I can’t think of a more confusing subject to discuss than roadside assistance. For me, it’s confusing since there are a myriad of different companies that offer varying levels of coverage and membership plans and, honestly, I’m not even sure of what I’d want or need in a roadside assistance plan.
What Is Roadside Assistance?
I’m surprised by the number of people who’ve never heard of roadside assistance, as a concept, or even roadside assistance plans. Being the magnanimous giver that I am, I’ll attempt a careful yet considered explanation of the concept.
Roadside assistance is simply any service that require someone to come to your car or truck for the purpose of towing, unlocking your car, jump starting it, etc. Traditionally, roadside assistance is thought of in terms of towing, since the most serious car problems (e.g. engine trouble or accidents) can’t be fixed on the side of the road and will need towing back to a service center or garage.
In recent years, however, roadside assistance plans have started to include other services like fuel delivery (in case you thought that “E” meant “Enormous Amounts of Fuel”).
The real question is whether you need a roadside assistance plan. And, since I’ve decided to write this post, I’m ultimately going to answer “Yes” for a few reasons. First, roadside assistance plans can be had for as little as $10 buck a month, an amount you’re not likely to impact your budget; it’s a Netflix like purchase but for your car.
Second, even if the roadside assistance plan you’ve chosen doesn’t cover 100% of your costs in needing a tow truck or other service, it still has likely significantly reduced what you’d pay out of pocket.
Finally, most roadside service plans include member benefits that are meant to be an icing-on-the-cake feature that may give you things like discounts at hotels or restaurants, etc.
What Does Roadside Assistance Cover?
The short answer is that it depends. There are droves of companies that offer roadside assistance services and plans and, depending which plan you choose, you’re benefits or coverage can vary greatly.
Now depending on your specific plan, a roadside assistance provider may cover all or part of the cost of roadside assistance services — so be sure to get the details of what the provider is responsible for. Also keep in mind that most roadside service programs will have a limit for the number of times you can use the service (I’ve seen this range from 3-6 times per year). Most of the time, however, you should be fine with three calls a year; anymore and it means, well, you should look into getting a new car.
Typically, you’ll want to look for at least a few specific features of any roadside assistance program:
Towing is probably the most obvious service that people think of when they need roadside assistance, in part, because being stuck on the side of the road is pretty much everyone’s worst nightmare. Whether you have engine trouble or a car accident, getting a vehicle towed for any reason can easily cost a few hundred dollars depending on how far your car is towed since most tow truck companies charge by the mile.
Distance vs. Cost
When considering between different roadside assistance plans, there are basically two types of towing benefits: those based on mileage or distance towed and those based on cost. One isn’t per se “better” than the other, but a good rule of thumb is that you’ll need a plan that covers around 30 to 40 miles per tow. While this may not cover transporting your car back to your home, it will get your car to an authorized service provider in most places across the United States. In other words, be sure to read the fine print on that cheap roadside plan to make sure you’re getting something of value.
Lockouts, Fuel Delivery, Jump Starts and Other Services
Again, most roadside service plans include a host of other services beyond towing like tire changes in case of a flat tire or jump starts if you have a dead battery. Most of these services are cheaper compared to towing, but you’ll still pay a premium for them without a roadside assistance plan (roadside service providers usually have a base amount per call).
Vehicle coverage, that is, what type of vehicles are covered as part of your plan and who in your family can be covered is an important factor as well. Some plans offer coverage for recreational vehicles, motorcycles and other fun things you might own (e.g. four-wheelers). However, you’ll need to check the fine print because most plans do not cover things like RVs that weigh over a certain weight (usually a ton) or vehicles that are used for commercial uses.
Roadside assistance plans also often cover one or more family members that you live, which can really make a roadside plan worth it.
What Else Should I Know?
That’s a pretty broad question since you’ll need to know lots of things within the course of a lifetime. However, I will confine our discussion to the matter at hand.
Beyond looking at benefits, coverage and types of towing packages, it’s also worth it to look into your options for payment and any extras that might be included with your plan. Remember that most roadside assistance are membership-based programs that will require a monthly fee or, in some cases, payment for an entire year up front. Obviously, options for month-to-month plans are better if you only need roadside assistance in the short term (or simply want to try out a particular plan).
Another good thing to consider are any “extras” included with your plan. As a membership plan, roadside service companies often include things like discounts on shopping or movie tickets as a way to sweeten the deal for their customer base. This isn’t a huge consideration, but if you’re deciding between two different plans it could be a factor.
Oh, By The Way
Not to be a horn tooter, but it just so happens that we, in fact, have a plan that includes some pretty awesome roadside assistance benefits. And, although I’m sure I’ll get in trouble for saying it, there are new products and plans we’re rolling out over the next few months based on feedback from our customers that are going to make things like our Travel Plan even better-er.
Alas, I’ve digressed into discussions of secret USAP, caffeine-inspired products that may or may not feature pictures of sailboats.