At some point in your driving life, you'll probably find yourself stranded and in need of help. Maybe it’ll be a flat tire. Maybe you’ll be on a trip and run out of gas. Or maybe your battery will simply need a jump. In other words, some roadside assistance will be necessary.
Time was that a driver’s options for a tow or roadside assistance were limited to auto clubs like AAA, with membership costs that can go upwards of $100 a year. These days, however, almost every auto insurance company offers roadside assistance packages at a reasonable price, as well as other local or national groups, such as AARP.
“Roadside assistance definitely provides peace of mind,” says Joel Pond, an agent for the Texas-based Rockland Insurance, Inc. “The only alternative is having a close friend or relative available 24/7 with a pair of jumper cables and 5 gallons of gas.”
Before you make the decision to add emergency roadside assistance to your auto insurance policy, you should consider the following five questions.
1. How much will coverage for the road cost?
Every insurance provider is different, but experts agree that most drivers can expect to pay less than $5 a month extra on their auto insurance policies for a basic roadside assistance package and products.
For instance, Allstate’s “Towing & Labor” rider costs $2 per vehicle every six months; it covers towing, tire changes, jump-starts, lockouts and refueling.
Most large, national insurance companies offer general access and comparable pricing. GEICO’s emergency roadside package, for example, costs about $14 a year per vehicle, while Progressive charges $15 every six months for its roadside package and State Farm charges about $6 a year.
2. What are roadside assistance rules?
Michael Stahl, vice president of marketing and operations at iMingle Insurance (which charges $4.25 per year for roadside assistance), says every policy comes with its own unique set of parameters that customers should be aware of before signing up.
For instance, Nationwide’s most basic package provided only towing up to 15 miles, "minor" ditch extraction and lockout services up to $100. Another example: State Farm will cover the cost of delivering gas should you run out, but it will not cover the cost of the gas itself or a motor rental. Ask your auto insurance agent for a comprehensive list of all restrictions.
According to Eli Lehrer, vice president of consumer think tank The Heartland Institute, insurers almost never pay out more than $100 per incident; $50 is more common. Moreover, insurers typically cap the number of times you can use roadside assistance at two or three in a given year.
In most cases, consumers can upgrade a roadside assistance plan for more comprehensive coverage if desired. For example, Nationwide offers a Roadside Assistance Plus upgrade. The upgrade provides all of the services of its basic plan, along with towing up to 100 miles, and expense reimbursement up to $500 for alternate transportation, lodging and meals when a driver is stranded 100 miles from home.
You usually can reach out to your provider online, your mobile phone or through their app or website. Check the terms conditions.
3. How are mobile services paid for?
Some companies will cover the cost of roadside assistance directly, such as fuel delivery, while other plans require that customers or a member pay for services out of pocket and then be reimbursed.
“This can be a crucial consideration if you're stuck on the side of the road and you're short on cash or only have a low-limit debit card,” Stahl says.
On the whole, Lehrer says, the best option is to find a plan that provides roadside services directly through an insurance company’s emergency call center, since most contractors that insurers use change or negotiate rates that are lower than you'll get on your own.
You may have to join a club or other program. Request a customer quote and compare details of what is covered so you'll understand any savings. Learn the full conditions before you sign on.
4. Will using roadside assistance affect my rates?
“If your insurer answers 'yes' to this question, my opinion would be to stay away,” Pond says.
According to Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm, the chances of a covered emergency road service claim denting your auto insurance rates is “extremely remote.” Because most drivers on account use roadside assistance only a few times a year, almost no insurer is going to lose money on the deal. Just make sure you aren’t calling on your insurance company to jump-start your car every morning.
“I suspect that many insurers sort of want their customers to use roadside assistance,” Lehrer says. “It's a tangible benefit that makes you feel good about the insurer, and using it doesn't cost the insurer very much.”
5. Is roadside coverage enough?
Most roadside assistance packages offered by auto insurers are well tailored for safety, either for individuals or a family. For the average, 12,000-miles-a-year driver, this is often the cheapest way to get this type of service. In 2019 and beyond, though, delivery and service progams still will vary but always should be quick and convenient.
Also, consider your location and whether the nearest motor club coverage will extend to everywhere you may drive, such as Canada. Personal support can also be an advantage, so knowing if your providers offer a person to talk to rather than just an automated system is something to consider.
In the end, it's all about how much time you spend on the road.
“If you travel a lot, I would recommend something like AAA,” Pond says. “It’s going to cost more, but you also get discounts at hotels and other perks that insurance companies, in most cases, won’t provide.”