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What is breakdown cover and do I need it?

Cars today are so much more reliable than they once were, but they're also far more complicated too, so there could still be value in having some level of breakdown cover just in case something stops you motoring.

Broken down car with bonnet up
Trying to work out what's going on under the bonnet is probably best left to the experts

So what is breakdown cover?

Essentially, breakdown cover is designed to help get you going again in the event something stops you going like a flat tyre, flat battery or something more serious like losing your keys or your starter motor failing. Some breakdown covers will also attend if your car is undrivable from the scene of an accident. Basic cover will at least get someone out to you at the side of the road to try and fix your car there and then. If it can't be fixed you may have cover to be recovered to a local repairer for further work (which most likely you'll need to pay for). This isn't warranty cover and it's not a replacement for maintaining your car properly, but it could save you money if your vehicle breaks down as arranging a one off recovery can be expensive, especially if you happen to be on a motorway at the time.

But my mate is a mechanic, surely I don't need breakdown cover?!

We've all got a mate who is a car mechanic, or or at least know someone who is. But do we all have a mechanic mate who is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and both willing to drive to wherever you are to help you and capable of legally recovering your car? Probably not, so let's not pretend our mechanic mate is the answer here!

How do I decide which cover I need?

As with most insurances, you get what you pay for. Here's a run-down of the main features to look out for when you're comparing cover:

1) UK only or Europe too? UK cover is standard, expect to need a higher level if you want to use your car outside of the UK, in mainland Europe for example. If you're a frequent traveller over to the Continent consider an annual Europe cover policy, otherwise there are short term covers available which you can arrange on a per-trip basis.

2) At home or away? If you think there's a chance of your car not starting on a cold morning at home, or you just want 'anywhere' peace of mind, look for options including 'home start' or 'home call'. Without these, you may find that your cover only comes into force once you're a certain distance or more from home, such as quarter of a mile or a mile.

3) How far do you tend to travel? If you tend to stick local with your car, a local recovery in the event your car can't be fixed at the roadside may meet your needs. Local recovery might be set at 10 or 20 miles depending on who the breakdown provider is. If you're a frequent motorway driver or maybe have a longer commute to work or place of study, a national recovery may suit you better, where there's no limit on how far the breakdown provider will recover your car if needed. Don't always assume though that if your car can't be fixed at the roadside you'll be straight on a tow truck and on your way back home. If your car can be fixed locally and within a decent timeframe, you may be recovered there instead for the repair rather than towed all the way home. This type of cover can also work the other way too, so if you're on your way somewhere you'll tend to have 'onward travel' options available to you so you can still complete your journey to your original destination.

4) How many cars do you drive? Clearly your main concern is having cover if something goes wrong in your own car. Vehicle-based cover will generally cover anyone who uses your car with your permission if something goes wrong whilst they have your car. If you have more than one car or you drive other people's cars and want to know you're covered even if they've not bothered to take out breakdown cover of their own, a personal cover may work better for you. Personal cover tends to be more expensive and it'll normally cover you as driver or passenger in any other privately-registered vehicle up to a certain age limit of 10 or 15 years.

Where do I get breakdown cover from?

The first thing to say is you may already have it! Breakdown cover can often be bundled in with bank accounts and some credit cards, so check those accounts first. If it's just a basic level that's included, there may be options to upgrade which could be cheaper than buying a whole separate cover elsewhere.

If you don't already have cover, you've got two main options. You can either compare the main breakdown providers using a comparison site or by going direct for quotes, or you can see what your car insurance provider can offer. Adding breakdown cover onto your car insurance as an optional extra can sometimes save you money, but they may not be able to offer you all the options on cover levels that you want. Standalone cover that is separate from your car insurance might give you no call out discounts at renewal, too.

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