If you’re anything like Sharina Jones, you’ve locked your keys in your car. More than once.
“I had mechanical locks, so if I wasn’t careful, I could lock my keys in the car,” she said. On top of that, her 2010 Kia was temperamental and left her stranded often.
One time her battery died and another time, it wouldn’t start at all and she needed a tow truck. Instead of calling a locksmith or another service, she used the roadside assistance service offered through her car insurance.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say I used roadside assistance at least once a month,” she said.
More than 32 million drivers make calls for roadside help every year. The most common service calls come from flat tires, battery problems and keys locked in cars.
What is roadside assistance?
Roadside assistance helps drivers receive on-the-scene help in a roadside emergency or when their vehicle is disabled.
Almost every auto insurance provider offers roadside assistance as an optional policy add-on. They partner with businesses to provide 24/7 roadside emergency services nationwide. Policyholders have coverage whenever and wherever they might need help.
If you’re stranded, all you have to do is call a designated number or request service via your provider’s mobile app. A representative will come help you.
Roadside assistance can also be part of a vehicle warranty or extended service plan from a car manufacturer, a credit card perk, or a membership service with an annual fee (like AAA).
What does roadside assistance cover?
You can expect most providers to cover these common issues:
- Flat tire: A service professional will come change your flat tire with your car’s spare tire. If you don’t have a spare, they can tow your vehicle within a specified coverage area. Two- and three-wheel vehicles aren’t always covered.
- Jump-start: Get a jump-start when your car battery dies or receive tow service to a mechanic or place of your choice within the specified coverage area.
- Lock outs: If you lost your keys or you locked them in your car, someone will come unlock your vehicle.
- Fuel delivery: If you run out of gas while driving, a roadside rep will bring you enough fuel to make it to the next gas station. Depending on your plan, they might charge you for the gas.
- Towing: A tow truck will come if your car is inoperable. Most roadside assistance plans will tow your vehicle for free within 3 to 15 miles. You may pay extra if you want them to tow your car outside the coverage area.
- Extrication or winching: Get help with moving your car if it’s stuck (snow, a ditch or after an accident). Basic plans might not include this service.
Most policies generally cover service up to $100 per event. But you’ll want to check your plan to know what it comes with. Also look out for any restrictions or additional fees.
How much does roadside assistance cost?
With 88 percent of Americans owning cars, it’s no wonder there are heaps of roadside assistance providers on the market.
The cost for service can range anywhere from less than $1 per month to over $100 a year. It depends on what type of coverage you choose.
Where can I get roadside assistance?
The easiest way to get roadside assistance is through your insurance company, but there are other options available to you too.
Drivers can add emergency road service coverage to their policy. The costgets built into their vehicle premium. It might already come with your comprehensive and collision coverage.
Roadside assistance through your insurance is typically the cheapest and most convenient option. You can expect to pay $3 to $15 per policy period. And never more than $30 a year in most cases.
“I think it added between $5 and $9 to my bill. Given how often I needed roadside assistance though, the service more than paid for itself,” Jones said.
Bear in mind some auto insurance companies may count repeated calls for roadside service as a claim. This will cause your premiums to increase. You can always clarify this with your insurance agent.
Fortunately, that didn’t happen to Jones. “My insurance never went up. I’ve seen some people say that each call to roadside assistance was counted as a claim, similar to an accident. That wasn’t true in my experience.”
Did you know that all Visa card holders have access to a pay-per-use roadside service? Each service call is $69.95.
Aside from Visa, several credit card companies offer a free roadside assistance benefit to card holders. Some cover every driver in your household while others limit the number of service calls you can make in a year.
Check your card’s benefits to see if you have this perk before you invest in another roadside service plan.
There are dozens of third-party options for roadside assistance. Auto club membership programs like AAA, AARP, and Allstate Motor Club are among the most common.
These types of programs offer memberships where you can choose basic or deluxe packages with a standard service or extra perks for one annual fee.
Usually most car manufacturers offer free roadside assistance. This is part of the factory warranty after a car’s initial purchase.
The warranty generally expires after a specified time frame or number of miles driven. Check your owner’s manual to see if you’re covered.
You can add roadside assistance to your vehicle’s extended warranty or service plan.
Is roadside assistance worth it?
Calls for emergency road service peak in summer and winter — two seasons where you don’t want to be stuck on the side of the road for long.
Having roadside assistance gives you a sense of security in case your car breaks down. It did for Jones.
“I would definitely recommend roadside assistance to other drivers. The cost was low and the peace of mind was invaluable, especially for a tempermental car like mine,” she said.
Here are some considerations if you’re thinking about investing in a roadside emergency service:
- Age and type of vehicle: Is your car reliable or do you have a service plan? Cars 10 years or older are twice as likely to break down whereas vehicles under five years old have more key, tire, and fuel-related issues. Note: Electric cars, motorcycles, and RVs need special coverage/assistance.
- Daily commute: Do you spend a lot of time on the road? Racking up more miles increases the likelihood of an incident.
- Budget: Is it cost-efficient and if so, what type of plan best suits your budget?
- Family: Do you need to cover a large household? Do you have teenagers driving? Or are you a parent carting around a little one?
Keep in mind that if you get stranded and don’t have roadside assistance, you can expect to pay around $109 for a tow truck. And coverage through your insurance or a third-party vendor is a fraction of that.
Overall, when it comes to value and safety, the old saying rings true: Better safe than sorry.
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