Don't let a lack of breakdown cover spoil your summer holiday

Chiara Cavaglieri checks out the best deals for families preparing to pile into their cars and head for a Continental breaks

With school holidays coming up and camping trips abroad more popular than ever, many Britons will be driving overseas in the coming summer months. Breaking down abroad is a sure-fire way to ruin your holiday and could cost you thousands of pounds if your car has to be recovered and returned to the UK, so check you are covered before you set off.

"Families can make significant savings if they drive to Europe. Based on a family of four going to Spain, driving would cost less than half the equivalent return flights," says Henry Topham, the head of Green Flag. "However, it is vital that motorists ensure they have breakdown cover in place as the costs of recovery can end up making a holiday on a shoestring an expensive getaway."

If you already have breakdown cover for your car here in the UK, don't presume that it will automatically extend to other countries. If you're driving in Europe you will usually need either to top up your existing policy for an additional premium or take out a separate policy with another firm.

Increasing your existing policy could add anywhere from £20 to more than £100 to your policy, so it could make more sense to take out a standalone European policy. These start at about £35 for a single trip. With breakdown cover you either insure yourself as the driver or the vehicle. It is more expensive to cover yourself, but if you are using more than one car it is worth paying for.

Basic cover includes roadside assistance and repairs which means that your car will be fixed at the roadside or towed to a local garage. For travel abroad, however, you may want to look out for extra features such as replacement car hire and hotel allowances in case you need to pay for alternative accommodation. As with travel insurance, one of the most important features is repatriation cover – this will reimburse you for the cost of getting your car home which can be extremely expensive. Figures from the AA show that a vehicle repatriated from Italy could cost £1,935 and a replacement tyre could set you back £137 in Germany, with motorway recovery to the nearest garage costing up to £190.

"Cover starts as soon you register, so no matter how close your trip is there should still be time to purchase a policy to safeguard your travels," says Peter Harrison, the car insurance spokesman from Moneysupermarket.com. "The same principle applies to insuring your caravan as you would your car, and some breakdown policies will include this cover as standard. If this is not the case, taking out separate insurance is a must just in case something happens."

Premium rates will vary, and once the car is 11 years old, the rates will rocket. With the Green Assist Euro Recovery policy from the Green Insurance Company, premiums jump from £58.85 to £99.85 for a car that is 11 years old plus. You should also scan the small print for any clause stating that your car would not be covered for repatriation if it is worth less than the cost of transporting it.

If you take your car on holiday regularly, get an annual policy instead. These can cost upwards of £100 but you are covered for multiple trips in the year. You still need to check if there are any limits on the number of days per trip, however, as many will impose a maximum number of days (often 30) that you are covered for each individual trip.

"If you are having only one or two trips then it's well worth considering a standalone, single policy product," says Will Thomas head of car insurance at comparison site Confused. com. "However, if you are a regular traveller it is more cost effective to have European cover as a policy feature or consider upgrading your existing policy to cover this."

However, before you sign up for any breakdown cover you should check your other financial products first to see if you are already protected. For example, Marks & Spencer car insurance includes cover for drivers in both the UK and the rest of Europe so you don't have to fork out extra on holiday. You may also be able to find discounted breakdown cover from other insurers if you take out their car insurance policies.

Many packaged current accounts also offer breakdown cover as part of their list of benefits. but be warned that most will cover you only for breaking down in the UK. For example, the Halifax Ultimate Reward Account cost £12.50 per month and includes AA breakdown cover as well as several other benefits such as worldwide multi-trip travel insurance and mobile phone insurance. But this cover is only for the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

It's always a good idea to take some preventative steps too, so give your car the once-over before setting off, checking the oil and the tyre pressure. Remember that road laws will differ in many European countries so do your homework.

"Check you have your tickets, passport and car equipment appropriate to the country you are driving to. In most cases this includes a spare set of bulbs for the car, high-visibility jacket (kept in the car not in the boot), warning triangle and first-aid kit," says Ian Crowder of the AA.

Top Tips

Follow the rules of the road

*Breakdown equipment – Spanish law requires motorists to have two EU-approved warning triangles and a high-visibility jacket or vest to be worn by passengers at all times if they are outside the car on a motorway.

*Travel documents – Always carry a passport, current driving licence, insurance documents and, if the vehicle is not registered in the driver's name, a permission letter from the registered owner.

*Alcohol awareness – Be aware of local laws on drink driving. In Spain, limits are very low - 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood, significantly less than the UK 0.8 limit.

*Fines – If a fine or penalty is issued, pay the fine as quickly as possible, as it will be reduced by 50 per cent if paid within 20 days.

*Belt up – All passengers must keep seat belts on at all times, and children under 12 are not allowed to travel in the front of the car without an appropriate child restraint.

*Added extras – Keep a spare pair of glasses, replacement bulbs, a first-aid kit, drinking water and snow chains if driving harsh conditions in winter in the car.

*Stay focused – as in the UK, using a mobile phone while driving is an offence in many EU countries, but programming a GPS while in some European countries is also illegal.

*Motor insurer – Tell them you are taking your vehicle abroad. UK motor policies usually provide the cover required for the EU and certain other countries, but this does not normally include theft, fire or damage and may not completely cover personal liability.

*Green card – Ask your insurer about obtaining a green card. It is recognised as evidence that your motor insurance meets the local law.

Expert View

Peter Harrison, Moneysupermarket.com

"There are no excuses for motorists not to take out a breakdown policy. If you are relying on your car to get you to your destination, it makes sense to ensure you have a breakdown policy that will ensure you don't end up with a trip spent stuck at the side of the road. We don't realise how much we depend on our cars until a breakdown happens, and not having adequate protection in place could mean your holiday comes to an early end."

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