Don't let a broken-down car spoil your holidays

One expensive tow to a garage is enough to convince you that breakdown cover is one of the most worthwhile policies, Chiara Cavaglieri reports

Families all over Britain will be taking to the roads to visit relatives and friends this Christmas. With winter driving conditions to contend with, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is the car breaking down.

The AA rescues 9,000 people a day on average but this can rise to 13,000 a day during the worst days of the winter. Problems can often be simple to repair, such as flat batteries and tyres, but some straightforward roadside repairs are beyond many motorists.

"People who break down without cover and have to call out a garage pay nearly £90 per time on average, with much higher charges when the vehicle could not be fixed and had to be recovered," says AA spokeswoman Katie Stephens.

The cost of being towed to the next exit after a breakdown on the motorway averages £150, according to the RAC. You may find these costs are higher should you have to be towed further than the next exit, or if you break down on Christmas day or other public holiday. But there is car breakdown insurance which offers assistance at the roadside to get you on your way or, if your car can't be started, a tow to a garage or even to your home or onward destination.

When you compare the potential cost of breaking down to the actual cost of most policies, it can be one of the most worthwhile types of insurance out there. For a three-year old vehicle, breakdown cover with Green Insurance Company costs just £20.95 per year with no excess payable, according to price comparison service. Confused.com. However, prices do vary widely and purchasing the same level of cover for a three-year old vehicle with GEM Motoring Assist, for example, would cost more than double this at £46.35 per year.

It is vital to shop around, using comparison sites and several providers directly which may have extra incentives such as online discounts or money off for agreeing to renew annually by direct debit. It may also be worthwhile looking out for no call-out discounts. Several companies, including Churchill, offer discounts on your renewal membership if you have not needed breakdown assistance during the previous year.

When looking for a policy, you must decide whether to cover yourself or your vehicle. Covering your vehicle is the most common route as this covers the car and anyone else who is insured to drive it. However, the age and mileage will affect the premium so it could work out to be more expensive unless several family members use the same car. With personal cover, you are protected when driving any car, which may be ideal if you regularly drive more than one car. Alternatives include couple cover which offers discounted premiums to couples taking out joint policies and family cover, which covers all family members insured to drive under one policy.

"To get the best policy, it is important to understand where you will be driving, how often and the distance you drive. You don't want to be paying extra for benefits you will never use, but at the same time it is important not to make assumptions about what your cover entitles you to," says Will Thomas, the head of motor insurance at comparison site Confused.com.

Broadly speaking, there are five levels of cover to choose from. Roadside assistance is the cheapest and the most basic way to get your car fixed if you break down away from home. This typically covers you for up to one hour of labour at the side of the road to try to fix the vehicle. A step up from this, roadside recovery, also includes recovery to a garage. With both options, you will not be covered if your car breaks down within a specified distance from your home, usually one third of a mile. You can, however, pay extra for home-start cover which protects you if your car won't get going at or near home.

On top of these three levels, several benefits may be added – onward travel, which can include a courtesy car or accommodation while repairs are made, and European breakdown cover. Repatriation can cost you thousands so this is important if you take your car overseas. It can be added as a permanent extra with some firms. Or you can take out separate European cover as and when you need it. Tesco's Euro Care policy, for example, provides cover for a trip of up to eight days for £36 or up to 22 days for £52.

Beyond insuring against breakdown, it's crucial to take preventative measures. Check the oil and antifreeze levels, hazard lights, tyre tread depth and pressure and stow a spare in the boot. "It is also essential your vehicle holds items such as a torch, reflective triangle sign, high-visibility jacket, first-aid kit and jump leads," advises Steve Sweeney, the head of motor insurance at Moneysupermarket.com.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
film
Sport
Bafetibis Gomis of Swansea City is stretchered off at White Hart Lane
football
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
people
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Life and Style
love + sex
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

    Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

    Christine McCleave: FP&A Analyst

    £36,000 - £40,000: Christine McCleave: Are you looking for a new opportunity a...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

    £15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot