Getting a flat tire or running out of gas can disrupt your daily commute or derail a vacation road trip. An estimated 69 million breakdowns happen on America's roadways each year, roughly equivalent to one for every three drivers. Roadside assistance insurance can come in handy if your vehicle leaves you stranded. There are a number of ways to get coverage, and prices can vary from $0 on up. Here is how to compare.
- Roughly 1 in 3 drivers experience vehicle trouble that requires roadside assistance each year.
- Roadside assistance insurance can cover a variety of situations, from flat tires to towing to lockouts.
- Car insurance companies, AAA, and your credit card issuer are some of the options for getting roadside assistance coverage.
- Having this coverage doesn't necessarily mean you won't have some out-of-pocket costs.
Roadside Assistance Insurance: What Is It?
Roadside assistance insurance is designed to help you if you run into vehicle trouble on the road or even at home.
The range of services it covers can vary. But generally, you may be covered for things like:
- Towing to the nearest repair location
- Flat tire replacement
- Jump starts if your battery goes dead
- Locksmithing services if you get locked out
- Fuel delivery if you run out of gas
- Extrication if your car gets stuck in mud, snow, or a ditch
- Rental car discounts if you need to rent a car temporarily
Roadside assistance coverage is different from standard auto insurance. Auto insurance is designed to protect you and your vehicle in case of accidents, theft, vandalism, or damage related to acts of nature. It can cover repairs to the vehicle, as well as medical expenses and personal liability for injuries to other people or their property. You may be able to get roadside assistance as part of your auto insurance policy, but they're two separate things.
Whether you're eligible for roadside assistance coverage through your car insurance company or anywhere else may depend on your vehicle's age and mileage.
How Roadside Assistance Insurance Works
If you have roadside assistance insurance, you can use it like you would any other insurance.
Specifically, if you have a situation that you think requires assistance, you'd start by calling the company you have your coverage through. Some roadside assistance providers also have a mobile app you can use.
You'd need to explain the type of vehicle issue you're having, and the roadside assistance company would quickly review your policy to make sure that it's covered. Assuming it is, a partner company (such as a towing company) would be dispatched to wherever you are to help you out. You'd be responsible for paying any out-of-pocket costs not covered by your roadside assistance policy. And if the policy has a deductible, you'd be responsible for paying that, as well.
There may be limits on how far a vehicle can be towed without incurring additional towing fees.
Where to Get Roadside Assistance Insurance
There are several ways to get roadside assistance insurance coverage, including:
- Car insurance companies
- Roadside assistance membership services (such as AAA)
- Vehicle manufacturer's warranty
- Cell phone company
- Credit card company
- Membership organizations
The two most important things to consider when comparing roadside assistance insurance are what's covered and what you'll pay for it. In terms of cost, you might pay $15 to $60 per year for coverage through your current car insurance policy. Enrolling in a roadside assistance membership plan might cost anywhere from $50 to $360 a year.
Credit card companies may not charge a separate fee for this coverage; instead, it's included as a card benefit. But you may still pay an annual fee for the card itself and there may be some out-of-pocket costs you have to pay to take advantage of this feature. Cell phone companies may also provide this as an add-on to your account. Depending on the type of plan you have, this may or may not require a small monthly fee.
If you're buying a new or newer car that's still covered by the manufacturer's warranty, free roadside assistance services may be included automatically. You can ask the dealer whether it's included, what it covers, and how long it lasts.
Roadside assistance coverage that's provided as part of a car manufacturer's warranty typically lasts for a certain time period or a certain number of miles.
Belonging to some membership organizations can also unlock roadside assistance benefits. For example, if you belong to a college alumni association or a professional organization, you may be able to obtain membership in AAA or a similar service at a discount.
When reviewing roadside assistance coverage, pay close attention to what's included in the policy—and what exclusions may apply. For example, there may be restrictions on which towing companies you can use or how many vehicles are covered. It's also helpful to ask about adding multiple drivers to your policy if you're not the only person who drives your car. That may involve an additional fee.
There may be a limit on the number of service claims you can make each year through your roadside assistance insurance policy.
Do You Need Roadside Assistance Insurance?
There's no legal requirement to have roadside assistance insurance, as there is in most states with regular car insurance.
When deciding whether it's worth purchasing roadside assistance, consider things like:
- The age and condition of your vehicle
- The number of people in your household who normally drive your vehicle
- How many miles you typically drive in a year
- How often you commute versus taking longer road trips
- How adept you or other members of your household are at handling minor car troubles, such as changing a flat tire
Keeping your vehicle well maintained and regularly serviced can help minimize the odds of a breakdown. And if you typically only drive short distances, dealing with car trouble if it happens may not be a major inconvenience.
But if you're worried about being stranded on the side of the road, roadside assistance insurance can offer some peace of mind. Be sure to compare costs and coverage so you know what you're getting. And if you're buying coverage through your car insurance company, ask if any discounts are available that could save you money.