems

  • fuel problems

  • dodgy clutch cables

If you're ever unlucky and your car breaks down, make sure you're parked up safely before ringing your breakdown provider.

And, just in case, you should always have a breakdown kit handy in your car.

What are the different types of breakdown cover?


As with most things, you tend to get what you pay for. A cheaper breakdown policy generally offers a basic level of cover, while a more expensive policy would be more comprehensive.

Typically there are five features that breakdown cover can have:

Roadside recovery - typically provides help in getting your car restarted at the roadside and transporting you and your car to the nearest garage if necessary.

Vehicle recovery - includes all the benefits of the first feature, plus extras to ensure you and your car are returned to your home or your intended destination.

Home assistance/home start - a popular though more expensive breakdown option restarts your car within a quarter of a mile of your home.

Onward travel - this option ensures you’re not inconvenienced by providing a replacement car or covering public transport costs and accommodation while your car is being fixed.

European breakdown cover - if you break down abroad then towing, repair, accommodation and repatriation could be covered.

Which cover do I need?

If your car’s fairly new and reliable then your basic cover could be enough.

If you’ve an older, less reliable car that has a history of breakdowns, it’s worth considering a higher level of cover.

Exclusions to look out for

Woman pushing car

As well as knowing what you're getting with your breakdown cover, it’s also vital to know what won’t be included. Unless stated in your policy documents, the usual exclusions are:

  • parts and labour costs after a certain amount 

  • claims exceeding a certain limit e.g. such as the market value of your car

  • claims made once you've gone over your agreed mileage limit

  • recovery following an accident - not even to a local garage

  • if you've already broken down recently for the same reason

  • limited number of call-outs in a policy's duration e.g. five call-outs a year

  • transport of horses or livestock but small domestic pets may be transported

  • faults or damage due to human error such as lost keys or adding the wrong fuel to the car

Are wheel changes covered?

Typically, you’ll need a serviceable and accessible spare wheel, plus a key to remove any locking wheel nuts.

Providers could refuse to help if the car hasn’t been repaired to a roadworthy standard after assistance has already been provided for that problem, or for a related one.

What's the best way to buy breakdown cover?

Your first port of call may be one of the traditional breakdown providers, but it’s worth looking into alternatives to see if you could get a cheaper policy.

Getting breakdown cover alongside your car insurance could work out cheaper than buying cover separately. Some policies even throw in breakdown cover for free.

Many banks offer breakdown cover as part of their current account. They charge a monthly fee but it’s worth weighing up the benefits of this against a standalone policy.

Here are some features to look out for when buying:

  • location – roadside and recovery to the nearest garage or any UK destination

  • alternative travel

  • accommodation costs

  • excess costs - some companies have no excess so check the small print


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