Being able to phone for help can really save the day – or night!
Even if you’re well-versed with what goes on under the bonnet of your car, you can’t take your workshop with you everywhere you go. Conversely, if you’re at the other end of the DIY spectrum, the mere thought of changing a tyre might fill you with dread.
Roadside assistance providers come to the rescue of several thousand Aussie motorists every year, regardless of their level of mechanical expertise, and there are many different companies offering various levels of care in this field.
Want help day and night? Consider adding roadside assistance to your policy
What is roadside assistance?
Frequently also called breakdown cover, roadside assistance insurance can actually help with a wide range of motor vehicle problems (such as locking yourself out from your car), not just breakdowns. If you become stranded because of an issue with your car, you have the option of phoning your provider for assistance at any time of day or night.
What does roadside assistance service include?
The list of what you’re covered for depends on your provider, as well as the level of cover you purchase. However, all assistance plans follow the same general pattern:
- Initial phone consultation. The dispatcher will ask you about the problem and initially attempt to help you resolve it over the phone.
- Sending a mobile technician. If phone-based advice fails to resolve the problem, a mobile mechanic will be sent to your location.
- Towing services. If the technician is unable to get you back on the road, you are covered for having your car towed to a mechanic’s workshop for repair. A surcharge will usually apply if you need to be towed further than a specified distance.
- Optional extras. Some top-end membership packages also entitle you to emergency accommodation and assistance with taxi fares.
Why do I need roadside assistance?
There are several common reasons why people phone for roadside assistance.
- Battery issues. Whether you need a jumpstart or your battery is faulty and needs to be replaced, most technicians can help on the spot.
- Lockout services. If you accidentally lock your keys in your car, your provider will help you access your vehicle, or organise a locksmith.
- Emergency fuel supply. 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.
- Tyre replacement. 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.
- Caravan towing. Many providers will offer to tow your caravan, if it is within their size and weight limits, if they can’t get your car back on the road.
Is roadside assistance included in car insurance?
Many insurers offer roadside assistance as an optional extra that can be purchased in addition to a comprehensive car insurance policy.
With other providers, such as automobile clubs, 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.
Which companies offer roadside assistance?
- State-based motoring clubs, for example the National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA), the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) or the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV). These organisations can only be joined by motorists living in a specific state.
- Insurance companies such as Budget Direct and Allianz.
- 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.
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 roadside assistance 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.