If your car or truck breaks down, you may have to call for a tow truck to take it to a place where it can be fixed. What's that tow likely to cost you? The answer depends on a variety of factors. Here is what you need to know—and how you may be able to save some money.

Key Takeaways

  • A tow will probably cost you at least $100 if you're paying out of pocket.
  • Your auto insurance policy may cover you if you paid for optional towing coverage.
  • Some credit cards also provide free or low-cost towing as a cardholder benefit.
  • Another option is to sign up for a roadside assistance plan.

Will You Be Paying Out of Pocket?

What you'll have to pay for a tow will depend on your location, how difficult the tow is, how far you need to be towed, and the urgency of the tow. A basic tow of a standard-sized vehicle within five miles is likely to cost you at least $100 unless you belong to an auto club or have insurance to cover it. If your car is not on a flat surface like a driveway or the driver has difficulty hooking it up to the tow truck, you can expect additional fees. And of course, the farther your car needs to be transported, the more it will cost.

If you call for roadside assistance and the tow truck driver is able to get your car running without towing it anywhere, you could still face a bill of $100 or more in many instances. 

Does Your Auto Insurance Cover Towing?

Your auto insurance policy may cover towing if you elected to include it as part of your coverage. Depending on your insurance company, towing may be covered as part of your policy's optional collision and comprehensive insurance or you may be able to buy roadside assistance or towing and labor coverage as an add-on to your policy. You could still have to pay something out of pocket, however, if your policy has a deductible.

If your car is damaged because of an accident in which another driver was at fault, that driver's liability coverage may pay to have your car towed.

Whether your policy or another driver's is going to pick up the bill, be sure to keep all the paperwork in case you have to file for reimbursement.

Do Your Credit Cards Offer Roadside Assistance?

Some credit cards also provide complimentary or low-cost roadside assistance as a cardholder benefit.

For example, many Visa credit cards come with Visa's Roadside Dispatch benefit. It charges a flat $69.95 for a standard service call, which includes towing of up to five miles; beyond that distance, the cardholder pays the difference. The standard service call also includes jump starting, tire changing, lockout service, and fuel delivery.

So it pays to know what your credit card will cover before you need to use it and also what phone number to call if you do.

Do You Belong to an Auto Club or Roadside Assistance Program?

Another way to save money on the cost of towing a car is if you belong to a roadside assistance plan or membership club, such as AAA. The cost of AAA membership, for example, varies by location and type of membership, but in many cases it will be cheaper than the cost to tow a car. And you may be able to sign up for AAA membership online or over the phone and have your benefits become available immediately. So if you need a tow and aren't in an urgent situation, consider signing up for AAA and only then calling for a tow truck.

Though probably best known, AAA is not your only roadside assistance option. Investopedia publishes a regularly updated list of the best roadside assistance plans for different drivers' needs.