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.
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.Back to top