Breakdown cover is often  split into two broad types

No matter how well maintained a car  is or how careful its driver considers themselves to be, breakdowns and accidents can occur. Vehicles can sometimes be repaired at the roadside but sometimes it may be necessary for a car to be recovered.

Breakdown cover

There are various types of breakdown  cover available. Some may be purchased directly from breakdown service  providers while some car insurance policies also include various levels of  breakdown coverage. The levels of cover provided and the situations in which it  can be used depend on the individual policy.

Many breakdown service providers  offer an 'automatic' service. Typically, the customer pays an annual fee and  calls for assistance when and if it is needed. The service can be used at any  time and the costs are already covered by the annual fee, but there is often a  limit as to how many callouts can be made within the space of a year.

Some companies may use local garages  and recovery services. The driver may have to pay for the call out and any  recovery upfront and then claim the costs back.

Breakdown cover is often  split into two broad types. Vehicle cover allows you to call for assistance if  a specified car breaks down, regardless of who was driving at the time.  Personal cover provides coverage for a named individual. This may apply whether  the customer is a passenger or is legally driving someone else's car when the  breakdown occurs. Customers may sometimes be able to specify more than one car  for vehicle cover and other members of their household for personal cover.

Levels of cover available

There are also different levels of  cover available. These can include... 

  • Roadside  assistance

This is generally the most basic  level of coverage available. If possible, your car will be repaired at the  roadside. If not, it may be towed to the nearest suitable garage for repairs  but there may be a limit to the distance it can be towed without additional  costs. This type of cover will often not include a recovery service that will  get your car home or to a garage that is nearer to your home than it is to the  spot at which you broke down. 

  • National  assistance

National assistance provides all the  same coverage as roadside assistance. If the breakdown company is not able to  be repair your car at the roadside or locally within a given time-frame,  however, they will typically take the driver, their vehicle and a set number of  passengers home or to another specified address within the UK. 

  • Onward travel

Onward travel is typically the  highest level of cover available. As well as recovering a broken down vehicle  and delivering it to a specified garage or other address, the cover providers  may also provide a replacement car, alternative travel such as rail fares and  sometimes even overnight accommodation.

Some roadside assistance schemes  will only provide vehicle recovery in the event of a breakdown. Others may also  provide a recovery service following an accident.

Breaking down on the motorway

If you are having mechanical  difficulties while driving on a motorway you should attempt to reach the next  junction and exit the motorway if possible. If leaving the motorway is not  possible, the Highways Agency says you should... 

  • Pull onto the  hard shoulder as far to the left as possible. 
  • Switch on your  hazard warning lights. 
  • Exit the car from  the left hand door. Make sure all passengers do the same. 
  • Leave animals in  the car or ensure they are properly controlled on the verge. 
  • Contact the  Highways Agency and wait for help to arrive, staying well away from the hard  shoulder and carriageway. Do not re-enter the car.

Even if you have breakdown  assistance and your own mobile phone, The Highways Agency advises that you  contact them directly using an emergency telephone located on the hard  shoulder. These are free to use and will go straight through to a trained  operator who will be able to gauge the safety of your vehicle. They will also  be able to contact an emergency police patrol, as well as your breakdown  assistance provider.

They are spaced at regular intervals  and the direction of the nearest one will be indicated by arrows on posts at  the back of the hard shoulder. You should never cross the carriageway to get to  an emergency telephone.

There are also driver location signs  that will help you pinpoint your location on a motorway or A road. These are  usually situated at 500 metre intervals and display the road name (such as M25  or A6), the direction of travel (represented by an 'A' or a 'B') and the  distance in kilometres from the start of the motorway.

Breaking down on other roads

If you break down on another road  you should get your car off the road if possible. Switch on your hazard warning  lights, especially if you are causing an obstruction.

If you fear your car may be struck  by other vehicles, leave the car with any passengers and get well away from the  traffic before calling for assistance. If you have a warning triangle, place  this at least 45 metres behind your car on the same side of the road but only  if it is safe to do so.

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