Roadside assistance comes to the rescue of several thousand Aussie motorists who are stranded every year. It can save you from flat tyres, dead batteries, blown gaskets and will even send a locksmith if you lock your keys in the car.
It's available everywhere from insurers to motoring clubs and you can pay for it a variety of ways, from yearly memberships to one-off callout fees.
Roadside assistance is a type of car insurance that protects you if you get stranded because of an issue with your car. It is sometimes called breakdown cover, but it can help out with much more than that.
Roadside assistance can send help day or night for any of the following situations, depending on your insurer and the level of cover you select:
- Dead batteries. Whether you need a jumpstart or your battery is faulty and needs to be replaced, most technicians can help on the spot.
- Getting locked out of your car. If you accidentally lock your keys in your car, your provider will help you access your vehicle or organise a locksmith.
- Running out of fuel. Mobile technicians normally carry an emergency supply of petrol or diesel, but they will need to arrange towing if your car runs out of LPG fuel.
- Failure to start. Sometimes you just can't get the engine running, and there is no immediately obvious reason why.
- Flat tyres. Putting on the spare wheel is a strenuous and grubby task, and even if you're physically capable of doing it, there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer to get help.
- Towing. Most insurers will pay to tow your vehicle if the mechanic can't get it running and they may even agree to tow your trailer to the same place they're towing the car (if it's within their size and weight limits).
- Emergency accommodation and transportation. Some top-end policies include other perks like paying for emergency accommodation and taxi fares.
How does it work?
If you get stranded on the road, all you need to do is call your roadside assistance provider for help. The process will usually go something like this:
- You'll have a phone consultation. The dispatcher will ask you about the problem and initially attempt to help you resolve it over the phone.
- They'll send a mobile technician. If phone-based advice fails to resolve the problem, your provider will send a mobile mechanic to your location.
- They'll give you a tow. If the technician can't get you back on the road, you'll be covered for a tow to the mechanic's workshop for repair. A surcharge will usually apply if you need to be towed further than a specific distance spelled out in your policy. Your policy may cover minor repairs to things like hoses and drive belts but you will be responsible for paying for major repairs.
How does roadside assistance compare?
Here is how some insurance companies in Australia stack up. Most insurers offer very similar cover as each other but as you can see, the joining requirements, cost and benefit limits can vary quite a bit.
- None of the following policies require a joining fee, although only a few will let you purchase roadside assistance as standalone cover.
- Towing limit can vary by as much as 30km in urban areas and 50km in rural areas.
- Cost can vary by more than $30 per year.
|Company||Cost per year||Joining fee||Callout limits||Need to hold a policy with them?||Lockout / Lost key||Out of fuel||Breakdown towing||Get quote|
|Included with a comprehensive policy||$0||First 2 included||Yes||$150||10 litres||50km in the city, 20km in rural areas||Get Quote|
|$79.95||$0||Unlimited||No||$125||$15||15km in the city, 50km in rural areas||Get Quote|
|$110||$0||Unlimited||No||Yes||Yes||20km in the city, towing to nearest NRMA centre in rural areas|
|$86||$0||Unlimited||Yes||$150||$10||20km in the city, 100km in rural areas|
|$92||$0||Unlimited||Yes||$150||Enough to reach the next petrol station||20km in the city, 50km in rural areas|
|$90||$0||Unlimited||Yes||$150||$10||20km in the city, 100km country|
|$90||$0||Unlimited||Yes||$150||$10||20km in the city, 100km country|
|$84||$0||Unlimited||Yes||$150||$10||20km in the city, 100km in rural areas|
Is it included in car insurance?
Youi is the one of the only insurers to include roadside assistance for free if you have a standard car insurance policy with them. However, it only comes with a comprehensive policy and only your first two callouts are free per year. After that, you're still covered but you'll pay for additional callouts as you use them.
Many other insurers offer them as an optional extra that you can pay for on top of your standard car insurance policy. Again, it's usually only offered with comprehensive cover. You can find it for as little as $7 per month so it shouldn't bump up the cost of your cover that much.
A small handful of insurers will let you buy roadside assistance insurance on its own. That means you can have your standard insurance with someone else. If you buy it with one of these insurers, you don't have to have comprehensive insurance or even any other insurance at all.
Where else can I buy roadside assistance insurance?
You can also buy roadside assistance cover through automobile clubs like the National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA), the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) or the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV).
With these providers, the service is structured as an annual membership that functions independently of car insurance policies that cover you for accident, theft, or third-party damages.
With membership-based roadside assistance, you can usually choose from different levels of cover. This can range from a cheaper option that includes a limited number of callouts, basic mechanical assistance and towing, to top-of-the-line cover that helps with replacement car hire and accommodation.
Some other companies offering roadside assist include:
- Standalone roadside assistance organisations including 24/7 Roadservices and 365 Roadside Assistance.
- App-based assistance providers such as gotU and Road Angels.
- Some vehicle manufacturers offer roadside assistance cover if your car is regularly maintained at an authorised service centre.
How much does roadside assistance cost?
|Company||Cost per year||Get Quote|
|Included with a comprehensive policy||Get Quote|
How can I find the cheapest roadside assistance policy?
To find the cheapest roadside assistance policy, you have to look at more than just the cost per year. There could be hidden fees or other purchase requirements that drive up the cost.
That means you'll need to look closely at the policy and match that with your needs to see which is providing you the cheapest deal. Take the following examples from the table below:
- Youi is technically the cheapest, since the first two callouts are free. However, you need to have a comprehensive car insurance policy with Youi and you have to pay for your additional callouts. If you drive a beater, this could quite likely cost you more in the long run since you probably don't need comprehensive cover and you're more likely to need more callouts than if you had a brand new car.
- Budget Direct and NRMA are the only two that don't require you to have standard car insurance. In both cases, this would be cheaper for you if you had no intention of buying additional cover or switching your insurer. Budget then looks like the obvious option, until you see that it won't tow your car nearly as far regionally. If you're in a regional area, the towing surcharge could drive the cost up.
- All other insurers require you to have a standard car insurance policy with them. If you plan on getting standard insurance anyway, Apia and AAMI are not too far off in price from Budget Direct. However, you'd have to take into consideration that they both require you to have comprehensive car insurance and the amount they charge for that.
- Some policies include more than just roadside assistance in their membership. When you get roadside assistance through automobile clubs like NRMA, you become a "member" with access to a host of additional offers that can save you money down the road. For example, NRMA membership opens you up to discounts on flights, dining petrol, car hire and additional NRMA insurance products.
Where can I find the best road assistance policy?
The best roadside assistance policy will be different for everyone since everyone's needs are different. Here is how to find the best policy based on your situation:
- You are happy with your current insurer and just need basic roadside assistance. If you have a comprehensive policy that you are happy with and just want basic roadside assistance, your best bet is to take yours out with your current insurer if it's offered. This will save you all that time comparing prices on a product that is already relatively inexpensive, plus you might be able to score a discount.
- You want all the bells and whistles. If you want a higher-end product, membership services like NRMA and RACV offer different levels of cover, some of which offer premium services like emergency accommodation cover and taxi cover. These will come in handy, if you often travel far from home.
- You don't want to be locked in. If the thought of another yearly membership or premium payment drives you crazy, your best bet is probably a standalone service that charges per callout. Examples include Youi, which offers two free callouts with your comprehensive cover (and charges for every callout thereafter) and an app-based service like Road Angels, which charges per callout without requiring any other cover.
- You like perks. If you like getting member discounts, the best policy for you would be with a membership service like NRMA and RACV. These providers offer a wide range of discounts on products like petrol, flights, movie tickets, entertainment and more.
What kind of exclusions are there?
Roadside assistance is normally limited to small-scale mechanical problems that immobilise your car.
- You will not be covered for damage caused by an accident.
- If your battery needs to be replaced, you will normally be expected to pay for the new one.
- Some providers will not offer roadside assistance for vehicles that are older than a specified age.
- There are limits on how far your vehicle will be towed if the mechanic is unable to get you going again.
- Some providers will charge extra if your car breaks down due to a pre-existing condition.
- You will not receive assistance if your vehicle is unattended.
- Standard roadside assistance does not apply to taxis, limousines and similar commercial vehicles.
- Limits are usually stipulated for the maximum size and weight of vehicles that can be covered.
- If your car is bogged, most providers will only help you get it unstuck if they can safely do so from a solid substrate, such as an adjacent sealed road.
- A surcharge may apply if you are stranded in a remote area.
- You might not be able to obtain roadside assistance in extreme environmental conditions.
Can I still get roadside assistance if I’m not already covered?
The major providers typically allow you to become a member at the time your car breaks down, but they will charge you an additional “on-the-go” fee. This type of fee also applies to any incident that takes place within a specified time frame after you purchase membership, normally ranging from 24 to 72 hours.
Some stand-alone companies charge a flat rate per incident for arranging assistance. This means that instead of joining a membership program for a year and forking out an additional on-the-go fee, you only pay for the one-off help you need. This can be a lot cheaper than taking out membership on the spot if you just need to get a tyre changed. However, stand-alone assistance rapidly becomes more expensive if you need more than one or two callouts in a year.
Whichever option you choose, always read the terms and conditions to know exactly what you’re covered for.
Does it cover me nationwide?
Once you’re eligible for roadside assistance, you’re covered no matter where in Australia you are. Most state-based organisations, such as the RACQ or RACV, have reciprocal arrangements with one another. This means that you can avail yourself of local services if you’re stranded while travelling interstate, without having to pay anything more than you would if the problem occurred in your home state.
Can I get roadside assistance if I’m not in my usual car?
Like other forms of insurance, such as comprehensive policies, roadside assistance is purchased to cover a specific vehicle, rather than a specific driver. So in most cases, it doesn’t matter who is driving the car, as long as the car itself is covered for roadside assistance.
With some organisations, if you are already a member but the specific car that’s in trouble is not covered, you will still need to pay an on-the-go fee, but it will be heavily discounted.
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