A Guide to Roadside Assistance

Talia Lee-
June 12, 2024

If you find yourself stranded with a flat tire on a bustling highway, especially in the dead of night or lacking a spare in your trunk, roadside assistance can be a literal lifesaver. Yet, its benefits extend beyond merely dispatching a professional to change your tire. Roadside assistance proves invaluable when a vehicle becomes inoperable for any reason — be it a lockout situation, needing extraction from a snowdrift or ditch, or requiring emergency fuel delivery.

Offering peace of mind at a relatively modest cost, emergency roadside assistance caters to drivers’ needs. If you’re curious about this coverage, Bankrate is here to provide answers. Our comprehensive guide to roadside assistance equips you with insights into policy features and how to effectively navigate the selection process.

Roadside assistance serves as a lifeline for drivers, offering both physical aid and financial support in the event of a vehicle breakdown. Typically available through a service or membership for a fee, it delivers two primary benefits:

  • Emergency roadside service: Policyholders receive immediate assistance when their vehicle encounters trouble. Services may include fuel delivery, tire changes, or towing to a service center if immediate resolution isn’t possible.
  • Financial relief: Similar to car insurance, roadside assistance coverage requires policyholders to pay a fee or premium to the service provider. When a breakdown occurs, drivers typically avoid out-of-pocket expenses for emergency services within the policy limit.

To illustrate, if your vehicle requires towing and your roadside assistance plan includes towing coverage, you stand to save a considerable amount of money. According to J.D. Power, the average tow costs around $109, translating to approximately $2.50 to $7 per mile.

When selecting roadside assistance, coverage may encompass:

  • Towing
  • Transportation aid for stranded drivers and passengers
  • Battery jumpstart
  • Gas delivery
  • Lockout service
  • Tire replacement
  • Winching to extract a stuck vehicle

Note that this list isn’t exhaustive, as services can differ among providers.

Roadside assistance stands apart from typical car insurance coverage or manufacturer warranties. Here’s how:

  • Car Insurance: While car insurance primarily covers repair costs resulting from accidents, it usually excludes emergency response services.
  • Manufacturer’s Warranty: Manufacturer warranties typically address repairs or replacements for faulty vehicle parts, but they rarely cover incidents like flat tires or running out of gas.

It’s worth noting that you can often supplement your existing coverage with a roadside assistance plan from your insurance provider or vehicle manufacturer. Before finalizing a plan, however, it’s advisable to explore various options to ensure you’re getting the best value and service for your needs.

Picture this scenario: you’re driving through an unfamiliar area late at night when suddenly, you hear the unmistakable sound of your tire blowing out. Without roadside assistance, you could be left stranded on the roadside, struggling to change the tire alone in the darkness. But with emergency roadside assistance, help is just a phone call away. A trained professional will be promptly dispatched to your location, ready to assist you and get you back on the road safely.

While roadside assistance is beneficial for everyone, it’s particularly crucial for the following individuals:

  • Drivers Unfamiliar with Tire Changes: If you’re not confident in changing a tire, roadside assistance provides invaluable support in such situations.
  • Drivers Unable to Leave Their Vehicle: For those who may have mobility issues or safety concerns about stepping away from their vehicle, roadside assistance offers peace of mind.
  • Drivers at Higher Risk of Breakdowns: If your vehicle is older or prone to mechanical issues, having roadside assistance can be a lifesaver during unexpected breakdowns.
  • Frequent Drivers: People who spend a lot of time on the road, whether for work or leisure, benefit from the added security of roadside assistance due to increased exposure to potential hazards.

Roadside assistance can be obtained from various sources:

  • Auto Insurance Companies: Many car insurance providers offer roadside assistance as an optional add-on to your policy. You can typically include it in your monthly or yearly premiums. Some insurers even bundle it with comprehensive coverage plans.
  • Member Organizations: Organizations like AAA (American Automobile Association) and Good Sam specialize in providing roadside assistance services. AAA alone boasts over 61 million members, offering benefits beyond just roadside assistance, such as travel discounts and exclusive offers.
  • Car Manufacturers: When purchasing a new or certified pre-owned vehicle, you may receive complimentary roadside assistance as part of the manufacturer’s warranty. For example, Honda provides roadside assistance for three years or 36,000 miles for most vehicles, and for three years with unlimited miles for certain electric and fuel cell vehicles. Kia offers three years of assistance from the date of sale.
  • Credit Card Companies: Some credit cards offer roadside assistance as a perk, but the coverage can vary significantly depending on the card issuer. While some cards provide comprehensive roadside assistance services, others may offer limited assistance such as roadside dispatch. It’s essential to review the terms and conditions of your credit card to understand what services are available and any associated costs.

When faced with a roadside emergency, it’s crucial to follow best practices to ensure your safety while waiting for assistance. Here are some tips for effectively utilizing your roadside service:

  • Keep Policy Information Accessible: Store your roadside assistance company’s contact number and your policy details in your vehicle. Keep this information in your glove compartment or wallet, and consider downloading your provider’s mobile app for quick access.
  • Move to a Safe Location: If possible, steer your vehicle to the side of the road, even if it means crossing lanes (use hazard lights to signal other drivers). If you’re unable to move to a safe area due to heavy traffic, call 911 instead of roadside assistance.
  • Provide Clear Location Details: To ensure prompt assistance, accurately identify your location. Use GPS maps to pinpoint the nearest exit or cross streets. If texting your roadside assistance, utilize Google Maps to obtain precise coordinates to share with the service provider.
  • Stay Inside Your Vehicle: While it may be tempting to exit your vehicle to inspect the damage, it’s safer to remain inside. If you need to assess the situation, return to your vehicle promptly to avoid potential accidents with passing vehicles.
  • Enhance Visibility: Increase the visibility of your vehicle by turning on headlights and hazard lights. Consider placing reflective items such as traffic cones or blinking lights behind your vehicle to alert other motorists of your presence in case of an emergency.

By following these guidelines, you can effectively utilize roadside assistance while prioritizing your safety on the road.

If you find yourself stranded without roadside assistance and obstructing traffic, it’s advisable to dial 911 for immediate assistance. However, if you’re in a parking lot or have safely maneuvered to the side of the road, you can directly contact a tow truck or roadside service provider. In certain states like California, freeway call boxes are available, allowing motorists to dial 511 and request “Roadside Assistance” for prompt help.

When selecting a roadside assistance program, it’s crucial to consider more than just the price. Different plans offer varying levels of coverage and additional perks that could be valuable to you:

  • Assess towing and call limits: Not all plans provide unlimited assistance. Some may have restrictions on the number of service calls or the distance your vehicle can be towed without incurring extra fees.
  • Determine if the plan follows the driver or the vehicle: Certain plans are tied to the vehicle, allowing anyone driving it to utilize the service. Others are driver-centric, extending coverage to any vehicle the enrolled driver is operating.
  • Explore additional benefits: Some programs, like AAA roadside assistance, offer a range of discounts and benefits beyond basic assistance. Although these plans may be pricier, the supplementary perks could justify the cost.
  • Look for trip interruption coverage: In the event of a major breakdown far from home, trip interruption coverage can help cover expenses for lodging and meals while awaiting vehicle repairs.
  • Check for coverage extension options: See if your plan extends coverage to passengers or if you can add family members for additional protection.
  • Consider key replacement services: While most plans assist with locked keys, having key replacement coverage can be beneficial if your keys are lost entirely, although you may have to cover the cost of the new set.

Many drivers opt to purchase roadside assistance through their auto insurance provider for convenience. However, it’s essential to note that utilizing roadside assistance may count as filing a claim, potentially impacting your insurance premiums.

Roadside assistance serves as a valuable resource in vehicle-related emergencies but is not designed to address severe medical situations. In the event of an accident, promptly dial 911 for urgent medical attention. It’s essential to recognize that roadside assistance coverage differs from a comprehensive car insurance policy.

Before finalizing a roadside assistance plan, it’s crucial to comprehend its limitations. Some plans may impose mileage restrictions on towing services, while others may exclude coverage for significant repairs. Depending on the extent of your car insurance coverage and the nature of the damage, you may be responsible for covering repair costs independently.

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