The motorists who bury their heads in the snow

The big chill could bring big bills if you cut corners on breakdown cover, says Melanie Bien

As winter approaches and the nights draw in, the likelihood of your car breaking down increases. Before the cold weather really sets in, it's a good idea to give your car the once-over.

As winter approaches and the nights draw in, the likelihood of your car breaking down increases. Before the cold weather really sets in, it's a good idea to give your car the once-over.

At the same time, check your breakdown cover in case you find yourself stranded late at night by the roadside.

Research from Virgin Money Car Insurance reveals that few drivers are prepared for bad weather. More than a quarter of motorists (26 per cent) don't bother increasing the number of basic car maintenance checks they make during the winter months. Some 89 per cent carry de-icer but only 41 per cent keep a warm blanket in the car and a mere 13 per cent carry emergency supplies of food.

Breakdown cover is yet another cost on top of buying, running and insuring a car, but it could be well worth the money. Prices have plummeted recently as traditional providers such as the AA and RAC have been joined by a number of young pretenders.

For example, a 31-year-old woman taking out comprehensive breakdown cover on her three-year-old car, in which she travels 10,000 miles a year, could expect to pay £149 for RAC cover (see table below). But if she had compared costs on www.insuresupermarket. com, which lists details of 100 breakdown policies from 22 providers, she could have purchased cover from Europ Assistance for £36.25.

When deciding what cover you need, first consider whether you want to protect your car - so that anyone driving it is insured - or yourself, no matter what vehicle you are driving or are a passenger in.

AA and RAC policies tend to be the most expensive on the market because they insure you, not your car. If you regularly drive other people's cars, it may be worth insuring yourself with one of these providers; if you stick to your own car most of the time, save money by insuring the vehicle instead.

Next, decide what level of cover you require. Do you just want basic roadside assistance, or fully comprehensive cover including alternative transport, emergency hotel accommodation and a home call-out service? For example, the AA's Option 100 costs £42 for roadside assistance only, whereas its Option 400 comes to £157 for the Roadside, Relay, Home Start and Relay Plus services.

Some policies let you add another vehicle or person to your cover, sometimes free of charge. However, the second person must be living at your home or the vehicle must be registered at the same address.

If you want to take your car to the Continent at any point this winter, European breakdown cover is essential. Call-out and towing charges on the Continent can be extremely expensive.

For example, according to figures from Saga Motoring Assistance, a motorist who breaks down in Munich and needs to be towed home to Newcastle could face a repatriation bill of £1,926.

THEY'LL PUT YOU BACK ON THE ROAD

Cost of comprehensive breakdown cover (including tow to garage, repair at roadside, taking you and passengers home, fixing at home and car hire or accommodation) for a 31-year-old woman driving 10,000 miles a year in a three-year-old car.

Cover Cost Features
GEM Motoring Assist £36* £40 excess
Europ Assistance £36.25  
First Call £39.25  
Autonational Rescue £57 15 months' cover for price of 12
More Th>n £75.55 European breakdown cover
Tesco Instant Breakdown £79 Caravan and trailer cover
Mondial Assistance £80  
AXA Assistance £85 European cover for named vehicle
Capita Assistance £87 Full European cover
Britannia Rescue £119.40  
RAC £149** Covers named driver of any vehicle
AA £157** Free joint cover for price of single cover

* Offer exclusive to Moneysupermarket.com
** Driver is insured; all other providers insure vehicle

Source: www.insuresupermarket.com

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