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There is a sinking feeling that is unique to when your lock yourself out of car, it won’t turn over, or you run out of gas. Logic tells you that these are fixable problems, but there is still a nagging little voice in your head that usually triggers varying degrees of panic, frustration and concern over what it may cost you.
It’s the unexpected bumps in the road that will drive you crazy if you let them.
While you don’t have control over some parts of your life, when you and your car get stranded, you can minimize the impacts and the costs by having roadside assistance insurance in place.
We’ve compiled this guide to provide you a comprehensive resource to understand roadside assistance and how it works. You’ll find the following:
- What is roadside assistance?
- What does it cover?
- How does roadside assistance work?
- Where can I use it?
- Are there state restrictions?
- Who sells roadside assistance?
- Best companies for roadside assistance?
- How much does it cost?
Time to dive in to the details!
What is roadside assistance? And, what does it cover?
Roadside assistance insurance covers you for a broad range of issues, whether your car suffers minor problems that can be fixed at the site of your problem or whether you need towing services to a nearby facility if something major occurs.
Minor problems may include running out of gas, replacing a flat tire, jump-starting a dead battery or unlocking your car when you have locked your keys inside. These can all be handled onsite and you should be on your way in short order.
For major problems, roadside assistance can be a life saver. Maybe you’re stranded due to a broken hose that left some important engine fluid puddled on the road, or a dead alternator, clogged carburetor, or some other kind of mechanical or electrical failure, you will need to avail yourself of the towing privileges that roadside assistance provides.
Depending on your coverage, your car will either be towed to a repair center up to a limited number of miles as provided by your policy, or you may have to pay extra to have your car towed to a provider outside of the coverage area.
At other times, your car may become stuck in mud, sand or snow and require an extrication or winching service to remove the vehicle and get you back on the road again.
Depending on what type of coverage you choose and where you purchase coverage from, you may be able to get no-cost or low-cost coverage. In other cases, you can purchase premium coverage, but it will be much more expensive.
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How does roadside assistance work? What to do when your car breaks down.
Before you actually need assistance, the first thing you should do after you buy a roadside assistance plan is to make sure you and every member in your family enter your policy’s emergency assistance number into your phone, or make sure to carry a copy of the number in your wallet. You will be under a bit of stress when an actual breakdown happens, and you will want to make it as easy as possible to find that all important number.
If and when you need to call roadside assistance, you may find yourself in the middle of a dangerous situation due to traffic or because you are not in a familiar area.
To minimize the danger, the first thing you should do if you notice the car is not acting right is to pull over to a safe spot, out of the flow of traffic. If it is after dark, try to make it to a well-lit area. Also, try to find a place where other people are present, such as a shopping center, restaurant, or a gas station.
If you can’t make it to the side of the road or are stuck in the middle of traffic, stay in your vehicle and turn on you emergency flashing lights. Traffic will pile up and you’ll likely hear more than a few honks, but you are much safer in the car than trying to cross the road.
As soon as your car becomes undriveable, you should call your roadside assistance toll free number to start a dispatch unit immediately. Many times, a dispatcher will be able to tell you the estimated time of arrival of your help. They will also take your phone number and give it to the dispatched unit who may use it to call you when they are close. If you’re in a dangerous location consider calling your nearest police department or 911.
The only time you should get out of your car is if you see smoke coming from under the hood. If you are handy with repair tools and want to try and fix a flat on your own, make sure you do not work on the side of the car that is exposed to traffic. Even if you know how, it is better to wait rather than put yourself in a high-danger situation.
As a way of alerting traffic, you might also consider popping your hood, which is the universal sign of a car in distress.
Where can I use roadside assistance?
In most all cases, roadside assistance plans provide coverage throughout the United States and Canada. However, you may not have coverage in Mexico or in other countries with a few exceptions.
Some policies have reciprocal agreements that provide coverage in other countries. If this is an issue for you, it is best to check with your provider to see if the plan you’re considering will reimburse you or provide service outside of where it normally operates.
Does roadside assistance only cover you in certain states?
In a few places in the United States, there are restricted roads where no roadside assistance vehicles may travel. In those instances, you will need to call 911 if you have a breakdown or need a tow, and hope for the best.
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How much does roadside assistance insurance cost?
Like every other service and product, it pays to shop for roadside assistance insurance through multiple outlets. How much you pay will be determined by several factors, such as whether you want to buy basic coverage, or add-on enhancements. Sometimes, it is actually offered as a free benefit when you have accounts or do business with other companies.
Plans typically start at about $40 to $60 annually but can increase dramatically if you want to add on additional benefits beyond basic coverage, such as extended towing coverage.
If price is a major consideration for you, here are several possible ways for you to get free or low-cost roadside assistance insurance:
Credit card companies
It’s a little-known benefit, but some credit card companies may offer cardholders free roadside assistance. American Express, Chase and Citi are three options among many. The main caveat here is that there is probably going to be a cap on the amount of benefits paid out per use, and other restrictions may apply, such as a limitation on how far a vehicle may be towed. But, if you rarely need to access emergency roadside assistance services, using a credit card benefit may be the way to go.
Some new and used car companies have warranties that include roadside assistance. It can be used for a variety of services, such as when you run out of gas or lock yourself out of your car. Noted auto research firm Edmunds.com has compiled a list of which manufacturers provide roadside assistance coverage which can extend out as far as 100,000 miles in some cases.
If you are a member of an auto club, you can get low-cost roadside assistance insurance in many cases. The American Automobile Association (AAA) is the largest of all auto clubs and has three membership tiers you can purchase with annual costs ranging from less than $50 to as much as $130.
Wireless service providers
Most major carriers such as AT&T and Verizon offer roadside assistance for minimal costs. Check with your carrier to see if they offer this as a benefit that typically includes locksmith assistance, gas and tire changes, among other services.
Auto insurance providers
If you have collision and comprehensive insurance, you can probably add roadside assistance insurance to your existing plan. Costs will vary somewhat based on the car you drive and where you live, but you might be able to add roadside assistance coverage for as little as $2 or $3 per month.
NOTE: One of the downsides of using an insurance company’s roadside assistance program is that, in some cases, your service calls could be treated like a claim. That could result in higher car insurance premiums. It’s best to ask this question up front if you are considering coverage through your auto insurance provider.
Which roadside assistance insurance in the best?
It’s impossible to say which roadside assistance insurance plan is the best because the best policy will depend on your personal set of circumstances. Every roadside assistance plan is slightly different, and you need to take a variety of factors into consideration before deciding which roadside assistance insurance policy is the best for you.
- If your family has more than one car and multiple drivers, then you might want to consider a full-service plan, such as those offered by AAA, AARP or the GM Motor Club.
- If you frequently travel far from home, lean heavily toward the insurance plan that has the most generous towing allowance and trip-interruption benefits. Some policies will only provide towing coverage for as little as three miles. Others may provide coverage for as much as 200 miles or more. Some will only tow your car to the nearest repair facility but may offer to tow it to another place for an additional charge.
- If you own a new or certified used car and it is the only car you own, consider going with the automaker’s service to best meet your needs. You may actually already be covered for the life of the warranty, which is usually at least three years or 36,000 miles. Other automakers are more generous. For example, Hyundai certified used cars are covered for 10 years from the original date the car was put in service.
- If you or your family members shuffle among many cars, consider going with a cell-phone or credit card plan because they typically provide coverage in any car. The coverage follows the driver and not the vehicle.
- Make sure you read all the details of the policy you are considering. Many people are surprised to find out that their policies will not cover the cost of towing due to floods, fires or other natural disasters. It’s the last thing you want to hear when your car is floating down stream or is flooded up to the roof in an underpass because you got caught in a torrential downpour.
- Pay attention to how often you can use the service every year. Many policies restrict the number of service calls you can make. Once you exceed that amount, you will have to pay for the total cost of any assistance rendered. If you have a potentially high repeat user in your home (teenagers and seniors), then you might want to look for a policy that has a generous number of calls that you can make.
- Check to see if the coverage includes other vehicles you drive. The best information here is that it will depend on who you get coverage with. Auto manufacturers only provide coverage for their specific cars, but other plans follow the driver. This means you’re covered with rental cars, vehicles you borrow, or cars you are assigned through your employer for full-time personal use.
- If you really want to do your homework, check online for complaints. If you notice a pattern of members having to wait for hours to get assistance, or vehicles that were damaged when services were provided, these and other things could be red flags alerting you to steer clear of the provider.
- Are there sign-up or cancellation fees? Some providers may charge you for one or both. May sure to ask before you buy.
- How easy is it to access service? In most cases, there will be a toll-free number you can call on a card that will be provided to you with your policy. Some providers also let you use a smartphone app to call for assistance. The app provides your exact location using your phone’s GPS capabilities. Higher end policies, such as OnStar which is equipped in General Motors models, allow you to call for roadside assistance while speaking with an agent at the touch of a button.
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Where can I purchase roadside assistance? Which companies are the best?
There are a lot of places you can buy roadside assistance insurance. For convenience, we’ve gathered close to 50 of the best resources you can access for this type of policy.
Whether it’s an insurance company, vehicle manufacturer, cell phone provider, or auto club, you have plenty of good options. Companies indicated in bold are highly-rated providers that sell roadside assistance coverage.
- AAA Roadside Assistance
- AARP Roadside Assistance
- Good Sam Roadside Assistance
Credit Card Companies
- American Express Roadside Assistance
- Allstate Roadside Assistance
- Farmers Roadside Assistance
- Geico Roadside Assistance
- Liberty Mutual Roadside Assistance
- Nationwide Roadside Assistance
- Progressive Roadside Assistance
- Safeco Roadside Assistance
- State Farm Roadside Assistance
- Travelers Roadside Assistance
- USAA Roadside Assistance
- Acura Roadside Assistance
- Audi Roadside Assistance
- BMW Roadside Assistance
- Cadillac Roadside Assistance
- Chevrolet Roadside Assistance
- Chrysler Roadside Assistance
- Dodge Roadside Assistance
- Ford Roadside Assistance
- GM Roadside Assistance
- Honda Roadside Assistance
- Hyundai Roadside Assistance
- Infiniti Roadside Assistance
- Jeep Roadside Assistance
- Kia Roadside Assistance
- Lexus Roadside Assistance
- Mazda Roadside Assistance
- Mercedes-Benz Roadside Assistance
- Nissan Roadside Assistance
- Subaru Roadside Assistance
- Toyotacare Roadside Assistance
- Volkswagen Roadside Assistance
Car and Truck Rental Companies
- Enterprise Roadside Assistance
- U-Haul Roadside Assistance
Cell Phone Companies
- ATT Roadside Assistance
- Sprint Roadside Assistance
- Verizon Roadside Assistance
Can I use roadside assistance from my home?
Yes. Unless your policy specifically excludes it, you can call for services even if your car is disabled at your residence.
Is roadside assistance insurance available for my RV or motorcycle? What about for a semi-truck?
Roadside assistance is available for both recreational vehicles and motorcycles. All services for these vehicles are pretty much the same as they are for traditional passenger vehicles. In addition to buying coverage through normal channels, motorcycle riders who are members of the American Motorcyclist Association can also get roadside assistance coverage through that organization as well.
In addition to standard services, RV coverage may also include double extraction services, free car rentals and travel interruption coverage that could pay up to $1,500 for unexpected emergency expenses for meals, lodging, car rental, and transportation home or to your destination.
Commercial truck roadside assistance is also available but expect to pay more than for a regular passenger vehicle. One of the biggest benefits that commercial coverage offers is dispatching a mobile mechanic to reduce downtime issues for business owners and operators. Coverage is available for trucks, trailers, buses, vans, and all manners of utility vehicles. Towing is typically more liberal in terms of the number of miles and 50 miles per tow is fairly standard.
What about roadside assistance for rental cars?
This will depend on what kind of roadside assistance coverage you select. In some instances, policies only cover a specific vehicle, such as new or used certified vehicle coverage. Other policies cover the driver and not the vehicle. For example, AAA coverage would transfer to any vehicle you drive. When you rent a car, you may also be offered optional coverage for roadside assistance.
How should higher-use groups such as seniors or new drivers affect my decision?
Statistics show that senior citizens and new drivers are more likely to need roadside assistance services than most other groups. As such, when deciding on what kind of policy to buy when you are in one of these groups, or if you have family members in one of these groups, look for a policy that is more forgiving in terms of the number of times that services can be accessed before you reach a limit and are charged full price for towing or other related services.
If you have a driver with a disability in your family, buying roadside assistance insurance is also a wise investment. Doing so will give you and that driver added peace of mind since they will be less equipped to react to a minor emergency in many instances.
Conclusion: Final Thoughts on Roadside Assistance
Although roadside assistance coverage is limited in terms of the services it provides, when you need the type of help that it affords you, it will definitely feel like money well spent.
Because there are so many options, make sure you shop around for the policy that offers the best options to suit your particular needs. Take into account the age of your vehicle, your driving habits, who else in your family will need coverage, what kind of money you want to budget for this kind of protection, how many service calls you get per year, and other considerations that are important to you.