Roadside Assistance: Needed Coverage Or Wasted Money?

July 12, 2010

Everyone likes the security of a roadside assistance program. Someone is there to help you regardless of the time of day or the weather conditions. It’s great to have someone to call when you are dressed to go out and the car won’t start or you come out to find a flat tire in the driveway. But what should you look for in an emergency road service program?

The first step is to determine what you hope to gain by buying a roadside assistance plan. I had a cousin who never had the coverage until his daughter went off to college about 75 miles away. His idea was that he could get to his vehicle when it was in trouble locally but an hour away presented a whole different set of problems. This brings up the question: Do I really need a roadside assistance plan?

Think about your recent history and if the need for towing or tire assistance has occurred. Consider what you are driving, the number miles on it and how reliable it is. Is the need for this coverage immediate and real?  

If you recently bought a new car, replaced a starter on your existing car or have towing coverage within your auto insurance package you might not even need a stand-alone program. Many car manufacturers’ bumper to bumper warranties come with roadside assistance coverage. The purchase of a NAPA rebuilt starter, for example, comes with towing reimbursement if the starter fails (a flat tire is another story) during the warranty period. The point here is to inventory your access to emergency help to see if what your needs are already fulfilled.      

Membership in an auto club for a year is going to cost anywhere from $30 to $100, depending on how inclusive the plan is. Inclusive, as in what it covers, which can be anything from changing a tire to paying for attorney fees to resolve speeding tickets, and inclusive in the family members it insures. Some plans follow the vehicle others follow the member whenever he is driving. It is important to clarify this so that the plan accomplishes your goals.

Clubs have the ability to offer additional services that can make a difference. The availability of 24/7 service is important. Repair and go services like battery evaluation and replacement, tire changing, and out of gas service can be the difference between arriving on time and spending some quality time with a tow truck driver as you drive to the garage.

Speaking of garages, what if the needed repair requires a procedure that is beyond a side of the road fix, where is the tow truck going to take you? Does the plan have a network of shops that it refers business to and if so how are these operations screened? Accountability becomes an issue if your vehicle is mishandled either during the tow or repair process. So you might want to check to see if the club you join has its own fleet or is just an administrator with a loosely organized network of sub-contractors.

Many club memberships are sold based on the non-automotive features that the plan offers such as travel preparation or discounted offers for a variety of purchases. The cost of the roadside assistance then seems free as the members avail themselves of the perks that come with membership. However some members never take advantage of these additional benefits so the roadside plan does have some real cost after all.  

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