What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover is insurance that means you can get help if your vehicle breaks down. For example, if you get a flat tyre or engine conks out, you can call for assistance. When your mechanic arrives, they’ll try to fix your vehicle there and then. 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.

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.

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. For example, a tow off the motorway can cost £300 or more.^ You might also be left without transport if your car needs to 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 direct from the RAC 
  • Car insurance providers. Some insurers offer 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 a third party such as the RAC). 

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 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 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.
    • 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


    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, 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 usually 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 and a cold morning.

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

    The RAC includes At Home cover as standard for new members. Unlike some other providers, we won’t make you upgrade for cover at home.

    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 ‘Standard’ cover includes a 10-mile tow. Our ‘Unlimited’ cover 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.

    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. With, Key Replace we'll arrange for replacement keys and locks if your keys are lost, stolen or accidentally damaged. Cover from £3 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 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 per month. 

    Key exclusion: Any claim made within the first 14 days of the start of your Key, Tyre or Battery Replace cover.


    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. 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.

    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.

    Find out more