There are few things worse than being stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire, a steaming radiator or a vehicle that just won’t run. It’s even worse if a breakdown happens at night and in the middle of nowhere.

According to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, the average car on the road in 2015 was about 11.5 years old, making the possibility of being stranded very real. 

When a breakdown happens, your main concern is getting help as quickly as possible, which is where roadside assistance comes in handy. These days roadside assistance is available from a wide variety of sources, but one of the most cost-effective sources is your car insurance company.

While this coverage lacks some of the bells and whistles that come with an AAA membership, if your main concern is getting your vehicle off the road, car breakdown insurance is often the most affordable option. 

What Does Towing and Roadside Assistance Cover?

All roadside assistance programs provide a certain level of standard services, and some programs add perks that may include discounts on travel, shopping, and car rental. While these perks can be a nice add-on, they are of zero help when you are stranded on the side of the road, and they usually push up the price.

The basics, and the most useful features of a roadside assistance program, usually include the following:

  • Towing: This is the big one. Getting your vehicle off the road and to a repair shop is a necessity. Mileage limits apply on certain plans, so read the details carefully.
  • Tire change: Most plans will send someone out to change a flat or bring a tire if your vehicle doesn’t have a spare. Many newer vehicles are ditching the spare tire for run-flat tires, so this benefit is not as important if you are driving a brand-new car.
  • Locksmith: If you lose or damage your keys, a locksmith will be dispatched to get you back on the road.
  • Jump-start: A dead battery is always a bummer. Roadside assistance plans will send someone out to jump-start your car or even bring a new battery (for a cost) if replacement is necessary.
  • Fuel delivery: While running out of gas is always embarrassing, most roadside plans will deliver enough gas to your car to get you to the nearest gas station. Some plans also cover fluids such as oil and radiator coolant.
  • Vehicle extrication: This is not always included, but some plans will pull your car out if it is stuck in mud or snow. 

It’s important to understand the limitations of your plan. Exclusions vary, so read the policy carefully. Common exclusions include:

  • Commercial Vehicles: Commercial vehicles are almost always excluded, so don’t rely on a roadside assistance policy to jump-start your flower delivery truck.
  • Off-Road: If you love to get off the beaten path, you will probably be on your own if your vehicle breaks down. Roadside assistance usually applies to serviceable roads, although many providers will dispatch to more remote locations for an additional fee.
  • Middle of the Storm: Roadside assistance plans will usually not dispatch help if the roads are not considered safe.
  • Accidents: Roadside assistance is mainly reserved for breakdowns and flat tires, not for towing your vehicle after you have been in an accident. If your vehicle is undrivable after a collision, contact a tow company directly. Your insurance should reimburse the cost during the claim process.
  • Shop of Your Choice: If you are relying on a roadside assistance plan provided by your vehicle manufacturer, be aware that they will often only pay to have the vehicle towed to the nearest dealership.

Another important factor when deciding on roadside assistance is the service you receive. Service levels can vary, so it pays to do your research and read reviews.

One last factor to consider is cost. Prices vary depending on the insurance company, but expect to pay $2 to $5 a month for basic towing and services. Compare this to the AAA Plus membership, which runs around $151 a year for two members. While these plans do offer extras, services are very comparable for the most important services such as towing and flat tire repair the services, making roadside assistance through your insurer a bargain.

Does Your Car Warranty Include Roadside Assistance?

Many car manufacturers are now offering roadside assistance as part of their warranty, so if you recently purchased a brand-new car, you may already have limited roadside assistance. Coverage levels can vary dramatically, and in many cases the plans stipulate that cars will be towed to a dealership.

Manufacturer roadside assistance programs usually expire after a certain number of years, usually between 3 and 5 years.

Services vary dramatically between manufacturer plans, so it pays to read the details. While some programs offer locksmith and tire changing services, others only offer towing and may limit service to “warrantable mechanical conditions,” meaning you may end up paying for the tow if the issue turns out to the a non-qualifying problem.

In many cases, adding basic roadside assistance coverage from your insurer makes sense and provides the peace of mind that comes from knowing you will be covered regardless of the circumstances.

How Does Roadside Assistance Insurance Differ for My Older Car?

Older vehicles are prime candidates for roadside assistance, as they are prone to breakdowns. If your car is over 10 years old or has over 100,000 miles on the odometer, roadside assistance is a must, especially if you go on long road trips.

Depending on the age and condition of your vehicle, adding roadside assistance coverage to your car insurance can be as low as a few dollars a month, offering dramatic savings over a standalone policy. In most cases, the cost of one tow will easily exceed the cost of a roadside assistance insurance policy.

Here are just a few reasons you should protect your older vehicle with a roadside assistance policy:

  • Overheating: Older vehicles often have overheating issues, especially if you are on a trip in the mountains. Radiator hoses can crack or break, the radiator itself can fail, or you may just need some coolant. Whether you need a tow or just coolant delivery, a roadside policy will have you covered.
  • Brakes: Older brakes can fail, leaving you stranded on the side of the road. A roadside policy will ensure that your vehicle is towed to the mechanic of your choice so you can get it repaired.
  • General Breakdowns: Older cars have more frequent breakdowns. The cause could be a faulty alternator, a malfunctioning starter, or even a broken clutch cable. Regardless of the issue, you will be sitting on the side of the road or paying for a very expensive tow if you don’t have a roadside assistance policy. 

Consider car insurance with roadside assistance if any of the following apply to you and your vehicle:

  • You have a long commute.
  • You spend a lot of time driving in inclement weather.
  • Your vehicle has a history of maintenance problems.
  • You don’t know the full service history of your car.

A Trusted Choice® independent agent can review your current policy to determine if you already have roadside assistance coverage and help you find the perfect plan to fit your needs and budget.

What Questions Should You Ask When Buying Roadside Assistance Insurance?

Shopping for a roadside policy is just like any other purchase: Do your research, ask questions and shop around. A Trusted Choice agent can help you sort through your options, but make sure you ask the right questions. Here are a few things to consider when shopping for roadside assistance coverage:

  • Is the car or the driver covered? Ideally, you want the car covered so no matter who is driving they will have easy access to roadside assistance if it breaks down.
  • Am I covered driving other vehicles? If you are borrowing a friend or family member’s car, can you use your roadside assistance in the event of a breakdown?
  • Is there a sign-up fee? Many auto clubs (including AAA) have one-time sign-up fees for new members. Most insurance plans do not have these fees.
  • How many tows per year? Verify how many tows are allowed in a year. If it’s a low limit, such as one or two, it may not be worth the cost.
  • What is the towing mileage? Many plans put a mileage limit on tows and charge for anything over that limit. Check the mileage limits and make sure you are clear on any additional charges.
  • What is the average response time? Waiting an hour out on the road in the pouring rain is not ideal. Ask about average response times for any program you are considering. Also verify that service is available 24/7. 

Consider other perks offered by the various programs and decide if they are worth the cost for you. In almost all cases, roadside assistance through an insurance company will be cheaper than a standalone product, so if the perks don’t excite you, a roadside policy is usually the best option.

How to Find Roadside Assistance Insurance

It’s possible that you already have roadside assistance. Many full-service auto insurance policies include this type of coverage, but it’s not standard, so it’s best to verify coverage.

A Trusted Choice agent can review your policy and explain the details of your current roadside assistance, if any is offered. If coverage is not offered on your current policy or the coverage is not enough for your needs, you can work with your agent to get your policy updated. An independent agent will help you assess your coverage needs and present a variety of options that offer the best roadside assistance coverage at a price that fits your budget. Contact a local agent to get personalized quotes today.