Can you get breakdown cover when you have broken down?

Breakdowns are always bad news and worse when you haven’t bought cover in advance and the weather’s ugly. But you can still get help if your vehicle has let you down – though the cost can soar. Here are your options.

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If you’ve broken down, your first priority, above anything else, is keeping yourself and any passengers safe – more on this shortly. For now, let’s move to the mechanics of getting help as soon as possible.

Check whether you already have cover

The first step is to check whether you already have cover in place that you may have forgotten about. For example, you might have breakdown cover with your bank account or your car insurer may have bundled its own breakdown cover with your policy. 

So before calling for help, make sure you check. 

Buy breakdown cover on the spot 

If you don’t have breakdown cover, the good news is you can phone a breakdown provider and get immediate emergency cover. You will be charged an additional fee for this, but it will ensure someone comes out to repair your car or tow it to a garage. You will usually have to pay an emergency call-out fee plus the cost of the policy and any repairs. 

You can call free on one of the numbers below:

  • AA: 0800 88 77 66

  • RAC: 0330 159 8743

  • Green Flag: 0800 400 600

Note that you cannot arrange immediate breakdown cover online. You can only arrange cover over the phone. 

Also, be aware that some breakdown operators will penalise you if your car has broken down at home and you try joining a breakdown service from there. If this is the situation it may be sensible to make alternative travel plans and then join online. 

That means you can swerve any new member call-out penalties, but be aware that most companies will not cover call-outs inside the first 24 hours. 

Can you fix the problem yourself?

Possibly, but many common car problems are electrics-related and beyond the know-how of most of us. 

  • A flat tyre may be fixable with the help of your car boot jack. But it’s not a good idea to change a spare wheel on the hard shoulder of a busy motorway, especially in bad weather

  • A car let down by a flat battery may be got going with jump leads. Some modern car batteries have their own jumpstart lugs where cables can be attached. But some car makers take a dim view of jump-starting and warn it could void a warranty

It’s best to read your handbook – then make a decision on the facts. If your car battery continues to lose charge after the breakdown, it’s probably time to renew it.

Even better, get professional help as soon as you can. 

What are the breakdown provider alternatives?

The AA and RAC control close to 70% of the market. The rest of the breakdown market is made up of smaller firms who contract out, including some big-name insurance companies. For example, Direct Line contracts its own cover to Green Flag. 

Other options include AutoAid where you pay for all breakdown and recovery costs upfront, then recover the money through AutoAid. 

If you do leave one breakdown provider for another, don’t forget to cancel any direct debits paid automatically to them. Many companies automatically raise their rates after the first year. 

Is there any other way to get help?

If you don’t want to arrange breakdown cover on the spot, you could also phone a local garage to see if they can come and help you (providing you contact them during opening hours). 

Garages will usually charge a call-out fee of around £40 and an additional fee if your vehicle has to be towed back to the garage. Then there are the repair costs to consider, plus alternative transport costs.

If you break down on a motorway or A-road and cannot locate a local garage, you could also contact National Highways on 0300 123 5000. However, you will pay considerably more for this compared to the options mentioned above. 

Safety tips if you break down

Here are some top tips to keep you and your passengers safe in the event your car packs up:

  • If you have a high-vis jacket or vest, put it on. If you’re driving in Europe it may be compulsory to carry high vis-jackets in your car

  • If you don’t have a high vis jacket, buy one (or several if you carry passengers regularly). They’re cheap to buy online and usually pack down to a small size. Keep them stowed away in the boot

  • Many vehicles contain a high-vis warning triangle in the boot. Place it around 50 metres behind your car if it’s safe to do this. It is a bad idea to do this on a motorway or carriageway where warning signs can block access or even be blown away by fast-moving traffic – so you will need to assess the situation

  • If it is safe to do so, get all passengers out of the car using the side furthest from the traffic, and stand behind a motorway safety barrier, if possible

  • Some “smart motorways” have special rescue areas where you can stay safe till help arrives

  • Do not return to your vehicle even if it’s raining or dark

  • Always keep your hazard lights on

By comparing breakdown cover providers, you can find a policy that gives you the level of cover you need at a price you can afford.