10 things to check when buying breakdown cover

Choosing car breakdown cover is an important decision. Having good cover makes all the difference when you and your family are stuck in bad weather in the dark in some remote spot, or you're on the way to a business meeting or to catch a ferry. Are you going to be helped efficiently and professionally? Will the person who attends your breakdown know what they're doing?

There are a huge number of types of car breakdown cover to choose from, provided by organisations with a motoring heritage, insurance companies, major retail brands and other sources. But how do you find the best for you?

Here are a few fundamental questions to ask:

1. Does the scheme cover the vehicle or the driver?

With so many households having more than one car, a breakdown scheme that covers only one car can be a false economy.

Even if you have just one car, you'll appreciate breakdown cover that covers the vehicle you're driving if you borrow or hire a car. Similarly, if you change your car, you don't have to bother to inform your breakdown service.

2. Can I cover my partner or my family?

Why take out more than one breakdown cover, when one policy can cover you and your partner? Or your whole family or household? Most breakdown providers offer deals for more than one driver or vehicle. But remember cover for the drivers rather than the vehicles is almost certainly the better deal.

3. What happens if my vehicle if it breaks down?

A prompt, helpful, professional call centre can make all the difference at a stressful time. They should take your details and arrange for a qualified mechanic to be with you as soon as possible.

4. What happens if it can't be fixed?

Now's the time to look at the recovery cover. You may find that under your recovery policy your vehicle can only be towed to the nearest approved garage, or to your home if you are not far away - (the distance will be stated in the cover).

However, with the schemes that offer more comprehensive cover you can request a recovery to any destination of your choice, irrespective of how far away that is.

5. Does it include help at your home as well as at the roadside?

Many breakdowns happen outside motorists' homes - often on freezing cold mornings, when you need to be at work or take the children to school. And, because this is a high-risk location for breakdowns, many low-cost breakdown services only cover breakdowns more than a certain distance from your home.

6. What happens to me and my passengers if my vehicle breaks down?

There are many options offered in different breakdown packages for you to choose from. Typically you will have the option of being taken home or to a local hotel. More comprehensive offerings allow you to be taken to your destination.

7. Do you cover accommodation?

If you travel long distances - for business or pleasure - you may want to check that your breakdown and recovery cover will provide you and your passengers with accommodation if you get stuck.

8. How do I tell how good your breakdown people are?

Let's face it, one advertiser or web site owner's claim is as good as another. You need to know about the actual experiences of real people.

Has the breakdown provider won any awards recently? Customers' or readers' awards are generally more valuable than journalists' reviews or industry awards.

9. Is it worth paying a little extra?

It depends on how much your time is worth. A better performing breakdown provider will get to you quicker and will more likely fix the problem at the roadside.

If your chosen provider is covering your family car, paying a little extra for a well-reviewed service should get them safely back on the road more quickly.

10. What kinds of vehicles do you cover?

If you drive a car 100% of the time, then almost any breakdown policy will give you the basic cover you need. But what about your caravan, trailer, motorbike or even small van?

Check carefully that you don't have to pay extra - or even simply, that cover for other kinds of vehicles is available.

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a leading road safety organisation in the UK. GEM Motoring Assist is a multi award-winning provider of car breakdown cover and has policies which also cover motorbikes and caravans.

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