What is breakdown cover and what does it include?

Breakdown cover is insurance that means you can get help if your vehicle breaks down. For example, if you get a flat tyre or your engine breaks down, you can call for roadside assistance.

When your mechanic arrives, they’ll try to fix your vehicle there and then (otherwise known as roadside assistance). If they can’t, they’ll tow you to a garage (also called ‘recovery’) for repairs, so you won’t be left stranded at the roadside.

This is different to a motor insurance policy. Breakdown cover isn’t usually included with standard car insurance, but it’s worth checking with your provider. Sometimes breakdown cover is offered as a bundle for a discounted price.

When buying breakdown cover, it's important to choose a provider you can trust. You should also think about the level of cover that suits your needs.

Click here to see how RAC Breakdown Cover compares to other providers.

Personal breakdown cover

Personal breakdown cover means an individual is covered in any eligible 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 most vehicles – including cars, hybrids and motorbikes
  • 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 the 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 generally 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

Do I really need breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover isn't a legal requirement. But if you drive on a regular basis, it can bring peace of mind that it’s easy to get help if you need it. It can also save you money, as the cost of roadside assistance is included in the price.

If you break down without cover, you’ll need to find a recovery service to rescue you. And you could be left with a hefty bill for an emergency callout fee. You might also be left without transport if your car needs to go into a garage, but with breakdown cover you can stay mobile even if you don’t have your own car.

How to get breakdown cover

There are many different ways to get breakdown cover. You can get breakdown cover with: 

  • Specialist breakdown providers.

    For example, you can buy breakdown cover direct from the RAC

  • Car insurance providers.

    Some car insurance offers breakdown cover as an optional extra

  • Your bank.

    Some current account packages also include breakdown cover

  • Your car.

    When you buy a car, breakdown cover is sometimes included for a limited time. These policies can be branded by the manufacturer, but serviced by a third party such as the RAC.

  • Pay and claim breakdown cover.

    You may also find ‘pay and claim’ breakdown cover. This is a type of breakdown cover that is usually cheaper than getting an annual breakdown membership.

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

If you decide breakdown cover is right for you, make sure you think about the level of cover you need. And don’t forget to check whether you already have cover elsewhere before you buy.

Should I get personal or vehicle breakdown 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.


Different types 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, depending on your needs.

Roadside Assistance

Roadside Assistance (or ‘roadside recovery’) is a basic level of breakdown cover. This is where a patrol comes out to you if you break down over ¼ mile from your home address.

They’ll try to fix you on the spot. And if they can’t, they’ll tow you to a local garage. There’s a limit of 10 miles, unless you upgrade.

At Home

At Home breakdown cover means you can get help if you break down on your driveway, or within ¼ mile of your home. For example, if you have a flat battery on a cold morning.

This is also known as 'at home', 'home start', 'home assistance' or similar.

The RAC's 'Complete' cover level includes At Home cover.

Vehicle Recovery

Having vehicle recovery means we’ll tow your vehicle to a garage if we can’t fix it on the spot.

Depending on which cover level you have, you’ll be eligible for a 10-mile tow (also known as ‘local recovery’). Or if you have National Recovery, this means you can be towed an unlimited distance to any garage or destination in the UK.

The RAC’s 'Basic' cover level includes a 10-mile tow. Our ‘Extra’ and ‘Complete’ cover levels includes National Recovery anywhere in the UK.

Onward Travel

Onward Travel is how we keep you mobile after you breakdown. We’ll sort out a hire car for up to 3 days (age and licence restrictions apply). Or if you prefer, we can arrange overnight accommodation or costs towards public transport instead.

With the RAC, Onward Travel is available to buy as an add-on.

The RAC’s levels of breakdown cover

Basic £7.95 a month
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    FREE car health check

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    5 callouts
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    Roadside Assistance

Get 3 months free*
Extra £12.50 a month
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    FREE car health check

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    5 callouts
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    Roadside Assistance
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    National Recovery
Get 3 months free*
Complete £17.50 a month
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    FREE car health check

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    Unlimited callouts
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    Roadside Assistance
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    National Recovery
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    At Home
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    Worth up to £55, at selected RAC garages

*Added after 12 months, excludes Basic cover. New customers only. Ends 16/12/23, 7am.
Prices above are for single vehicle-based cover.

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

Before you drive in Europe, it's well worth getting European Breakdown Cover – which covers multiple countries and includes a hire car or alternative public transport if your vehicle can't be fixed within 6 to 8 hours. If you're only planning to travel to Europe on as a one-off, check out our single trip European cover.

We offer European breakdown cover for over 49 countries. So whether you’re driving in Ireland or Azerbaijan, we’ve got you covered. Including these popular European destinations:

Key Replace

Losing car keys is a common problem for many of us. With Key Replace, we'll arrange for replacement keys and locks if your keys are lost, stolen or accidentally damaged. Cover from £3.50 per month.

Tyre Replace

Tyre problems on the road are one of the leading causes of breakdown and can be costly to resolve. With Tyre Replace we’ll cover the cost of replacement tyres if they suffer accidental/malicious damage or puncture, from just £6.50 per month.

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 £3.50 per month.

Breakdown Cover FAQs

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.

Q. 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.

Q. When does my breakdown 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. You should bear in mind though that if you have already broken down when you take out the cover it’s unlikely you would be covered for that breakdown. The breakdown provider may still be able to send help but there may be additional charges for this.

Q. Does breakdown cover include business use?

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.

Q. What’s covered under breakdown cover?

That depends which level of cover you have. For example ‘Basic’ entry-level cover includes ‘Roadside Assistance’ – which covers you if you break down over ¼ mile from home. You’re also covered for a 10-mile tow to a garage if we can’t fix you on the spot.

Our ‘Extra’ or ‘Complete’ cover levels, include National Recovery. This means we’ll tow you and your family to a destination of your choice anywhere in the UK. And with ‘Complete’ cover, you also have At Home – which means you’ll be covered if you break down at, or within ¼ mile of home.

Q. Which breakdown cover is best in the UK?

The best breakdown cover is one that suits your needs. Here are some reasons why you should consider choosing the RAC:

  • Our patrols fix 4 out of 5 breakdowns on the spot

  • We get to most breakdowns in 60 minutes or less

  • Repairs are done in 30 minutes on average

  • We include a 20-mile taxi from the garage with every cover level

Q. What would be considered a car breakdown?

A ‘breakdown’ is an event that stops your vehicle from being driven because of a mechanical or electrical failure. For example, a battery failure or flat tyres.

Here are a few examples of things that aren’t classed as a breakdown: putting in the wrong fuel, road traffic collisions, fire, flood, theft, acts of vandalism, or any driver-induced fault.

Q. Does the RAC cover cars over 10 years old?

Yes, we cover vehicles of any age – including classic cars. The only exception to this is our ‘Battery Replace’ add-on, which is only available for vehicles under 15 years old, and with fewer than 150,000 miles on the clock.

Q. Does breakdown cover include running out of fuel?

Yes, you’re covered if you run out of fuel as part of your breakdown cover. We’ll just charge you for any fuel you need to get going again.

If you have an electric car and you run out of charge, you’re also covered. We’ll either give you a 10-mile boost – or we’ll tow you 10 miles to a charge point.

Q. Are punctures covered by breakdown cover?

Yes, if you break down due to a puncture we’ll come out to help you. We’ll repair your tyre if we can. Or if we can’t, we’ll fit your spare tyre for you.

If you don’t have a spare tyre, we’ll fit a brand-new one for you if available. You’ll be charged for the tyre. If you have our ‘Tyre Replace’ add-on, you’re covered for up to 5 new tyres a year, worth up to £150 each.

Q. Does RAC provide a tyre if I have no spares?

Don’t worry, we can try to repair your flat tyre (if possible). Or we’ll help you find a new tyre and fit it for you if available. You’ll just need to pay for the cost of the new tyre.

Q. Will the RAC come out for a flat tyre?

Yes, we’ll come out if you get a flat tyre. We’ll repair your puncture, fit your spare wheel, or we’ll help find and fit a new tyre for you if available. If you need a brand-new tyre, we’ll fit it for you and dispose of your old one – but you’ll cover the cost of the tyre itself.

Q. Does the RAC cover lost keys?

If you’re locked out of your car, we’ll come out to you and try to unlock your car. If we can’t open your vehicle for any reason, we’ll arrange for a locksmith to attend where available – but you’ll be responsible for the costs. If a locksmith isn’t available, we’ll arrange for your vehicle to be taken to a nearby garage – but you’ll have to pay for any work done.

If you have our “Key Replace” add-on, you’ll be covered for up to £1,500 in costs for replacement keys and locks if you lose or break yours.

Q. Does RAC give NHS discount?

Yes – if you work for the NHS, you can get a discount on your breakdown cover – it’s usually for £5 a month. Check your favourite NHS discount site to find the latest offers.

Find out more