The ultimate guide to roadside assistance

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Roadside assistance is typically optional, but if you have ever been stranded on the side of the road without help, you may find the coverage essential. Considering that the average cost of getting your car towed is between $75 to $125, a single tow could offset the cost of roadside assistance for a year or more.

The question is, what company has the best roadside assistance coverage and how much does it cost? This guide breaks it all down for you.

What is roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance is a service offered to assist drivers, physically and financially, when their vehicle breaks down. This service or membership is typically offered for a yearly fee.

It provides two main benefits:

First, policyholders receive emergency roadside service in the event their vehicle breaks down. Services might include fuel delivery, changing a flat tire or towing to a service center if the issue cannot be immediately resolved.

Second, roadside assistance helps mitigate the cost of an unexpected breakdown. Similar to a car insurance policy, roadside assistance policyholders pay a fee, or premium, to the service provider. When a breakdown occurs, the driver will not have to pay out of pocket for the emergency services they receive, as long as they are within the policy limit. To put it in perspective, if your vehicle breaks down and will need to be towed to a repair shop. If your roadside assistance plan covers towing, you may be able to have your vehicle towed without cost.

What does roadside assistance cover?

When you opt for roadside assistance, the following coverages may be included:

  • Towing
  • Transportation assistance for a stranded driver and passengers
  • Battery jump start
  • Gas delivery
  • Lockout service
  • Tire change
  • Winching to pull a stuck vehicle out

What makes roadside assistance different from other coverage?

Roadside assistance is different from other types of coverage that you might get from a car insurance policy or manufacturer’s warranty. Basic car insurance usually covers only the cost of repairing damage from accidents, and emergency response is not an included feature. Warranties will repair or replace malfunctioning parts on your new vehicle, but with the exception of a few rare cases, flat tires and empty gas tanks are not covered.

Note that you can often purchase a roadside assistance plan from your insurance provider or your vehicle’s manufacturer as an add-on to the service you currently have. You will benefit from the convenience and potential cost savings when you bundle roadside assistance with multiple services from the same provider. Just make sure to shop around before you settle on a plan to see if you are getting the best price and service.

Why is roadside assistance important?

Imagine this: you are driving in an unfamiliar location at night when suddenly, you hear the distinct pop and hiss of your tire going flat. Without roadside assistance, you would be stuck on the side of the road trying to change the tire yourself in the dark. But if you do have roadside assistance, help is just a phone call away. A professional will be immediately dispatched to your location to rescue both you and your car.

The three most common types of calls to roadside assistance are for dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. Many providers will also offer other useful emergency services, such as fuel delivery if you run out of gas. If your car is not driveable, a roadside assistance program will cover all or part of your towing bill to the nearest service facility. Without roadside assistance, this cost alone could easily reach hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

Everyone should consider roadside assistance, but it is an even more important service to have for the following people:

  • Elderly people
  • Young drivers and new licensees
  • Parents with infants or small children
  • Anyone with a physical disability
  • Drivers of older vehicles (12 or more years old)
  • People who live in remote areas
  • Commuters who drive more than 20 miles each day
  • Travelers who frequently take long-distance road trips

Where do I get roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance is an optional form of coverage. There are several ways to get roadside assistance. Consider the following places for coverage:

  • Auto insurance companies: One of the simplest ways to get roadside assistance is through your car insurance company. It can be added to your monthly premiums. Some carriers may even include roadside assistance as part of a full car insurance package.
  • Member organizations: Organizations such as AAA and Good Sam specialize in roadside assistance. AAA alone has 61 million members. Membership may include other perks such as travel and DMV services.
  • Car manufacturers: If you plan on buying a new or certified pre owned vehicle, you may receive complimentary roadside assistance for your warranty period. Honda’s roadside assistance lasts three years or 36,000 miles. Kia’s is 60 months to 60,000 miles.
  • Credit card companies: There are premium credit cards that include 24/7 roadside assistance for cardholders. Visa offers roadside coverage for a flat fee of $69.95 per service. Mastercard’s RoadAssist service provides services for a pre-negotiated fee.

How to decide which roadside assistance program is the best for you

With so many roadside assistance programs available, you might be torn on which one is right for you. Cost is an important factor, but it should not be the only one you take into consideration. Roadside assistance programs offer varying levels of coverage and additional features that are worth considering.

While more expensive, standalone roadside assistance coverage from providers such as AAA and AARP come with a long list of perks that might be worth the cost. For example, AAA offers identity theft monitoring, travel discounts, vehicle inspections and registration assistance to its members. AARP also offers travel discounts, plus they will include emergency bonds in case you are arrested or hospitalized while driving as well as a trip interruption guarantee.

Roadside assistance is available from many car insurance providers, and convenience is key. Emergency roadside coverage is easy to add on to your existing insurance policy or purchase when shopping for a new policy. Costs are nominal and benefits are usually good. Take this into consideration when shopping for a car insurance policy and make sure to specifically ask about roadside assistance limits.

The cheapest roadside assistance programs are typically the ones that are included with your credit card. It is good to find out if any of the cards you already have qualify you for complimentary roadside assistance in case you need it. Just do not rely on this as your only source of emergency roadside coverage. Limits on these plans are notoriously low, and you could still end up paying out of pocket for the majority of your service bill.

Accidents and exceptions

Roadside assistance coverage is wonderful to have in case of non-life-threatening emergencies that leave you stranded on the side of the road. But keep in mind that this is not a substitution for car insurance and does not cover more serious emergencies. If you are in an accident, dial 911 immediately.

You should also understand where roadside assistance benefits end. If your car breaks down and needs to be towed, for example, your emergency roadside benefits will typically cover the cost of the tow truck, but anything after that will be your responsibility. Roadside coverage will not pay for major repairs that are needed to get your car up and running again. It is a good idea to set money aside into an emergency car repair fund each month, regardless of whether or not you have roadside assistance.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best roadside assistance?

There are several roadside assistance companies in the market to choose from. The best one for you will be determined by your specific needs and which plan and company can best accommodate those needs.

Where can I get roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance can be purchased through providers like AAA or AARP, but it can also be purchased through some auto insurance companies as an add-on to a standard auto insurance policy.

When can I use roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance plans generally provide coverage 24/7 and 365 days a year. This means that regardless of when you are driving, you can use your roadside assistance. However, if you are in an area with fewer repair shops or towing services, you may have to wait longer for service.

Can I use my roadside assistance for other vehicles that are not mine?

Many roadside assistance plans cover the individual, not the vehicle. This means if you have a roadside assistance plan, you should be able to utilize that service regardless of whether you are in your vehicle or not. However, it is worth checking with the provider you decide to go with to make sure you will have it when you need it most.

Written by
Mandy Sleight
Insurance Contributor
Mandy Sleight has been a licensed insurance agent since 2005. She has three years of experience writing for insurance websites such as Bankrate.com, MoneyGeek and The Simple Dollar. Mandy writes about auto, homeowners, renters, life insurance, disability and supplemental insurance products.
Edited by
Insurance Editor