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What is breakdown cover and how can I get it cheaper?

What exactly does breakdown cover, well, cover? We explain what these policies do, who offers them, and how you can get them cheaper.

Available from a number of providers, having breakdown cover means you can motor on without the fear of suddenly becoming stranded should your car give up the ghost while out on the road — and helps prevent unexpected costs.

But what is covered exactly, and how can you get an affordable deal on your policy? We explain.

So what is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is a service that pretty much does what it says on the tin. Should your car break down while on the move, holding a policy with any of the variety of providers in the UK will mean you have an on-demand recovery service to either help you get back on the road quickly or take your car to a garage without fear of unexpected fees.

What exactly is covered?

What is covered by a policy varies depending on what type you have and who your provider is. Typically, a basic breakdown cover policy will ensure you’re covered for simple roadside repairs (commonly known as roadside assistance) or to be towed to a garage without having to pay extra over your annual or monthly fixed rate — though the latter sometimes cost more than the standard rate.

Many providers also offer a wide number of optional extras. Examples of these include at home cover which will allow you to call upon assistance if your car is failing to start at home, onward travel cover which will allow you to be taken to your originally planned destination if your car cannot be quickly fixed, and European cover which allows you to take advantage of similar privileges while driving on the continent.

Optional extras vary by policy types and provider, so it’s worth cross-checking companies when looking to take out breakdown cover.

Who offers breakdown cover, and how can I take out a policy?

There’s a range of breakdown cover providers in the UK, with popular choices including the AA, RAC and Green Flag among others.

Taking out a policy can be as easy as contacting a provider and looking through your options with them. Insurance providers often offer breakdown cover as an additional extra when taking out a new car insurance policy, while some banks will even offer it as part of premium account offerings if you’re taking out a loan to buy a car.

It’s also common for manufacturers to offer breakdown cover on new cars for a period of time (usually the same period as the new car warranty). Many brands also include breakdown cover for 12 months as part of their ‘Approved Used’ programmes with franchised dealers, so it’s possible that you won’t need to pony up extra cash for breakdown cover at the time you’re buying your car.

How can I get cheap breakdown cover?

The easiest way to get a low-cost breakdown policy is to use an online comparison tool. Much like an insurance comparison site, these can take your details and return quotes from a number of providers to find the best price for your particular needs.

If you’re still happy with the price, don’t be afraid to pick the phone up and directly contact providers to try and bring that down. Our tip would be to make a note of any cheaper quotes if you have a preferred provider, and see if they can match that or, even better, beat it.

Save big at renewal time

What’s also crucial is to repeat your shopping around every year before accepting your renewal quote. It’s a common ploy from the big providers to offer you a cheap rate when you first sign up, then jack the price up to double or more when you need to renew it a year later. Don’t put up with that nonsense.

When it’s time to renew, check the best offers elsewhere then call your current provider and demand that they match the best price you can find, even if it’s a big difference. It’s almost certain that they’ll do so, or at least offer you something competitive.

I save about £140 every single year by doing this. It’s an absolute pain to have to call your breakdown provider up every year to demand that they stop ripping you off, but it’s worth it. They’ll make some excuse about how you had a “special discount” last year, but it’s all rubbish and they’ll still drop their price for you anyway.

If they won’t price match, cancel your cover and switch providers. Don’t pay overinflated prices at renewal time, ever.

Stuart Masson, editor

Is it illegal to drive without breakdown cover?

Unlike an insurance policy, there is no legal requirement for your car to be covered under a breakdown policy. However, your wallet may thank you should you have a policy and do have an unexpected breakdown.

This article was originally published in November 2020 and most recently updated in November 2021 with additional comment by Stuart Masson.

Ryan Hirons
Ryan Hirons
Articles by Ryan Hirons are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.
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