How to buy roadside assistance coverage
Do you need roadside assistance coverage?
If you faithfully maintain your vehicle, never run out of gas, never leave your keys in your car, and you and all the other drivers in your family can change a flat tire and perform a jump start, you probably don’t need to buy roadside coverage. In the rare event of a breakdown where you need to be towed to a shop you’ll most likely still save money by paying out of pocket versus paying for years of unneeded roadside coverage.
However, if you don’t faithfully maintain your vehicle or your family members aren’t able to change a tire, perform a jump start or they lock their keys in the vehicle, then you should probably purchase a plan.
Do you need roadside coverage if you own a new vehicle?
Some new cars and trucks come with free 1-year roadside coverage. The coverage on free plans is often limited to changing flat tires, locksmith services and gasoline delivery. The manufacturer’s bumper-to-bumper (B2B) and power-train warranty will cover towing for mechanical failures, unless, of course, the breakdown isn’t covered due to your failure to perform required maintenance.
After the 1-year period you’ll have to buy a plan if you want tire, locksmith and gasoline assistance as well as trip planning services.
The two biggest mistakes consumers make when buying a roadside assistance plan
Mistake #1. Buying a plan based solely on price
The cheap plans have limited coverage, severe restrictions, and just plain lousy service. For example, cheap plans limit the free towing distance. Most drivers don’t they need towing coverage. But consider these seemingly minor issues that will require a tow:
If your vehicle won’t start or run due to a mechanical failure, it’ll have to be towed
If a jump start doesn’t start your vehicle, it’ll have to be towed
If your spare tire isn’t serviceable, your vehicle will have to be towed
If your check engine light is flashing, your vehicle will have to be towed
If you skid into a curb and damage the steering, suspension, wheels, etc, your vehicle will have to be towed
The cheapest plans often limit towing to the “nearest service facility” or “up to “10 miles.” Those plans can put you in the awful position of not being able to choose which facility fixes your vehicle.
How much towing coverage do you need?
If you experience a breakdown in a large city, you can probably get by with a plan with up to 50-miles of towing coverage. That way, you can have the vehicle towed to the shop of your choice or back to your home so you can do the repairs yourself. However, that same 50-mile limit can work against you if you break down on a trip. Here’s why.
Let’s say you’re hundreds of miles from home and have a breakdown in a rural area. If you want your vehicle towed to large town with access to a variety of reputable shops and immediate access to parts or to the nearest dealer, you’ll probably have to be towed more than 50-miles. If you anticipate that kind of travel, choose a plan with towing “up to 200-miles.” That should be enough coverage to get you to a decent sized city.
A note about towing charges in excess of the mileage limit
Roadside companies negotiate a discounted rate for the hook-up charge and the per-mile fee. But once the tow truck reaches the limit of your plan, you have to pay for the extra miles out-of-pocket. And the per-mile rate you pay will be much higher than if you had hired the towing service yourself. Here’s an example:
You have a breakdown on a trip. You hire a towing company on your own. They charge a $65 hook up fee and $3.00 per mile. You choose a dealer 90 miles away (because they’ll most likely have the parts on hand). Your total cost: $335 ($65 hook-up plus 90 miles x $3= $270 + $65).
Now let’s look at the same scenario with a cheap roadside plan that only allows 10 miles of towing. After the 10 mile limit, the towing company charges you $5/mile. Your cost for the remaining miles? $400 (80 miles @ $5= $400).
The take-away on towing mileage limits: If you take long trips to remote areas, buy a plan with longer towing limits.
Mistake #2. Buying a plan from a company with a poor reputation
Low cost providers don’t operate their own fleet of service vehicles and they don’t have longstanding contracts with independent towing/roadside service companies. When your call comes in, they simply consult a list of towing companies in the area and begin negotiating for the lowest rate. The provider they choose may or may not be the one closest to you. The roadside company’s goal is to find a provider at the lowest rate, and that can mean hours of wait time for you.
Larger and more reputable companies, on the other hand, have standing contracts with large towing/roadside service companies in large cities. Plus, they establish relationships with independent towing providers in remote areas. The rates they pay their providers is based on proving rapid deployment to the customer’s vehicle and the contracts require superior service. Obviously, you’ll pay more for those plans.
Check out roadside assistance plan customer reviews before you buy a plan
Every roadside assistance company will have bad reviews regarding long wait times in blizzard/storm conditions. No company can provide instant service to thousands of callers in extreme weather conditions. So be realistic when you read the reviews. If reviewers had to wait hours for service in a blizzard, that’s to be expected. If the reviewer had to wait days for service, that’s a company you want to avoid.
Add it to your car insurance or buy a free-standing plan?
Lots of companies offer free-standing roadside assistance plans. However, you also buy roadside assistance packages from professional organizations that offer it as a member benefit. Or, you can add roadside assistance coverage to your car insurance. The cost to add roadside assistance varies from as little as $15 per year to as much as $200.
If you add it to your car insurance, make sure that a roadside call doesn’t result in a “claim” on your policy.
What roadside plan features are worthwhile?
Basic plan features
Most roadside plans offer these basic services: Towing up to a mileage limit, Battery Jump-Start / Boost, Flat Tire Changes, Fuel Delivery, Vehicle Locksmith Service up to a dollar limit, Extrication / Winching up to a limit.
Worthwhile features that are often included in more expensive plans
• Mobile battery replacement — The service truck carries batteries and can replace yours on the spot to get you going.
• Trip planning services— Route planning to help you avoid construction zones. Depending on the provider, some roadside plans have more up-to-date road construction data than Google Maps or Apple Maps
• Car Travel Interruption – A cash benefit to help you cover the cost of a hotel/food in the event you can’t get the repair done in a single day
• Bicycle coverage and pickup — Great for bikers that experience a problem when far away from their vehicle. The service will attempt a repair or transport you can your bicycle back to your vehicle.
• Passport Photos for a Nominal Fee
• Travel guides and expert help planning your vacation
• Hotel and car rental discounts
• Premium Plans
• Higher towing limits
• Higher trip interruption limits
• Higher locksmith limit
• Higher extrication limit
• FREE Identity Theft Monitoring
• FREE Career Assistance
• FREE Severe Weather Alerts
• Home Lock-Out Service up to $100
• FREE One-Day Car Rental
• Unlimited Free Sets of Passport Photos
• Travel guides and expert help planning your vacation
• Reimbursement for transporting your vehicle back to your home due to an unexpected illness or injury
• 24-Hour Emergency Assistance
• Concierge Services
And now the disclaimers
Roadside plan disqualification period
Many plans have a disqualification period that delays the start of service for up to 30-days before your first roadside assistance call. In other words, you can’t sign up and then immediately get your vehicle towed.
Limit on service calls
Some plans limit you to up to 3 service calls per year
Limit on repeat calls
If you have your vehicle towed to a shop and don’t like the quote, don’t think you can call the roadside company and have it towed to a second shop for another opinion. In other words, you can’t use your towing service to shop for the best repair price.
You have to be present when the service vehicle shows up
Some plans cover you in whatever vehicle you’re in when the breakdown occurs. You can use your plan to have your friend’s car jumped, but you have to be present when the service vehicle arrives.
©, 2022 Rick Muscoplat
Posted on by Rick Muscoplat