Over the next few weeks, tens of thousands of Britons will be driving to the Continent in search of some much needed summer sun. Yet new research from Saga reveals that many of these motorists are unprepared for the consequences of breaking down on the Continent.
Saga says that only 55 per cent of drivers remember to take an emergency breakdown kit, with details of their breakdown insurance. Many also fail to give their cars the once-over before leaving, with one in five even forgetting to check the oil and one in seven the tyre pressure.
Breaking down in a foreign country can be stressful with the language barrier an extra complication, and extremely expensive. The average cost of breakdown repairs in Europe is more than £550 but the difference in the additional costs of breaking down vary from one country to the next. In Italy, for example,replacing a tyre typically costs £137, but this could be double in France. Similarly, on average, motorway recovery to the nearest garage in Italy costs at least £95, while in France it costs £125 during the week and £155 at the weekend.
"It is really quite surprising the number of people who travel abroad without breakdown cover. Of course if your car needs to be recovered back to the UK, you would be looking at an even bigger expense. This could cost anything up to £2,000, which is sure to take the shine off any summer holiday," says Paul Green from Saga.
Motorists are advised to check their insurance and breakdown policies carefully. Most drivers will automatically have their car insurance cover reduced to third party while abroad. Similarly, breakdown policies may not offer the same level of cover when abroad. Some motorists may find that European cover is already included in their UK breakdown plan or their motor insurance policy. However, only a few breakdown policies automatically include cover for Europe as standard so most will need to upgrade. Marks & Spencer's Premier car insurance, for example, offers European breakdown cover at no extra charge. However, most car insurance providers charge an additional premium.
"My advice would be to call your current insurer, then compare that to the price of using all the big breakdown cover providers. As with travel insurance, getting home is the primary concern, so check the repatriation cover," says Steve Sweeney, head of motor insurance at price comparison site Moneysupermarket.com.
Alternatively, standalone European breakdown cover from one of the big breakdown service providers can be purchased, either as a single-trip policy which can costs upwards of £30 for two weeks, or an annual policy costing anything from £50 to £250, depending on the provider and how comprehensive the cover is. Saga, for example, offers Premier breakdown cover from £108 a year as an add-on to its motor insurance, or as a standalone policy from £230. This is not the cheapest option but it does include roadside assistance, repatriation, hire car and accommodation costs.
Annual policies are useful for those who regularly take their car abroad, but there are limits on the number of days per trip that can be covered. The AA's annual multi-trip policy offers up to £2,000 cover per trip with no excess charges for individual trips of no more than 90 days. Drivers need to decide whether they want to cover their vehicle or themselves, which is typically more expensive but useful if the motorist is using more than one car.
In terms of what to expect from a policy, providers include roadside assistance and repairs as standard. Other features to look out for are an allowance for replacement car hire, and hotel allowance, if the breakdown leaves the motorist stranded and in need of alternative accommodation.
Premium rates will vary depending on the vehicle's age. Motorists with older cars should also check their policy for any clause stating that the car will not be covered for repatriation if it is worth less than the cost of transporting it back to the UK.
"You should expect emergency accommodation if you have to wait for repair work to be completed, but you may also want the policy to help out with hire cars if needed to continue your trip. You've invested a lot in your holiday so look into the policy carefully," says Will Thomas, head of car insurance at price comparison site Confused.com.