What’s the best breakdown cover for my car?

Breakdown cover
Breaking down is never fun - but having breakdown cover makes it less hassle

Buying the best breakdown cover can be something of a minefield – but our guide should help you to make sense of which cover works best for you

Imagine the scene. It’s late at night, and you’re driving along a quiet road through a sleepy town, or perhaps through the countryside, where it’s pitch black outside. All’s well with the world – but then, there’s an ominous thunk from the front of the car, and with that, the engine cuts out. You roll to a halt at the side of the road. What now?

Well, either you have to try and find the number of a local recovery service to take you to a garage which probably won’t be open yet – for an extortionate fee, no doubt – and then wonder how on earth you’re going to get back home.  

Or, you give your breakdown recovery provider a call. They organise a patrol to come out to your car, and either fix it by the roadside, or depending on your level of cover, tow your car to the nearest garage, or back home, and get you to where you want to be.

Let's face it: this is the last place you want to be

No wonder that extra peace of mind has made breakdown services extremely popular in the UK. But choosing the right cover can be baffling. So here’s a breakdown – excuse the pun – of the popular breakdown recovery options out there, and an estimate of the costs involved.

Which is the best breakdown cover?

The answer to that question depends largely on your car, and your needs. If you have an old banger that’s going to need rescuing reasonably frequently, it’s worth spending more and getting cover which will allow you to continue your journey somehow – and make sure your car gets home.

However, if your car is brand new, you might not want to bother with breakdown cover at all – or you might prefer simply to go for cover which will get you lifted to the nearest dealership.

With most breakdown companies, you can choose between personal and vehicle cover. Personal cover is for you, no matter which car you’re in – so even if you’re a passenger in a friend’s car, you can still use your breakdown cover.

However, vehicle cover is, as its name suggests, vehicle-specific. This means it only applies to one particular car. It’s less flexible, therefore – but as a result of this, it’s usually cheaper.  

If the patrol can fix your car by the side of the road, they will Credit: Rex Features

What are the different levels of breakdown cover?

While every breakdown company will have its own different types of policy, broadly speaking there are several levels of cover.


This is the most basic level of breakdown cover. All it means is that a patrol will come out and attempt to fix your car when it breaks down, as long as it’s a certain distance away from your home. Note that cover at home is usually excluded, and if the patrol can’t fix your car, you might have to pay an extra fee to have it recovered.

Local Recovery

This level of cover comes in addition to Roadside cover. It usually means that if the patrol can’t get your car going, your car will be recovered to the nearest garage so that it can be fixed there. Note that you don’t get a say in which garage it gets recovered to – it simply goes to the nearest one. Some providers bundle this in with their roadside cover, so be sure to read the small print when comparing policies.

National Recovery

This is a step up from local recovery, in that the breakdown company is covering you for recovering your car to any destination of your choice in the UK. That can be your home or onward destination, if you’d prefer to arrange fixing your car later on, or it can be to a garage of your choice. Usually, you’re only covered for recovery to one destination, so if you go to a garage, you’ll have to get back home yourself – and vice versa, if you go anywhere else, you’ll then have to get your car to a garage yourself from there.

If you want to be able to continue your journey, you’ll need onward travel cover

Onward travel

If you want to be able to get your vehicle recovered, and also continue your journey yourself separately, you’ll need onward travel cover. With some operators, this takes the form of a courtesy hire car, provided as a replacement for three or four days while yours is being fixed; other operators allow different forms of onward travel – for example, some will pay for public transport on to your destination or back to your home, or for hotel accommodation while your car is fixed.

Home Rescue

Under most breakdown cover policies, you aren’t covered if you’re at home or within a certain distance of it when your car breaks down as, the logic goes, you can walk back to your house to arrange recovery. However, if you want cover at home – for example, to get your car to a garage if it doesn’t start in the morning – you’ll need this cover.

What other optional extras can I get?

Here are just a few of the optional extras you might be able to choose. Some companies may include these with their standard cover; others charge extra for them.

Misfuelling cover

If you’ve ever put diesel in your petrol car by accident, or vice versa, you’ll know how useful this cover can be. Misfuelling cover means the breakdown company will come out to a petrol station if you’ve put the wrong fuel in your car, and drain the tank, allowing you to re-fill it with the correct fuel and get on your way. Some breakdown providers include this with their basic cover, so check the small print.

Parts & labour cover

When your car breaks down, breakdown cover applies only to the costs involved in coming out to fix your car or transporting it to a garage. The actual repair itself isn’t covered – unless you choose parts and labour cover. This means the breakdown cover will contribute toward the cost of the repair – usually up to a fixed cap, after which you’ll have to foot the bill yourself.

Some policies cover you for putting the wrong fuel in your car

Key cover

As its name suggests, this covers you for any lost or stolen keys. Breakdown companies will also often cover the cost of replacement locks, and recoding alarm and immobiliser systems to match, usually up to a fixed limit.

Battery cover

If your battery is old and it goes flat, it may not take a charge again, in which case no amount of jump-starting will get your car going. With this optional extra, the breakdown company will cover the cost of sourcing a new battery and fitting it to your car to get you going. As ever, of course, there’s a fixed cap on the amount they’ll contribute.

What about European breakdown cover?

There are a whole host of different options for European breakdown cover, but put simply, this gives you the option of having your car fixed, recovered, or repatriated if it breaks down abroad. You can usually choose between cover for just one trip, or annual cover if you go away frequently.

What else should I look out for?

Check carefully how your breakdown cover works before taking out a policy. Some forms of breakdown cover are effectively a network of local recovery firms, and require you to pay a monthly or yearly premium, and then pay again for your car to be fixed or recovered, before claiming this figure back from them afterwards.   

Much more preferable is the more common type of cover offered by the AA, RAC, and similar companies, with which you simply pay your premium and then call up when you break down without having to pay out an extra penny.

If you tow a caravan, it's important to make sure your cover includes recovery of that this

You also need to make sure your breakdown cover doesn’t have a maximum call-out figure you’re likely to exceed. Many breakdown cover providers limit the number of call-outs you’re allowed in a year to six or thereabouts; some, however, provide unlimited callouts, while others limit you to just one.

That’s no bad thing if you think you’re going to break down very rarely, of course, as the cover will cost you less, but you’ll have to make sure your cover is adequate for your needs, and in that regard, it makes sense to err on the side of caution.

One more thing: if you’re planning to tow a caravan regularly, make sure your breakdown cover provider covers you for the recovery of the caravan, too. The last thing you want is to break down and find you have to leave your caravan somewhere while your car is taken away for repair.  

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