YOUR MONEY: Cover that goes the distance

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The Independent Online
AROUND 200,000 British motorists in Europe will need all the help they can get this summer. Of the 3 million Brits motoring abroad in 1995, one in 15 will see their car go awry. Whether it is the alternator in the Ardeche or the brakes going in Bordeaux, extricating oneself from the jam can be an expensive business.

Take car repatriation fees. The AA says that, at around pounds 1,200, these are equivalent to the value of the average seven-year-old car on the UK roads. So if the average UK car owner breaks down in Europe and the car cannot be driven home without assistance, it may not be worth repatriating the vehicle.

Seven out of 10 UK motorists abroad prefer holidaying in France. When they reach the Continent, there is a mad scramble south, and drivers attempt huge distances without breaks. This, says the AA, is a principal cause of accidents.

More problems arise with muddles over foreign road signs and rights of way, or when people forget which side of the road they are driving on. Then there is confusion at the foreign pump, when monolingual Brits fill up with diesel instead of petrol, plus a crop of old fav- ourites, aggravated by long-distance travelling: overheating, clutch failure, shattered windscreens, running out of petrol, and locking the keys in the car.

One can reduce the risk. Thorough checks on the car, sensible driving, and taking the trouble to learn the regulations all help.

Even so, breakdown cover is strongly recommended to ensure a more care- free holiday. This cover is similar to the national variety, but with additional services. Europ Assistance, for example, offers pre-departure protection up to pounds 750, to provide a replacement car if your vehicle is rendered unusable for the journey.

Policies from the AA, RAC, Green Flag National Breakdown and Europ Assistance all make available roadside assistance and recovery, onward travel or return home, replacement car hire, getting spare parts (although the motorist often has to pay for them), hotel expenses and vehicle repatriation.

The companies offer differing levels of cover - for example, different values for emergency accommodation - so customers should check what is on offer against what they might want before purchase.

Some policies also pay legal expenses, can advance funds, and provide a replacement driver where necessary. RAC has a free emergency message- taking service. Both the RAC and AA give members free European motoring handbooks. Most companies have English-speaking telephone operators to provide advice for the benefit of non-linguists.

Assistance can be bought separately just for the time spent abroad. Alternatively, annual policies are available, often bought in a package with national breakdown cover.

Green Flag's Total Protection, at pounds 84, pays for year-round UK protection, with European cover thrown in. The RAC does a more comprehensive version for pounds 139, with a second vehicle accepted at pounds 38.

For its standard European breakdown package, the AA charges pounds 2.90 a day, or pounds 43.50 for 15 days. Green Flag asks pounds 45.75 for 10-17 days. RAC costs pounds 43 for 10-16 days, and Europ Assistance charges pounds 50 for 15 days.

Companies offer add-on personal insurance at competitive prices. The AA charges pounds 1.15 a day per person, or pounds 17.30 for two weeks.

Green Flag costs pounds 18.50 per person and Europ Assistance has special group deals.

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