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The different types of breakdown cover

Different reasons for travelling require different types of breakdown insurance. Whether it's travelling to Europe or just your daily commute, how do you make sure you’re covered for every eventuality?

Different reasons for travelling require different types of breakdown insurance. Whether it's travelling to Europe or just your daily commute, how do you make sure you’re covered for every eventuality?

Written by
Julie Daniels
Motor insurance expert
Last Updated
7 AUGUST 2023
7 min read
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What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover offers support if your vehicle suffers a mechanical breakdown. This kind of cover could help get your vehicle back on the road, get you to a garage for repairs or take you to a destination of your choice.

There are five main categories of breakdown cover, ranging from a helping hand at the roadside to full onward journey protection.

  1. Home start
  2. Roadside assistance
  3. National recovery
  4. Onward travel
  5. European cover.

We’ll explain the different types of breakdown cover so you can understand which policy is right for you.

What is home start breakdown cover?

This type of policy, also called ‘at home recovery’, covers you if you break down at your home address or very nearby.

The distance from home that you’re covered for can vary between providers. It’s typically between a quarter of a mile and a mile from home.

As a flat or faulty battery can be a common cause of breakdown issues, this option may be worth considering. This is especially true if you often do short journeys.

What is roadside assistance breakdown cover?

This covers you by the roadside if you break down during a journey. If your vehicle can’t be fixed there and then, this type of policy usually offers a tow to a local garage.

Cover varies – depending on the provider and policy – but, if the repairer is closed, you might be able to ask for the vehicle to be taken home. Then it could be picked up at another time, if your home is within the distance set by the provider.

What is national recovery breakdown cover?

As well as callout and roadside repair, this type of cover includes a tow to any location in the UK. It might be worth considering if you often drive far from home.

The Highways Agency can charge you £150 if it decides your car needs to be removed. This could be because it was causing an obstruction and/or likely to cause a danger to others. Or it could be contravening certain waiting prohibitions and restrictions.

This cost could go up even more if you don’t collect your vehicle from where it’s being stored before noon on the following day. Be sure to do so to avoid this extra charge.

What is onward travel breakdown cover?

This category of cover gets you where you’re going despite your breakdown, providing solutions such as overnight accommodation, a hire car or paying for alternative transport.

Onward travel cover can be particularly useful if you regularly drive to see family elsewhere in the country or take a UK holiday with children. This is because you and any passengers can be taken back home or to your planned destination.

It could also pay for a single rail fare to collect your car if you had to leave it to be repaired.

What is European cover?

If you’re taking your car on holiday, this type of cover is extended for the duration of your trip.

European breakdown cover is usually bundled with other features, rather than offered as a standalone policy. But it’s worth checking that your policy covers the country you are travelling to.

What is personal breakdown cover?

Personal breakdown cover is designed to cover you, and any other named drivers who live at the same address, rather than the car itself. This means you’ll be covered in any vehicle you drive. You can make a claim, whether you’re the driver or a passenger.

Personal breakdown cover can be useful if you regularly drive different cars. Alternatively, you can apply for vehicle cover that applies to your specific vehicle. Anyone who drives your car and breaks down will be covered. It could be useful if you have one vehicle shared by several family members.

Once you’ve decided on cover for yourself or your vehicle, you can then choose the level of cover that best suits your needs.

What is relief driver breakdown cover?

Relief driver breakdown cover is a handy feature offered by some providers.

If you’re unable to drive because of illness or injury, and there’s no one with you able or qualified to take over the wheel, you’ll be covered for a driver to come out and finish the journey or take you home.

Not all providers offer this feature, so it’s something to check when comparing different policies.

What extras are available on breakdown cover?

There are different levels of breakdown cover, but some policies may have add-ons that you can pay extra for.

Breakdown repair cover
Offered by some providers, this helps cover the cost of repairs when your vehicle breaks down. For example, paying for your garage repair bills after a breakdown. These policies might also cover replacement tyres, batteries and keys for an extra cost.

Hire car
You can get a financial contribution towards the cost of a replacement vehicle while yours is being repaired.

Travel costs
If your car can’t quickly be repaired, you may be able to claim for additional costs to get you to your destination or home.

Is there an excess on breakdown cover and when do I have to pay it?

In most situations you won’t have to pay an excess. This means that a mechanic will see if they can repair your vehicle and, if that’s not possible, take it to a garage without you having to pay anything extra. But you will then have to pay any garage bill.

If you’ve opted for breakdown repair cover, you will have to pay any excess set out in your terms and conditions on any claim for repairs. Much like car insurance, the higher the excess you’re willing to pay, the lower your breakdown premium will be.

While most policies will automatically pay out for any service you need, some providers will contract out the recovery work. In this case, you might need to pay upfront and claim back via your policy.

Read your policy carefully so you know which one you have.

What isn’t covered?

It’s always best to check the policy wording, as some breakdown cover policies might exclude human errors, like:

  • Leaving your lights on
  • Running out of fuel
  • Misfuelling (filling up with the wrong type of fuel) – you could be taken to a garage under your policy, but the cost of fuel drainage and disposal or any damage to your vehicle won’t be covered.

You may also not be covered for:

  • Breaking down abroad if you’ve only got a UK policy
  • Routine maintenance and repairs, labour charges and parts for the repairs – unless that's part of your policy
  • Repeat callouts for the same fault
  • Breaking down on private land as the recovery vehicle may not be able to gain access to the vehicle
  • Windscreen repairs – this may be included with your car insurance, so check what your insurance policy says
  • The cost of a locksmith if one is required.

A new policy won’t activate for 24 hours, sometimes longer, and might only provide partial cover for up to 30 days.

Could I already have cover?

Breakdown cover is usually separate from your vehicle insurance policy, although sometimes it does come as an add-on.

It can also be packaged with bank accounts or credit cards as an extra, so make sure you haven’t already got cover before you start a quote.

How many times can I use my breakdown cover?

All policies will have different limits on the number of callouts you can make while the policy lasts. But most policies rule out repeat calls for the same fault.

There will also be other limitations like the weight your vehicle can be, and whether or not wheel changes are included.

Check the policy documents carefully to make sure you’ve got the level of cover you need for your peace of mind.

Frequently asked questions

What is relay breakdown cover?

Relay breakdown cover is just another term for ‘national’ recovery or ‘nationwide’ recovery. It covers you to be towed from anywhere in the UK, no matter where you break down.

Can I get temporary breakdown cover?

Yes, some breakdown providers offer temporary breakdown cover or short-trip breakdown cover. This could last from one day up to a month.

It could be useful in a situation when you’ve also got temporary car insurance, such as when you’ve borrowed a vehicle for a short time from a friend.

We don’t currently offer temporary breakdown insurance.

What do I need to do if I change my vehicle?

That depends on what kind of cover you have.

If you have vehicle cover, then you’ll need to tell your provider. If you’ve got personal cover, then you should be fine to drive any eligible vehicle.

Check the terms of your policy to be sure.

What customer perks might be offered with breakdown cover?

Some breakdown services will offer discounts with their partners. These could be discounts on:

  • Restaurants
  • Your vehicle MOT
  • Servicing
  • Airport parking.

They could also offer free legal advice.

Some providers will offer you a discount on renewal of the following year’s membership if you didn’t need to make use of your breakdown cover. Some might also offer you help in dealing with the aftermath of an accident.

If you’re considering breakdown cover and these kinds of benefits are important to you, check what your potential provider offers before you sign up.

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Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert

Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.

Learn more about Julie

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