What is breakdown cover and how does it work?

14 min Read Published: 02 Jun 2021

What is breakdown cover and how does it work?Many of us have had the experience of our car breaking down and how this can cause frustration and wreak havoc on our travel plans. Purchasing breakdown cover before you travel will provide a service that could save you time and money as well as provide safety for your family when travelling.

In this article, we have researched 4 of the top breakdown cover providers in the UK to enable you to choose the provider and service that best suits your needs and budget.

What are the different types of breakdown cover you can buy?

There are three main types of breakdown cover available for UK motorists and understanding the best option for your needs can save you money as well as keep you safe when you and your family are travelling.

Roadside assistance breakdown cover

Roadside assistance breakdown cover is the cheapest and most basic breakdown cover available. It will provide assistance at the roadside by an engineer who will attempt to repair your vehicle so you can complete your journey. If your vehicle cannot be repaired at the roadside then the engineer will take your car and passengers to a nearby garage selected by the breakdown provider. Some policies will provide for onward travel with the terms and conditions differing between providers.

National recovery breakdown cover

National recovery breakdown cover will provide assistance at the roadside by an engineer who will attempt to repair your vehicle. If your vehicle cannot be repaired then you, your vehicle and passengers will be transported to a chosen location in the UK for repair. This means that you could either return home and use a local garage or complete your original journey and get your car repaired at this location.

Home start breakdown cover

A large number of breakdowns occur at the owner's home address as car battery problems or other problems can worsen when the car is not driven for a period of time. Home start breakdown cover extends your cover to issues arising at your home address and an engineer will visit your home and try to restart your car. If this is not possible then your vehicle will be taken to a garage local to your address.

Who offers the best breakdown cover?

When searching for the best breakdown service for your needs make sure to look closely at the terms and conditions of each policy as they do vary widely. Also, check with your current car insurance provider as they may offer a discount on breakdown cover when included with your insurance policy.

In this article, we have looked in detail at four of the most popular breakdown services available in the UK to provide a guide to help you choose the best one for your needs.

What breakdown cover does the AA offer?

The AA has been helping motorists since 1905 and the breakdown/recovery service is the primary focus of its operation. It offers the following levels of breakdown cover:

Roadside Assitance

  • Roadside Assistance is available if your vehicle breaks down more than a quarter of a mile from your home address and you purchased cover at least 24hrs prior to the breakdown occurring
  • An AA appointed engineer will attend to try to fix your vehicle and get you on your way
  • If your vehicle cannot be fixed, it, together with the driver and up to seven passengers will be taken to the AA's choice of local repairer, or your choice of repairer providing it is no further than the distance to the AA repairer.
  • If Your Vehicle has run out of fuel or charge it will be taken to the nearest fueling station or charge point, whichever is applicable
  • The AA will make a telephone call at your request following a breakdown.
  • If your car is involved in an accident that wasn't your fault then AA specialist staff can arrange recovery, help organise repairs, vehicle hire or personal injury assistance under their Accident Assist service

Home Start

  • Home Start provides the same service as Roadside Assistance but includes any breakdown occurring at home or within a quarter of a mile from your home address
  • Only available as an addition to a Roadside Assistance policy and cover must be purchased at least 24 hours before the breakdown or accident occurred

National Recovery

  • Relay provides the same service as Roadside Assistance and Home Start but in addition, if your vehicle cannot be repaired, it provides for the recovery of your vehicle, driver and up to seven passengers to any single destination of your choice in the UK
  • Must be purchased at least 24 hours before the breakdown or accident occurred

Onward Travel

  • Onward Travel extends Roadside Assistance, Home Start and National Recovery cover where a local prompt repair cannot be arranged
  • Choice from either, a replacement car, overnight accommodation or public transport costs to a single UK destination

What breakdown cover doers the RAC offer?

The RAC has been helping motorists since 1897 and currently has 8 million members using its breakdown services. It offers the following levels of breakdown cover:

Standard

  • Standard cover offers roadside and home rescue in one package
  • Plus - if your vehicle cannot be fixed they will provide a tow to a garage or another destination within a 10-mile radius
  • Plus - if your vehicle is left in a garage for repair you will be reimbursed the cost of a taxi fare for up to 20 miles

Advanced

  • Advanced cover offers roadside and home resue in one package
  • Plus - instead of a 10-mile tow, they will tow you and your passengers to any garage or destination in the UK
  • Plus - up to £150 to help you stay mobile for up to 2 days while your vehicle’s in the garage. This can be used for any combination of car hire, taxis, public transport or a hotel
  • Plus - your attending engineer will contact up to 3 RAC garages to check which can see you the soonest. Additionally, you'll get a repair estimate from the garage giving you an idea of how much it will cost

Ultimate

  • Ultimate cover offers all features of Advanced
  • Plus - up to £500 to help you stay mobile for up to 7 days while your vehicle is in the garage for repair. This can be used for any combination of car hire, taxis, public transport or a hotel
  • Plus - it will arrange a taxi or hire car for you, straight from the scene of the breakdown and will arrange for your vehicle to be towed. The garage will then call you with a detailed quote

What breakdown cover does Green Flag offer?

Green Flag was formed in 1971 as an alternative to the AA and RAC. It uses a network of local garages and mechanics to deliver recovery and repair services, instead of patrolling mechanics. It offers the following levels of breakdown cover.

Rescue

  • Roadside assistance is available if your vehicle breaks down more than a quarter of a mile from your home address and you purchased cover at least 24hrs prior to the breakdown occurring
  • If your car can’t be fixed at the roadside it will be towed to the nearest garage
  • If the garage is closed you will be taken home and picked up the next day (or whenever is suitable for you) and the car will be taken to the garage then at no extra cost.
  • It offers a service that sends a free message to your friends and family so they know what’s happened

Rescue Plus

  • Provides the same cover as Rescue 
  • Plus - any breakdown occurring at home or within a quarter of a mile of your home address

Recovery

  • provides the same cover as Rescue Plus
  • Plus - it will arrange to take you, your passengers, and your vehicle to a place of your choice in the UK

Recovery Plus

  • Provides the same cover as Recovery
  • Plus - it will arrange a hire car, hotel, or pay for alternative transport if your vehicle can't be fixed at the roadside

What breakdown cover does Start Rescue offer?

startrescue.co.uk prides itself on offering an innovative breakdown service that is both efficient and competitively priced. It offers the following levels of breakdown cover.

1 Star

  • Roadside assistance for breakdowns that occurs within the UK and is more than a 1-mile radius away from your home address
  • Spend up to 60 minutes to attempt to repair the vehicle
  • If your vehicle is involved in an accident rendering it immobile or illegal it will transport your vehicle in accordance with the terms of the policy you have purchased
  • If it is unable to repair your vehicle within the same working day or other agreed period payment, up to £250 payment will be made towards the reasonable cost of alternative transport or car hire to allow you to complete your original journey
  • It will pay up to £150 within the UK, towards the reasonable cost of alternative transport for one person to return and collect the repaired vehicle

2 Star

  • Provides the same cover as 1 Star
  • Plus - if your vehicle cannot be fixed at the roadside or at a local garage on the same day, it will arrange onward travel for you and the passengers to your home or to a location closer to your original destination

3 Star

  • Provides the same cover as 2 Star
  • Plus - your vehicle will be covered at your registered home address or within a 1 mile radius of your home address

4 Star

  • Provides the same cover as 2 Star 
  • Plus - your vehicle will be covered in Europe (T&Cs apply)

5 Star

  • Provides the same cover as 3 Star 
  • Plus - your vehicle will be covered at your registered home address or within a 1 mile radius of your home address
  • Plus - your vehicle will be covered in Europe (T&Cs apply)

How much does breakdown cover cost?

The annual cost of breakdown varies significantly between providers but so does the service provided. So make sure you check the terms & conditions of each policy before paying the premium.

Price comparison - AA vs RAC vs Green Flag vs Start Rescue

AA breakdown cover Roadside At Home National Recovery Onward Travel Annual
What is breakdown cover and how does it work? Yes Yes No No £59.00
What is breakdown cover and how does it work? Yes Yes Yes No £119.00
What is breakdown cover and how does it work? Yes Yes Yes Yes £139.00
RAC breakdown cover Roadside At Home National Recovery Onward Travel Annual
RAC Yes Yes Limited No £114.00
RAC Yes Yes Yes Limited £180.00
RAC Yes Yes Yes Yes £228.00
Green Flag breakdown cover Roadside At Home National Recovery Onward Travel Annual
green flag Yes No No No £26.88
green flag Yes Yes No No £47.04
green flag Yes Yes Yes Yes £57.12
Start Rescue breakdown cover Roadside At Home National Recovery Onward Travel Annual
startrescue Yes No No Limited £19.75
startrescue Yes Yes Yes Limited £28.00

NB: Where car details were required a 2018 Ford Focus or similar was used