It’s an all too familiar feeling—you’re driving down the road and you hear a noise or see your check engine light come on. Your mind will jump to the worst-case scenario, and you might need to pull over. The reality is that cars are complex machines with lots of parts and can break down at any time. You don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road if your car has a mechanical or electrical issue. Unless you have someone who you can call for help, you’ll need roadside assistance.
Roadside assistance can help you when your car breaks down or even if you lock your keys in your car. In this article, we’ll explain all its essentials, including:
- What it is
- What it covers
- Who offers it
- Whether you need it
- Rental cars
- Frequently asked questions
What is Roadside Assistance?
Roadside assistance is a service that helps you if you have serious car troubles that leave you on the side of the road. You can buy roadside coverage from auto insurers, car companies, credit card companies, and even your cell phone provider.
Below is a quick list of what a roadside assistance plan usually covers:
- Jump-starting a dead battery
- Towing your car if it’s broken down
- Winching service to get your car out of deep snow or mud
- Unlocking your car’s doors if you lost your keys
- Changing a flat tire
- Gas delivery if you run out of fuel
The exact coverage and services can vary. Depending on who you buy it from, you could have more or fewer roadside assistance services. You may need to shop around before you find a plan at the best price and with the right amount of coverage.
Be aware that providers often limit roadside assistance service requests to around four calls a year. You’ll have to pay for any roadside services you receive above that limit.
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Who Offers Roadside Assistance?
You can get a roadside assistance plan in a variety of ways, including:
Your Auto Insurance Company
Most major car insurance companies offer roadside assistance programs that give you 24-hour service. The following are some well-known insurers that have these plans:
- State Farm
- Liberty Mutual
- Farmers Insurance
- AARP (The Hartford)
- American Family
Auto insurance companies feature affordable rates for their roadside assistance plans. But the exact price you’ll pay to add it to your policy depends on several factors. Contact your insurance provider or get a quote to see what kind of plans you can choose from. Adding it to your policy is as easy as logging into your account online or by giving your agent a call.
Be sure to check out our article on the best car insurance companies for roadside assistance. We break down the top companies and detail their programs.
Your Auto Manufacturer
You can also get roadside assistance from the company that built your car. When you buy a new car, the dealership will ask if you want to get an assistance plan. In some instances, it’s included for free with the purchase of your car. These plans can usually last a few years or for as long as you own the car. For instance, Ford’s roadside assistance plan lasts for five years or until you drive the car 60,000 miles.
Keep in mind that coverage from an auto company only follows your car, not you as a driver. You’ll lose your assistance plan once you sell your vehicle.
You may benefit from getting roadside assistance from a car company if you buy a new car and it’s the only one you own. In this case, you wouldn’t have to worry about the coverage extending to other cars on your policy.
You should also think about getting a roadside plan from your car company if you own a luxury or high-end car such as a Tesla, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz. This is because these cars may require special expertise that may only be available through your dealership.
Your Credit Card Company
Many credit card companies offer roadside assistance plans for their customers. The following are some of them:
We recommend checking with your credit card provider to see if it offers this sort of protection. It’s also important to note that breakdown assistance isn’t always an option. Even if a credit card company offers it with one card, it may not be an option with another. Double-checking is always your best bet to make sure you can get the coverage you want.
Your Cell Phone Provider
Sometimes, you can even get roadside assistance from your cell phone company. Below are some cell phone carriers that offer it:
Cell phone companies often offer roadside assistance at a reasonable price. For example, Verizon sells it for an extra $4.99 a month per line. By comparison, AT&T lists its roadside coverage for $2.99 a month.
The biggest reason to get roadside coverage from a cell phone company is that you can use it even if you’re not in your car. For instance, you can call for help in someone else’s vehicle or while driving a rental car. You can also let your friends and family borrow your phone. To have coverage, you just need to make sure the subscribed phone is at the scene.
Cell carriers typically tie these plans to individual phone lines. If you want everyone on your plan to have roadside assistance, you’ll usually have to purchase it for every line.
An Auto Club Membership
Another way to get roadside assistance is through memberships from auto clubs such as AAA, National General Motor Club, or Good Sam Club. These clubs typically offer it as a benefit of being a member. Auto clubs normally offer membership levels, and each level comes with further benefits.
Motor club pricing will vary based on what state you live in. Club memberships tend to be pricier than other ways of acquiring roadside assistance. This is because they often offer premium benefits, discounts, and services, including a breakdown assistance program and much more.
An auto club plan follows you as a member, whether you’re the driver or a passenger. As with a phone company, you’ll need to make sure that you’re with the car if you dial for help.
Do You Need Roadside Assistance?
Roadside assistance is an optional type of coverage. The state and your car insurance company won’t require it. It exists for those rare, but totally possible, circumstances where you find yourself on the side of the road without any help. It can be comforting to know you have coverage when the unexpected happens.
To clear things up, here are a set of questions you can ask yourself before you buy:
1. Do I already have coverage?
You may already have roadside assistance if you recently bought a new car. If this is the case, you could have coverage for at least a few years or up to a certain mileage threshold. Checking to see if you already have it could save you money.
2. Where do I get roadside assistance?
Roadside assistance is available from many sources. You may have to do some research to find out the best place to get it, whether it’s from your insurer, credit card, cell phone company, or an auto club. Consider that some places may charge you extra to add more family members or vehicles to your plan.
3. How much does roadside assistance cost?
You’ll have to ask yourself how much you’re willing to pay before you buy roadside assistance. Most companies have affordable prices. But it can start getting more and more expensive if you add extra family members or join a motor club.
4. How old or unreliable is my car?
Older cars tend to have more issues and could be more prone to face a breakdown. Roadside assistance might be a good idea if you own an old or otherwise untrustworthy car.
Does Roadside Assistance Exist for Rental Cars?
Rental companies such as Enterprise and Avis sell roadside assistance protection (RAP). They’ll likely offer this to you alongside several other coverage options when you rent a car. It can end up costing a good amount of money, but it helps you know you’re covered when driving a rental.
Note that you may not need to buy RAP if you have roadside coverage from your cell phone company. This is because you can make a call for assistance in any car if you have the phone with the coverage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much does roadside assistance cost?
A: The cost of roadside assistance can vary depending on many factors such as:
- What kind of company you buy it from
- Membership level if you buy it from an auto club
- Where you live
- Claim history
Q: Can I use my roadside assistance for someone else?
A: Depending on where you got your plan, you may be able to use it for someone else. For instance, if you buy it from a cell phone company or an auto club, you can use it even if you’re not the driver.