Roadside Assistance: What Is It, and Do I Need It?

Roadside Assistance: What Is It, and Do I Need It?

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Roadside assistance coverage helps drivers when their vehicle breaks down. It is an option on almost every auto insurance policy.

Your car insurancee company typically partners with an existing network of businesses that provide roadside assistance services, or employs a team to contact and arrange service on their customer’s behalf. Which service provider is sent to a driver depends entirely on their location, vehicle, and circumstances. The closest and most appropriate service providers tend to be dispatched.

Generally, adding roadside assistance to your policy will get you: towing, battery service, flat tire service, fuel delivery, lockout service, and extrication. Below is description of what each service includes and a scenario that would call for it.

What Roadside Assistance Service Includes

Roadside assistance is the attempt by a service professional to make minor mechanical repairs and adjustments in an effort to make a vehicle drivable again. There is a seemingly infinite list of things that can go wrong with a car, which can make it a worthwhile addition to any car insurance policy.

If you cannot drive it for any reason and the service professional cannot restore your vehicle to a state in which it can be safely driven, then you’ll be in need of one of the following services.

Towing service is provided when the roadside assistance fails to make a vehicle drivable again or able to be driven safely. Depending on your roadside assistance provider, they will tow your vehicle to a mechanic up to a limited number of miles. In the event you want or need your vehicle towed beyond that limit, they won’t leave your vehicle stranded, but they will charge you extra.

Battery jump-start service is an attempt to start a vehicle by jump-starting the battery, unless otherwise advised by the manufacturer. For example, anyone driving an electric car should reference the owner’s manual, since they operate differently that most vehicles on the road and have fewer qualified service professionals. Generally, hybrid vehicles use the battery which powers the electric motor to turn over the gasoline engine, making it unlikely they would ever require a jump-start.

Flat tires happen and roadside assistance is there to help. If you are a member of some roadside services, a service professional will report to your location and replace the flat tire with the spare inside your vehicle. Roadside assistance for an automobile will not typically cover a flat tire for a motorcycle or any other two or three-wheel vehicle.

Lockout service and locksmith service are both for when a driver cannot gain entry to their own vehicle. But there is a difference between the two. Any time a roadside service professional helps a driver open their vehicle, that falls under lockout service. They usually can gain entry using a pump wedge or a long reach tool to unlock a door. If the roadside service professional cannot gain entry to the vehicle, a locksmith service will be called. Some roadside assistance coverage will cover the cost of a locksmith, or partially cover the cost, and others will not.

Fuel delivery service is provided to drivers who run out of gas while driving. A service professional will come to your location with enough fuel to get the vehicle to the nearest gas station. Some roadside services charge for the fuel. Those that do charge will use the area's pump price in determining the fee for the stranded motorist.

Extrication or winching service is the process of moving a vehicle if it is constrained or stuck. If it takes more than one service professional and truck to dislodge a vehicle, there are typically additional costs added.

Should I Get Roadside Assistance with My Car Insurance?

This depends on how old your vehicle is, how wide your range of commuting is, and how much convenience you want. A number of auto insurance companies, auto clubs, credit card issuers, and manufacturers offer road assistance should your car break down.

If you've decided to get this additional protection, take a look at our comparison of various roadside assistance programs to understand the differences between the different companies and clubs that offer it.

Otherwise, here is how we think about whether these benefits are worth it:

Vehicle Age: If you have a brand new vehicle within its first few model years, chances are that you could do without adding major roadside assistance to your insurance, since your car should be humming along nicely. Your car manufacturer likely has a roadside emergency service that is complementary (within reason) typically for the first handful of years, or tens of thousands of miles - whichever milestone gets reached first. Other features such as getting locked out or being stuck in a ditch can be one-off benefits you can pay for as they come up. If you have an older car, roadside assistance may be a better investment.

Distance and Commute: Another thing to consider is where your daily commute or errands take you. If they're within a small radius of where you live, then you might be closer to a body shop in town that you can call up whenever you need help. However, if you take trips or weekend jaunts to places you're not familiar with, it might be easier to have a professional network on call to handle problems that may arise.

Convenience: If you value convenience, we think you'll be benefit from adding some type of roadside assistance program to your auto insurance policy. Every program saves you the trouble of locating and contacting the nearest service professional to best suit your need. This is an underappreciated service today with the emergence of cell phones and computers but you will not be as efficient at locating someone as the program providers who have existing networks of professionals they work with. This is especially true after hours, when you're stranded on a dark road somewhere, or in inclement weather.

Costs: Being part of a roadside assistance program can potentially save you a lot of money on service fees. For example, if the out-of-pocket cost for a service professional to come to your location was $75, you could have a high tab in a hurry over the course of several incidents in one year. Compare that with the handful of dollars in extra premiums that you'd get through State Farm, GEICO, or Allstate's roadside assistance programs. It’s not farfetched to think you could have a flat tire, run out of fuel, or slide off the road and have to be pulled out within only 12 months. Depending on where you live, the volume of driving you do, and the type of vehicle you have, a roadside assistance member could easily use the service three or four times in a year.

Free Roadside Assistance: If you have a select American Express credit card, your membership benefits may actually include free roadside services for up to four times a year. Furthermore, reasonable roadside help may be provided by your manufacturer for new vehicles free of charge. It'll depend on your manufacturer's age and mileage thresholds.

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Which Insurance Companies Offer Roadside Assistance?

Most auto insurance companies offer roadside assistance as a policy add-on. However, the benefits offered by each company can vary widely. Below, we outline some of the most notable features of the largest auto insurance companies' roadside assistance programs.

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The best feature about State Farm's emergency roadside service is that even drivers who didn't initially include it in their policies can use it. Although these drivers will have to pay a per-use fee, the price will usually be less than market rates. State Farm's emergency roadside service includes all of the basic features that other insurers' programs offer, but mechanical and locksmith labor is limited to one hour. However, the time limit should be enough to resolve most lock-related problems and smaller mechanical issues.

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The big selling point of GEICO's roadside assistance add-on is that you can request help through GEICO's mobile app rather than calling the company. You can prefill your policy information to save time, and the app even uses your phone's GPS to help locate you. GEICO's location tracking can be helpful if you ever find yourself stranded without a sense of where you are.

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By far, Allstate provides policyholders with the most options when it comes to roadside assistance by offering three tiers of service. The third tier, Allstate Motor Club, offers the most features and can also be purchased as a stand-alone service. If you're interested in benefits beyond towing and tire changes, Allstate's Motor Club is a great choice as it provides perks like trip interruption coverage and a personal concierge.

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Progressive's emergency roadside assistance program offers all of the basic coverage that you'd expect, including flat tire changes and battery jump-starts. Additionally, policyholders can benefit from Progressive's lenient towing guidelines. Most insurance companies only tow your car free of charge up to a certain distance, but Progressive will tow your car more than 15 miles if there isn't a qualified repair shop within the area.

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Much like other large insurance companies, USAA offers basic features with its roadside assistance add-on. If you're stranded on the road, USAA will provide many services, including gas delivery and towing. The main drawback of the service is that you'll have to pay out of pocket for the services provided and then wait to be reimbursed.

Mark is a Senior Research Analyst for ValuePenguin focusing on the insurance industry, primarily auto insurance. He previously worked in financial risk management at State Street Corporation.

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