Roadside Assistance -- Help Yes!
A roadside assistance plan is something you probably don’t think about until the very moment your vehicle reminds you that it’s just a machine — and a breakable one at that. So, should you have a roadside assistance plan? What should the plan include? How much should you expect to pay? We’ll break it down for you.
Do you need a roadside assistance plan? The old adage, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it, might have been coined for just such a question. The fact is, if you’re on the road and your car breaks down there’s a good chance you’re going to have to call someone and it’s going to cost you some dough. Most towing companies will charge a flat fee to hook you up plus a per mile fee for the tow. On average you should expect to pay between $75 and $150 for a local tow. Longer tows can run well into the hundreds of dollars. If you consider the question purely from a financial perspective you’ll find that the costs for a single breakdown can easily exceed the annual cost of a comprehensive roadside assistance plan. However, cost is just one aspect. A more important consideration is your safety. Changing a flat tire isn’t necessarily rocket science but doing it on the shoulder of a busy road at night in bad weather can be extremely hazardous to your health. If you live in climates where weather extremes are the norm breakdowns become more likely and the safety issues more pressing. Roadside assistance plans give you a convenient, immediate “go-to” in an emergency and in most cases will shorten the response time significantly. For us, the practical advantages are compelling and the peace of mind that goes with a comprehensive roadside assistance plan are definitely worth the investment.
What should your roadside assistance plan include? Roadside assistance plans come in different shapes and sizes from a variety of providers. Limitations and restrictions differ from one provider to the next and it’s important to check the fine print. Nearly all plans will limit the number of breakdowns they’ll cover in a given period, typically three or four calls per year. Obviously, providers don’t want to serve as a substitute for proper vehicle maintenance. You’ll want to be sure your plan covers these basics:
- Battery Jumpstart. It’s one of the most likely reasons you’ll need help. Some providers will offer on the spot battery replacement services which can be helpful if your battery needs more than a boost.
- Gas/Fluids. Hey, it happens. Most providers will deliver a few gallons of gas and other necessary fluids and will help get your vehicle started and get you on your way.
- Flat Tire Service. Perhaps the most common roadside problem. Providers will put on your spare or tow you to a service center if the problem is more significant.
- Roadside Plans. Plans like the Platinum Auto Plan from Good Sam Roadside Assistance provides 24/7 service with no pre-set mileage restrictions and will pay 100% of towing fees to the nearest service center.
- Extrication & Winching. There are few feelings better than getting un-stuck. Choose a plan that will cover an unexpected foray into a sticky situation.
- Vehicle Lock-Out Services. There was a time when the average Joe could turn a coat hanger into tool to gain entry to a vehicle. Not so much these days, you’re going to need a pro.
- Minor Mechanical First Aid. As any do-it-yourself driveway mechanic will attest, cars are complicated. When possible, some providers will make minor adjustments on the scene to help make the vehicle drivable.
Most providers will offer basic plans that include most of the services listed above. There are plenty of “premium” options that add upgrades and other bells and whistles like covered or free car rental and reimbursement for breakdown-related expenses like hotels, meals, etc. Be aware that all these extras add cost to your premium.
What should you expect to pay? Roadside assistance membership fees generally range from $50-$360 a year, depending on the vehicle(s) covered, the number of drivers covered and the specifics of the plan’s coverage. For example, a AAA membership for one driver typically costs $49-$69 annually with five miles free towing or $91 -$114 with towing up to 100 miles. Add drivers for $25 to $75 each. A basic Good Sam Auto & RV Roadside Assistance costs around $80/year and includes all family members. Allstate Motor Club plans run $52 -$108 per year with prices varying based on region and services included.
Roadside assistance can be added to many auto insurance policies for $15-$60 a year, depending on the company, location and type of vehicle. Geico offers its policy holders roadside assistance starting at $14/year per vehicle. Allstate offers free registration for its 24/7 roadside assistance program, with flat charges of $50 per roadside service or $75 per tow.
One other benefit to many roadside assistance plans comes in the form of discounts on everything from lodging to vehicle repairs. Many are exclusive to the plan’s members.
As you compare plans and prices look for providers that are highly rated by consumers for quick, reliable responses and excellent customer service. There are plenty of great choices and reputable providers to choose from and in our estimation, a good roadside assistance program is well worth the investment.