Roadside Assistance: the Best Way to Handle a Breakdown

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If you’ve never been stranded on the side of a highway before, it’s easy to let roadside coverage slip your mind. Typically, it costs between $75 and $125 to have your car towed, not including the time (and sometimes extra money) you lose in the event of a breakdown. 

Place yourself in the shoes of someone who’s just had their engine give out on the side of a bustling road at night in the middle of nowhere, and coverage starts to sound pretty nice.

But either way, we’ll take a look at some emergency measures you can take if you do break down, how to prepare for such a catastrophe, and a list of roadside assistance companies that provide affordable coverage.

How to Prepare for a Roadside Emergency

Before researching coverage, you should still take the time to make sure that you yourself are prepared for a roadside emergency and educate yourself on the basics of auto parts. “Fail to plan, plan to fail,” as the saying goes, and it’s especially true for motorists. 

Here are a few things you should keep in your car in the event of a breakdown:

  • Jump starter unit or jumper cables for jumpstarting your car in case your battery dies
  • Survival tools such as a crowbar, hatchet, flint, rope, mechanical tools, and anything else you think you may need should you get stranded in an area with little to no cell phone reception
  • Physical maps of your local areas and state in case your cell phone dies on that long road trip and you can’t charge it
  • Portable cellphone charger to charge your phone in case it dies on that road trip
  • Roadside flares, a brightly colored vest, and a flashlight with extra batteries for nighttime emergencies
  • A seatbelt cutter in case an accident jams your seatbelt or makes it difficult to manually remove.

It’s a lot, but these are measures most certainly worth taking. 

What to Do When Your Car Breaks Down

Maybe you started texting and driving and didn’t notice the weird noises your car started making, or maybe your rusted exhaust pipe broke off in the middle of your cruise.

No matter the reason, the very last thing you want to do if your car breaks down is panic. It will greatly inhibit your rational decision-making. 

Here’s what you should do instead:

  • Pull over and make yourself visible. Chances are you’ve broken down in the middle of a highway or busy street. Find a safe place to pull over at the first sign of danger. If you break down during the daytime, you should be pretty visible to oncoming traffic. If you break down at night, use roadside flares or a flashlight to alert drivers of your presence.
  • Exit from the passenger side. This is the safest way to exit your vehicle in the event of a breakdown as you’ll be moving away from oncoming traffic.
  • Stay as far away from the road as possible. It’s common sense, but you shouldn’t be loitering anywhere near a busy road after a breakdown. Stand behind your car or another obstacle. Do not sit inside your vehicle unless temperatures are below freezing (in that case, dial 911 for more immediate help).
  • Call for help. If you have coverage, now’s the time to give them a call. Do so before attempting any repairs yourself. 
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If all else fails, find safety and dial 911. Explain to the officer as much as you can about what happened and take pictures. Otherwise, you can rely on your roadside assistance program to rescue you.

 

What Is a roadside assistance program?

Not too crazy about the possibility of being alone on the side of a road? Look into a roadside assistance program. These programs are insurance policies that help cover drivers, physically and financially, when an auto emergency arises.

The driver pays an insurance premium to the provider so they don’t have to pay for emergency services out of their own pockets.

In return, you’ll receive coverage for emergency transportation, towing, jumpstarting a dead battery, gas delivery, flat-tire assistance, lockout assistance, and removing a stuck vehicle.

A major difference between roadside assistance programs and car insurance is that car insurance, with rare exceptions, does not cover vehicle breakdowns, flat tires, and empty gas tanks. 

Your car insurance company will cover the costs of repairing a malfunctioning part or replacing a totaled car, but it will not send out a team to help you, nor will it cover your towing bill.

The obvious solution to this is to opt for a roadside assistance program, which is entirely optional to you. The average cost can range anywhere from $5 a month to over $100.

How do I get roadside assistance coverage?

There are a few ways you can get coverage. The first is through your car insurance company. Remember that this type of coverage is optional, so it may not be automatically included in your auto insurance policy. If it’s not, you can enroll with your provider and they’ll lump the costs into your monthly premiums.

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Another way is through a member organization like AAA, which specializes solely in roadside assistance and has over 61 million members. An annual AAA basic membership can start at as low as $40 a year; a premier membership starts at about $77 a year.

Car manufacturers can also offer coverage if you buy a new or certified pre-owned vehicle. Honda, for instance, offers three years of roadside assistance.

Finally, you can even obtain coverage through credit card companies. 

Some premium credit cards include 24/7 roadside assistance for their holders. Visa and MasterCard both offer their own unique packages: Visa’s goes for $69.95 per service and MasterCard’s runs at a pre-negotiated fee.

The Best Roadside Assistance Programs

Some of the best programs offered by car insurance companies are:

  • The Allstate Motor Club: This program provides 24/7 assistance that covers towing and flats for between $7 and $12 a month for your first year. Sign up for their Platinum Elite subscription and you’ll get your own personal concierge.
  • GEICO’s roadside assistance plan: This coverage goes for only $14 per year and covers towing, jumpstarting, lockouts, and flats. GEICO will use your phone’s GPS signal to locate you since you’ll sign up for this program through their app.
  • State Farm’s emergency roadside assistance: This coverage costs about $5 to $7 per policy period (about $30 a year on average) and covers essentials including flats, towing, jumpstarting, gas delivery, and even a locksmith service. 
  • Progressive’s roadside assistance package: Progressive’s package is offered with the purchase of certain types of coverage, and it includes vehicle towing within a 15-mile radius, winching, dead battery coverage, gas delivery, flats, locksmith services, and on-scene labor. Prices are not publicly listed on their website.

Look into and research the many ways you can obtain coverage. Giving yourself the highest possible chance of success in the event of an emergency will pay dividends down the road, figuratively speaking.

Luke Williams writes and researches for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org. His passions include writing about best practices for insurance and other ways everyday people can drive with peace of mind.