A complete guide to breakdown cover

A person standing by their broken down car with red warning triangle in main focus.

Whether you’re on an around-the-world expedition or nipping to the supermarket, breaking down is always a risk.

Breakdown cover can provide you with peace of mind wherever you are when your trusty motor lets you down.

But what is breakdown cover and how does it work? This guide will provide you with everything you need to know before putting pen to paper on your breakdown cover policy.


What is breakdown cover?

Breakdown cover – also known as breakdown insurance or emergency breakdown cover – is a type of insurance that protects you against any faults with your vehicle while you’re on-the-go.

It can cover you for any vehicle-related faults that have not been caused by an accident, so if you’re stuck with a flat tyre or battery, or you accidentally added petrol to that brand-new diesel car you bought just days ago, breakdown cover is there to help bail you out.

How does breakdown cover work?

Your breakdown cover policy can provide you with roadside assistance when you break down, as well as recovery to a nearby garage if your problem can’t be solved roadside.

Whether you’re stuck on the hard shoulder and in need of motorway recovery or in the back-of-beyond, a quick call to your breakdown cover provider will allow them to send an engineer your way.

If they can solve your problem there and then themselves, fantastic! However, if not, they will take you and your vehicle to a nearby garage.

Depending on the type of cover you choose, your breakdown cover might also help you on your way by providing you with a hire car, overnight accommodation or covering the costs of public transport.

As a mechanical breakdown is not your fault, it will not affect your no-claims bonus if you require assistance and is completely separate from your car insurance policy – even if you purchase it through the same provider.

For more information on what to do if your car breaks down, read Bobatoo's guide here.

Does breakdown insurance cover me or my vehicle?

That depends on the type of cover you take out.

There are two main types of breakdown cover – personal breakdown cover or just breakdown cover. The first covers you no matter what car you are driving, while the second only covers the vehicle.

Personal breakdown cover

With personal breakdown cover, you are covered for breakdowns in any vehicle that you are travelling in – even if you’re only a passenger.

Personal breakdown cover can be slightly more expensive than vehicle cover, but could potentially save you money in the long run if you drive more than one vehicle on a regular basis.

Personal cover can also be useful if you have an older vehicle, as these are usually more likely to break down – some breakdown services will refuse to provide you with vehicle cover on a vehicle older than ten years old.

What are the different levels of breakdown insurance?

Once you have chosen whether to cover yourself or your vehicle, you will need to determine what type of breakdown cover you require:

Vehicle breakdown cover

With vehicle breakdown cover, the vehicle is covered against breakdowns irrespective of who is behind the wheel.

This type of cover is usually priced slightly lower than personal cover and is ideal if you are only registered to drive one car, or if you share a car with others.

Unlike personal cover, vehicle cover does not cover you if you are a passenger in somebody else’s car – the policy covers your car and your car only.

Roadside assistance – your standard vehicle recovery service

Roadside assistance is the most basic form of breakdown cover and will be adequate for most of your breakdown cover needs – a flat tyre or battery, for example.

With roadside assistance, your breakdown provider will send a mechanic to tend to your car at the side of the road. If they are unable to tend to your vehicle there and then, they will take you and your vehicle to a nearby garage.

The main issue with this is that garages are not open 24/7, meaning that you could be left stranded overnight if you breakdown at a late hour.

Roadside assistance will provide you with the cheapest price on breakdown cover and is included in every breakdown policy, however, many people choose to upgrade their cover to ensure they are fully covered.

Vehicle recovery – recovery to a destination of your choice

Upgrading your breakdown cover to include vehicle recovery gives you freedom to decide where in the UK you want to be taken if a mechanic cannot get your car back on the road – usually a preferred garage, your home address or your intended destination.

If you opt against being taken to a garage then you must keep in mind that you will be stuck with a car that isn’t fit – or even able – to drive. However, this can sometimes seem the best option if you have young children in the car.

NOTE: Most breakdown providers will take you anywhere in the UK with policies including vehicle recovery, but some may have mileage limits. Always check the terms when taking out your policy!

Onward travel cover – even more ways to complete your journey

One step above vehicle recovery, onward travel cover can provide you with additional support should your vehicle be deemed unfit to drive.

If it looks as though your vehicle will be out of action for a while, onward travel cover can provide you with a hire car for you to complete your journey.

As well as this, onward travel cover can also offer you support in the way of overnight accommodation or a reimbursement of public transport costs should you choose to continue your journey via bus, train or taxi.

Home start breakdown cover

If your car fails to start when parked in your drive, most breakdown cover policies will not provide you with cover – in fact, most won’t come to your rescue if you’re within a quarter-of-a-mile from home!

With home start breakdown cover, your cover is increased to provide you with assistance from the moment you step out of your front door.

Optional Extras

Many breakdown providers also offer optional extras which you may want to look into when taking out your breakdown cover policy. These can include:

Short-term break down cover/Temporary breakdown cover – This can provide you with breakdown cover for a short period of time – perfect if you don’t want an annual policy but need cover for a few days.

Key replacement – As you’d expect from its name, this service can cover you for any new locks and keys for your vehicle up to a specified price.

Battery replacement – Some providers offer to deliver and fit a new starter battery should yours fail, as well as safely disposing of your old one.

Tyre replacement – You guessed it. Whether damaged accidentally or maliciously, some providers offer to repair or replace your tyres, as well as dispose of your damaged ones.

European cover – If you’re taking your car across the continent, some breakdown providers will cover you in Europe at an additional cost.

Can I add another car to my breakdown cover?

If you want to cover more than one vehicle under the same policy, you have a couple of options:

Multi-car breakdown cover – cover more cars under the same policy

Multi-car breakdown cover allows you to add two or more vehicles to your breakdown policy, which can come in handy if you live in a household with more than one car registered to the address and usually works out cheaper than taking out multiple policies.

Family breakdown cover – add others in your home to your breakdown policy

Similar to multi-car breakdown cover, family breakdown cover is a policy that provides cover for multiple people – or vehicles – registered at one address. If you have chosen personal cover, it will cover those named in any vehicle they drive. If you opted for vehicle cover, it’ll cover all named vehicles no matter who’s driving.

What happens if I break down?

If you happen to break down, the first thing you should do is make sure that you are safe.

If you can move your car off the road and out of the way of other drivers then do so, but if not then make sure that you and your passengers are safe and away from any oncoming vehicles. Pull up your handbrake, put your hazard lights on and get safely off the road.

There are two main ways in which you can contact your breakdown provider:

1. Over the phone – A quick call to your breakdown provider to alert them of both your situation and your location will allow them to send help as soon as they can.

2. A smartphone app – Many providers now have smartphone apps which you can use to report a breakdown. This way, your provider can track your GPS and send you help.

For more information on what to do if you break down – and how you can get assistance from your breakdown provider – read our guide on what to do in the case of a break down here.

I have a company car – can I get breakdown cover for business vehicles?

Most breakdown cover providers provide cover which allows businesses to protect every vehicle registered under a single agreement.

If you drive a company car, contact your employer to ask whether they have breakdown cover and who you should call if you break down.

If your employer does not provide you with breakdown cover on your company car then it might be worth considering taking out your own vehicle cover on your company car, or make use of any personal cover you may have taken out for the use of another vehicle.

Hired or leased vehicles

You will find that when hiring a vehicle, you will usually be given breakdown cover as part of your package, so be sure to ask the hire company what breakdown cover they use. You will also be covered by any personal cover you might have already taken out.

Leased vehicles under a personal contract will need to be covered for breakdowns in the same way as if you owned the vehicle. If the vehicle was leased by your employer, it may be covered under their name – give them a call to check your situation.

Which breakdown cover is best?

So we’ve discussed the various types and various levels of breakdown cover, but you may still be wondering: which breakdown cover is best for me?

The only answer to that question is that all breakdown cover should be tailored to your personal needs, to make sure that you’re getting value for money with your specific policy.

If you only use your car occasionally and rarely travel far from home, then basic level roadside assistance should be perfect for you.

However, if you are heavily reliant on your vehicle or find that your car racks up a lot of mileage, you may want to consider taking out a more comprehensive level of cover such as vehicle recovery or onward travel cover.

It all comes down to you and your needs, so make sure that what you’re paying for is exactly what you want!

To help you out, we've reviewed all the top UK breakdown cover providers - read them here!

How much is breakdown cover? – Should I buy the cheapest breakdown cover?

As with any type of insurance, the cost of breakdown cover will vary depending on which provider you choose and how comprehensive their policies are.

For a basic breakdown cover policy, you could pay as little as £26.99 per year (around £2.25 per month) for a Bronze policy with Liberty Cover, while a more comprehensive level of cover is likely going to cost you a bit more. Read our Liberty Cover review here for more information.

Providers may take into consideration the age of your registered vehicle when offering you a quote, as well as how many times it has broken down in the past 12 months.

The cheapest breakdown cover will provide you with some of the key benefits which we described above, but if you’re looking for cover on a budget then it would be better than having nothing at all.

The price of breakdown cover can also vary from company to company, so be sure to read our range of breakdown cover reviews on different providers before choosing yours.

How do I get breakdown cover?

You may not have even noticed it, but many insurers provide basic breakdown cover when you take out a car insurance policy. It is usually an optional extra, so make sure that you check whether or not you’re already covered.

If you aren’t covered for breakdowns with your insurance then breakdown cover is easy enough to get your hands on. You can find the best breakdown cover quotes using price comparison websites online, where you’ll be able to tailor the cover you get to your needs.

NOTE: Even if you do have breakdown cover through your car insurance policy, it can be very basic and it might be worth upgrading it – or taking out a separate policy – to provide yourself with more comprehensive cover.

Is breakdown cover worth it? – Do I need it?

Legally, you are not permitted to have breakdown cover on your vehicle.

Having said this, it is something that could potentially save you a lot of money should your vehicle grind to a halt when you least expect it.

What's excluded from my breakdown cover policy?

No matter how comprehensive your cover, there are certain things which can be excluded:

Breaking down on private land – If the mechanic sent by your provider is unable to easily access the land where you have broken down, they might charge you extra for assistance depending on the terms of your policy.

Travelling with animals – Now we’re not talking cats, dogs and hamsters here, but if you’re travelling with livestock then you might need extra cover for your trailer.

Breakdown as a result of an accident – If you have had an accident which has subsequently led to you breaking down, it may not be covered by your breakdown provider.

Improper vehicle maintenance – If your vehicle looks like it has been poorly – and we mean, very poorly – looked after, then your provider may refuse to provide you with assistance. Check your oil, brakes and tyres regularly to avoid running into trouble.

As ever, make sure you take a few minutes to check the terms of your cover before jumping into it.

For more information regarding breakdown cover and for non-biased reviews of the UK breakdown cover providers, visit Bobatoo's page here!