What is Breakdown Cover?

Everything you need to know about RAC Breakdown Cover

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Breakdown Cover Guide


Having vehicle breakdown cover provides an excellent level of protection and reassurance when you're driving.

If your car breaks down while you're out on the road - or fails to start at home - breakdown cover can help to fix the problem and get you moving again.

But it's important to pick the level of breakdown cover and the type of cover that is right for you. This guide will help you to make that decision by looking more closely at the different types of breakdown cover available.


Do I need breakdown cover?

If you drive a vehicle on a regular basis, you need breakdown cover.

Falling victim to a car breaking down is frustrating and annoying. If you're miles from home and stranded at the roadside, particularly in the dark - it can be frightening.

Breakdown cover means you can call for help to get back on the road or transported to somewhere safe - say the nearest garage - while further repairs are carried out.

The risk of being without breakdown cover is obvious and not recommended. Without some form of breakdown cover, you could be left helpless and on the receiving end of a hefty garage bill when you do manage to call a recovery service for help.

Having breakdown cover in place can take away much of the stress of a breakdown - giving you peace of mind that help is at hand if and when you need it.

How to get breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is widely available from a number of providers. You can buy breakdown cover from third party providers, or often get it as part of your car insurance policy. Some bank accounts may also offer breakdown cover.

Car manufacturers will also often include free breakdown cover when you buy a new vehicle from them. These policies might be branded by the manufacturer but effectively serviced by a third party.

Such cover is often extended when the car has an annual service, as an added incentive for using the manufacturer to carry out the work instead of a local garage.

You may also find 'pay and claim' breakdown cover. This is usually cheaper than annual membership.

You still pay a fee every year - though it's typically lower - and then pay the costs of any call-outs, which you can then later claim back by submitting receipts; very much like claiming expenses.

The advantage is a lower annual fee, but the disadvantage is that you need to be in a position to pay for recovery and repairs at the time.

If you drive a new or relatively new car you may feel the chances of it operating without any breakdown issues are good. But if you drive an older car, a more comprehensive policy might be more appropriate.

Before you purchase breakdown cover, consider the type of cover you need. If you already have cover as part of an insurance policy, check the level of cover it provides before deciding whether to buy another policy.

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Should I get personal or vehicle cover?

Personal breakdown cover means you are protected in whatever vehicle you’re driving, or travelling in. Vehicle cover applies to a specific named vehicle, regardless of who is driving it.

Before you choose which type of breakdown cover to get, think about the option that suits you best.

If you only ever drive one vehicle- then vehicle cover is best for you, but if you drive several different vehicles then personal cover could be your strongest option so that you're covered whichever car you're in.   There is another advantage too - if you break down as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, you’re also covered.

Personal breakdown cover

Personal cover means you will be covered in any vehicle you drive - or are travelling in as a passenger.

Pros of personal cover

  • If you drive more than one vehicle, you are covered in the event of a breakdown in any car.
  • If you are the passenger in someone else's car, you're covered.

Cons of personal cover

  • If you are not present in a car when it breaks down - for example, the family vehicle - it won't be covered.
  • If someone else also drives that car they would need personal cover too.

Vehicle breakdown cover

Vehicle cover means the named vehicle will be covered, regardless of who is driving it.

Pros of vehicle cover

  • If you only drive one car, this could be a cheaper breakdown cover option.
  • If this is the family car, whoever is driving it benefits from breakdown cover.

Cons of vehicle cover

  • If you are a passenger in another car and it breaks down, you won't be covered.

If you only ever drive one car - then vehicle cover is best for you, but if you drive several different vehicles then personal cover could be your strongest option so that you're covered whichever car you happen to be in. For example, if you have one family car used by everyone there's little point in having personal cover.

Different levels of breakdown cover

After you choose personal or vehicle cover you can then decide on what level of breakdown cover you want. There are different levels of breakdown cover, aimed at all eventualities when out and about on the road.

Again, when choosing breakdown cover give some thought to how you drive and where you drive, and you can then make an informed decision about the level of cover you need.

Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance comes as standard when you take out breakdown cover - you might also see it described as roadside recovery or similar. It's basically the same type of cover, but different businesses have different names for it.

With roadside cover, breakdown patrols will come out to you if you've broken down away from home and aim to get you back on the road again as quickly as possible. Many providers cover you if you're 1/4 mile or more away from your home address but this can vary.

Pros of Roadside assistance

Cons of Roadside assistance

  • Generally, if you break down 1/4 mile or more from home, you'll get assistance
  • If your car can't be fixed and running again, it and you will be towed to a destination of your choice usually within 10 miles
  • Roadside assistance cover is included in all breakdown cover policies
  • If you break down at home, you won't be covered
  • In the unlikely event of your vehicle not being fixed at the roadside, it will only be towed to a destination up to 10 miles away - which might not be enough to get home

Vehicle Recovery

Having vehicle recovery as part of your breakdown cover means that if your car can't be fixed it will be towed to a destination of your choice.

This could prove valuable. Imagine breaking down 30 miles from home late at night - if your car isn't fixed and running again, at least you and your family will get home safely.

Pros of Recovery

Cons of Recovery

  • You still get roadside assistance
  • If your vehicle can't be fixed at the roadside, you and any passengers will be moved to your destination of choice - anywhere in the UK
  • You aren't covered for breakdowns at home
  • Recovery typically costs more than the basic roadside cover

At Home Breakdown Cover

Did you know a large number of breakdowns occur at home, or near to home?

In fact, flat batteries are one of the most common and frequent causes of breakdowns.

This can be hugely frustrating if you're about to head off for work in the morning or take the kids to school.

Having this kind of breakdown cover means you'll get assistance if your car breaks down at home, or, usually, within 1/4 of a mile from your home.

Providers call this type of product At Home, Home Start, Home Assistance or similar.

Pros of At Home Breakdown Cover

Cons of At Home Breakdown Cover

  • You can get breakdown help at home - where problems are likely to happen
  • If you mainly drive locally and travel short distances, this could be your best type of cover
  • You can still get your car running again to get on with your day
  • If your car can't be fixed, you won't usually get hire car costs covered
  • It's usually not included as standard breakdown cover so has to be added

Onward Travel

Onward Travel - or onward journey - is cover that makes sure you get to where you need to be if your car can't be fixed quickly.

This level of breakdown cover provides a wider range of options when it comes to completing your journey.

You can usually get a courtesy car to continue driving, overnight hotel accommodation or arrange public transport if you prefer to use a train or bus.

Pros of Onward Travel

Cons of Onward Travel

  • If your car isn't fixed quickly, you can have a range of options to continue your journey 
  • If your car is being fixed overnight, your hotel accommodation costs may be covered
  • Onward Travel isn't part of standard cover, so adding it can be expensive

Breakdown cover - Breakdown Extras

As you build your breakdown cover, you can expect to have the choice of optional extras to make your cover even more complete.

But what optional extras are available, and are they worth adding to your breakdown cover policy? Let's explain some of the most common extras:

European Breakdown Cover

You may have comprehensive and unlimited UK breakdown cover but if you're planning to drive abroad - on holiday in France, for example - then you won't be covered.

Breaking down close to home is a bad enough experience, and it can feel even worse beside an unfamiliar motorway.

If you're expecting to drive in Europe, it's well worth getting European Breakdown Cover - which covers multiple countries and includes the use of a hire car or alternative public transport if your vehicle can't be fixed within six to eight hours.

Key Replace

Issues with cars don't always involve the vehicle itself. Losing car keys is a common problem for many of us - how often have you been thrown into a panic because you've mislaid them?

If you actually do lose them, you're stuck. Key Replace offers money towards replacement keys and locks if you lose your keys - or if they're stolen or damaged.

Tyre Replace

We’ll pay for replacement tyres if you have accidental, malicious damage or puncture to your tyres, from £4 per month or £48 per year

Battery Replace

We'll deliver and fit an RAC replacement starter battery. Cover from £1.75 per month or £20.99 per year

Common questions

By now, you should have a much clearer and informed idea about breakdown cover and the various different levels of cover. Before you make a purchase though, there are some other important points to consider when reviewing the best option for you.

Aside from the types of breakdown cover, the key questions you need to ask any provider include:

  • How many patrol vehicles are in your fleet?

  • How quickly can one of your patrol vehicles reach me, if I have broken down?

  • Is breakdown cover available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and seven days a week?
    Do you offer multi-car policies and discounts?

These are all key factors. If you've broken down and are stranded at the roadside, your only concern is how quickly your breakdown cover provider will respond and send assistance.

If you're calling a handful of providers to compare prices and services, make sure you ask these questions before making a decision. You may think you're getting a great deal with a very low price for breakdown cover but if the provider has a slow response time and a relatively small fleet of patrol vans, think again.

Can you help if I've broken down without cover?

If you have broken down without any breakdown cover in place - don't panic. Most providers will usually still come out to help, even if you're not yet a member with them; just be aware that you're likely to be charged an emergency call out fee.

When does the cover start?

Typically, breakdown cover begins as soon as you have signed up and paid for it. It's common for your cover to be at standard level for the first 24 hours after joining, after which it will revert to include any extras and detailed cover you requested.

Can I get cover for business vehicles?

If you rely on a vehicle for business, a breakdown can cost you money in more ways than just repair bills. To keep your business moving if you break down, you will need specialist business breakdown cover.

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