The 5 different types of breakdown cover

A road trip around Europe requires a different kind of breakdown insurance to your daily commute. So how do you make sure you’re covered for every eventuality?

A road trip around Europe requires a different kind of breakdown insurance to your daily commute. So how do you make sure you’re covered for every eventuality?

Julie Daniels
Motor insurance expert
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Last Updated 24 FEBRUARY 2022

What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover offers support if your vehicle suffers a mechanical breakdown. Breakdown cover could help to 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. We explain the different types of breakdown cover so you can understand what home start, roadside assistance, national recovery, onward journey and European cover all entail and pick the right type of cover for you and your vehicle.

1. At home

This type of policy, also known as ‘home start’, covers you if you break down at your home address or very nearby. The distance from home that you are covered for can vary between providers – but is 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 – particularly if you often do short journeys.

2. Roadside assistance

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, and you ask for the vehicle to be taken home, then your vehicle could be picked up at another time, if your home is within the distance set by the provider.

3. National recovery

As well as call-out 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 because it was causing an obstruction and/or likely to cause a danger to others; or contravening certain waiting prohibitions and restrictions. This cost can go up if you don’t collect your vehicle from where it’s being stored before noon on the following day, as it will incur an extra charge.

4. Onward journey

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.

It can be particularly useful if you regularly drive to see family elsewhere in the country, or take a UK holiday with children, as you and any passengers can be taken back home or to your planned destination. If you have to leave your car to be repaired, your policy may pay for a single rail fare for you to go and collect your car when it’s ready.

5. European cover

If you’re taking your car on holiday, this type of cover is extended for the duration of your trip. European cover is usually bundled with other features, rather than offered as a standalone policy. But it is worth checking that your policy covers the country you are travelling to.

Could you 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.

What extras are available on breakdown cover?

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

Breakdown repair cover
Offered by some providers, this helps you cover the cost of repairs when your vehicle breaks down. You can get up to around £500 to pay for your garage repair bills after a breakdown, and these policies may also cover replacement tyres, batteries and keys at an extra cost. There may be a limit to the number of claims you can make a year and you’ll probably have to pay an excess towards your claim.

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.

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 is part of your policy.
  • Repeat call-outs 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 may only provide partial cover for up to 30 days.

Should you cover yourself or your vehicle?

You can apply breakdown cover either to yourself (personal cover) or your vehicle (vehicle cover). Personal cover is for you, no matter what car you’re driving, while vehicle cover applies to your vehicle, even if you’re not the driver.

Some providers offer you the opportunity to cover up to three vehicles registered to the same address on one policy.

How many times can you use your breakdown cover?

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

They will also have 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.

Do you have to pay anything if you break down?

Most policies will automatically pay out for any service you need (though there may be an excess charge). However, some policies will contract out the recovery work and you may need to pay up front and claim back via your policy. Make sure you know which one you have.

Thousands of breakdowns happen every day across the UK – if you’re one of the unlucky ones, breakdown cover could make the difference between it feeling like a total disaster or a temporary inconvenience.

Frequently asked questions

Do you pay an excess on breakdown policies?

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, then you will have to pay an excess set out in your terms and conditions on any claim for repairs.

Can you 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’ve got. If you’ve got 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. But check the terms of your policy to be sure.

What extras are offered with breakdown cover?

Some breakdown services will offer discounts with their partners, such as discounts on restaurants, vehicle MoT and servicing or airport parking, while others may offer free legal advice to members. If you are considering breakdown cover and these kinds of benefits are important to you, check what your potential provider offers before you sign up.

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 providers might also offer you help in dealing with the aftermath of an accident.

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