Breakdown cover guide

Having breakdown cover provides protection and reassurance when you're driving. For example, if your vehicle breaks down out on the road, or fails to start at home, breakdown cover can help to fix the problem and get you moving again.

It's important to choose the level of breakdown cover and the type of cover that's right for you. This guide will help you to make that decision.


Do I need breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover isn't a legal requirement. But if you drive on a regular basis, it's a good idea to have breakdown cover in place.

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.

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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 buy 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.

Join the RAC today to start building your breakdown cover

RAC breakdown patrols fix four out of five vehicles at the roadside within an average of 30 minutes.

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Should I get personal or vehicle cover?

There are two types of breakdown cover to choose from: personal breakdown cover and vehicle breakdown cover. The right option for you depends on your individual needs.

Personal breakdown cover

Personal cover means an individual is covered in any vehicle, both as a driver and a passenger.  With the RAC, you can buy personal cover for up to 5 people living in the same household.

Pros of personal breakdown cover

Cons of personal breakdown cover

  • Have peace of mind that you’re personally covered in any vehicle – including cars, hybrids, motorbikes, any other vehicles we cover
  • If you’re a passenger in someone else's vehicle and they don’t have breakdown cover, you can still call for help 

  • If you’re not in a vehicle when it breaks down, that vehicle won't be covered
  • If someone else also drives that vehicle, they’d need to buy personal cover too
  • If you only have one family car used by everyone, vehicle cover is a better option

Vehicle breakdown cover

Vehicle breakdown cover means a specific vehicle will be covered, regardless of who is driving it at the time it breaks down. With the RAC, you can cover up to 3 vehicles. 

Pros of vehicle breakdown cover
Cons of vehicle breakdown cover
  • This is a cheaper breakdown cover option
  • It could be ideal if you only drive one vehicle 
  • If you’re covering a family vehicle, whoever is driving it benefits from breakdown cover
  • If you drive a vehicle that isn’t covered, you can’t use your breakdown cover
  • If you’re a passenger in another vehicle and it breaks down, you won't be covered

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Different levels of breakdown cover

Once you’ve chosen personal or vehicle cover, you can decide on what level of breakdown cover you want. There are different levels of breakdown cover to choose from, 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. Then you can make an informed decision about the level of cover you need.

Roadside assistance

Roadside assistance usually comes as standard when you take out breakdown cover. You might also see it described as roadside recovery or similar. 

This is how roadside cover works:

  • A breakdown patrol will come out to you if you've broken down on the road 
  • You usually need to be ¼ mile away from your home address – to be covered at home, most providers make you upgrade (the RAC includes this as standard)
  • If possible, they’ll fix you there and then and get you back on the road
  • If they can’t fix you, they’ll tow you to a local garage (there’s usually a limit of 10 miles, unless you upgrade)

At the RAC, we include roadside and home rescue as standard for new members. Breakdowns at home are very common, so we won't make you upgrade to be covered on your driveway.

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

Providers call this type of product 'at home', 'home start', 'home assistance' or similar. At the RAC, we call it ‘home rescue’. Here’s how this type of cover works:

  • You’ll get assistance if your car breaks down at your home address (or within 1/4 of a mile of your home)
  • A breakdown patrol will try to fix you on the spot 
  • If they can’t, they’ll tow you to a garage for repair 

Remember – at the RAC, we include roadside and home rescue as standard for new members. So you can relax knowing we’ll rescue you anywhere.

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 garage or somewhere else. You can choose a ‘local recovery’ option, which means you can be towed up to 10 miles. Or a ‘national recovery’ (or ‘unlimited tow) option, which means you can be towed anywhere in the UK.

Here’s how vehicle recovery works:

  • If your vehicle can’t be fixed on the spot, you’ll be towed to a garage for repair
  • Depending on the level of cover you have, most providers will either tow you 10 miles – or to any destination in the UK with higher cover levels

At the RAC, how far we can tow you depends on the level of cover you choose. With ‘Standard’, we’ll tow you up to 10 miles to the nearest garage. With ‘Advanced’ and ‘Ultimate’, you get an ‘unlimited tow’ to any garage or destination in the UK.

Garage support

At the RAC, we know garages aren’t always easy to deal with. That’s why we also include some level of garage support with every cover level. Here’s what you can get with Standard, Advanced and Ultimate: 

  • With Standard: Your patrol will give you a fault report, so you can easily let the garage know what’s wrong with your vehicle.
  • With Advanced: Your patrol will get you a repair estimate from the garage and talk you through it in plain English. They can also get you priority access to an RAC garage. We call this ‘Advanced garage support’, and no other provider offers this. 
  • With Ultimate: In addition to ‘Advanced garage support’, we’ll get you a taxi straight from the scene of the breakdown. There’s no need to come to the garage with us, just wait until your vehicle has been safely loaded onto a van or recovery truck. Then you can leave the rest to us, while you get on with your day. We call this ‘Ultimate garage support’, and no other provider offers this.

Alternative transport ('onward travel')

Alternative transport (also known as ‘onward travel') is there to make sure you can stay mobile if your vehicle can’t be fixed quickly. For example, you can get a taxi or hire car while your vehicle’s in the garage.  

Most providers offer this as an add-on. But with the RAC, we include some level of alternative transport with every cover level. So you know you’ll never be left stranded. 

  • With Standard: If your vehicle goes to the garage, we’ll reimburse you for the cost of a taxi ride up to 20 miles.
  • With Advanced: Get a hire car or taxis for up to 2 days (up to the value of £150). Or if you prefer, we can sort a hotel for you.
  • With Ultimate: You’ll get a hire car or taxis for up to 7 days (up to the value of £500). Again, if you prefer, we can sort a hotel for you.

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Breakdown cover add-ons

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.

If you're only planning to travel to Europe on a one-off basis, check out our single trip European cover product. 

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

Tyre events on the road are a main breakdown reason and can be costly. With Tyre Replace we’ll pay for replacement tyres if you have accidental, malicious damage or puncture to your tyres, from £6 per month or £72 per year

Battery Replace

There is nothing worse than jumping in the car and finding your battery is flat. With Battery replace if your battery is no longer serviceable, we'll deliver and fit an RAC replacement starter battery. Cover from £3 per month or £36 per year

Find out more about our breakdown add-ons.

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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 break 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.

Buy RAC Breakdown Cover

To get a quote for RAC Breakdown Cover and build your perfect breakdown cover package, get RAC breakdown cover here.

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