You're out on the road, miles from home, and your car conks out. Maybe it's the gearbox or a flat battery. Whichever – you can't get the vehicle going again. And if you're not a member of a rescue service, you're stranded.
Most consumer groups agree it makes sense to have car-breakdown cover, but it's also important to choose the policy that's right for you. For example, do you want to insure the driver or the vehicle? With a family car, say, covering anyone who drives it rather than just the named policyholder may be the best option.
All policies provide basic roadside assistance – meaning they will send an engineer out to your car – and most problems can be put right there and then. But if immediate repairs aren't possible, the breakdown companies offer add-ons such as transporting you and your car to any onward destination in the UK. Some providers will even arrange for overnight hotel accommodation and a rental car.
The AA, Britain's largest breakdown company, will arrive, on average, within 40 minutes of your call, giving you priority if you're in a vulnerable situation. The annual membership price – which includes roadside repair, transporting you to your destination and coverage if you break down at home – is £141. The current online discount knocks an additional £35.25 off that.
The RAC is the other main provider and can pinpoint you from your mobile phone signal even if you don't know where you are. Its Solution 3 package includes roadside assistance, towing to a garage, onward transport, home breakdown cover and legal advice. It costs £136 and with the current online discount that is cut to £102.
But Richard Mason, head of insurance at price comparison site Moneysupermarket.com, says: "People think the only places they can go are the RAC and the AA, which both charge over £100 a year. They don't realise you can get very similar cover for a lot less from smaller companies. They shouldn't think these firms just have one old van."
He cites Rescuemycar.com, with an average response time of under 40 minutes. It has no flat-rate cost but takes into account the individual circumstances to calculate a premium. The most basic policies start at £29 and include roadside assistance, towing the vehicle and a messaging service to friends and relatives.