No one wants to get stranded in a vehicle that’s run out of gas, or that they’ve locked themselves out of or the tire has a blowout and is now flat as a pancake. What if you car has a complete mechanical breakdown and you need a tow? At times such as these, roadside assistance is not only a convenience, it can be a lifesaver.
The only problem is trying to figure out how to get the best value in a roadside assistance program. What do you look for? What should you beware of? Here are some tips on how to secure a roadside assistance program that works for you, not against you.
For most new car buyers, the question of roadside assistance coverage doesn’t come into play, since most auto manufacturers include the service under the new-car warranty. If you only have one car, this is pretty much a no-brainer: you are automatically covered for the duration of the warranty, usually three to four years (although Mercedes-Benz includes roadside assistance for the life of the vehicle).
It’s important to note the differences between auto manufacturers’ roadside assistance programs, if for no other reason than to decide whether you need to offset what you get with the plan by one that offers broader coverage, as in roadside assistance programs from auto clubs. In the Lexus roadside assistance plan, for example, towing is only provided to a dealership or, if one isn’t nearby, to the closest repair shop. Other automaker roadside assistance plans allow you to choose the place where your car is towed, but they’ll charge you if you exceed mileage limits.
Consider the value of getting free roadside assistance that comes with your vehicle compared to shelling out a separate annual fee for such coverage elsewhere.
Arguably the best-known and longest-running roadside assistance program, AAA Roadside Assistance has stepped up its game since the advent of auto manufacturer-provided roadside assistance services. Now AAA provides additional services, depending on which of the three packages you choose, including towing, flat-tire changing, lost key replacement, delivery of fuel or coolant, and help with stuck vehicles.
There’s also the GM Motor Club that covers you, your spouse and children under 21 who still live at home. This plan, which is separate from the OnStar high-tech program that comes with new GM cars, is available to all drivers.
As for value, auto club membership for a year costs range from $50 to $141, depending on the plan type and how inclusive it is.
Car insurance, cell phone and credit card companies
Got a platinum Visa, an AT&T phone plan? Roadside assistance provided through these companies may also be a good value, especially since you can use the roadside assistance provided in any vehicle.
Insured with Allstate, Nationwide, State Farm or other auto insurance company? Thoroughly check out the coverage provided, since it varies from one auto insurer to another. Roadside assistance under Allstate’s insurance policy only covers the insured, while those who enroll in the Allstate Motor Club are covered in any car as long as the member is the one driving.
For more information on how to avoid gaps in roadside assistance, see the insights from editors at Consumer Reports.