You can never predict whether you’re going to need roadside assistance for a flat tire, dead battery or other vehicle issue, but if you’re a member of a roadside assistance program, you’ll be covered when it happens. The difficult part is deciding which roadside assistance program best fits your family’s needs. Roadside assistance programs are most often offered along with new or certified used car purchases, by stand-alone companies, or as add-ons through your insurance, credit card or cellphone company.
New or used cars
If you’re purchasing a new or certified used car that is still under warranty, you may have free roadside assistance coverage for a limited length of time or mileage. Automotive industry resource Edmunds has compiled a list of roadside assistance coverage for new cars by manufacturer. Each automaker sets its own limits on how long the free service will last by mileage or age of vehicle. Covered services vary per manufacturer or dealer and may require that the vehicle is towed to the nearest dealership, which could result in high repair costs.
Many people purchase extended warranties on late-model used cars through the dealership or a third-party service. Roadside assistance and towing are often included in the warranty purchase price, but may be limited to specific dealerships or conditions. While you should never purchase a warranty for the purpose of obtaining roadside assistance, if you are already planning to purchase a warranty, you may have the coverage.
Both of these options for roadside assistance will only apply to the specific car, so unless you only have new or covered certified used cars, you will need another type of coverage for your other vehicles. Also, you won’t be covered if you’re riding in someone else’s car or in a rental.
AAA may be the most well-known roadside assistance program, but there are several others that are worth a look. Most programs cover basic roadside assistance: jumpstarts, flat-tire assistance (using your spare), fuel delivery (usually at cost), lockout assist (with a fee if a locksmith is needed), and towing and extrication, though limits vary greatly on these.
Membership covers an individual. Plans are based out of regional offices, so costs and coverage may vary per region.
- Cost: Basic or plus membership options; fees vary by region: Around $56 for basic or $90 for plus (single), $91 or $151 (2 members), $126 or $206 (3 members), and $161 or $262 (4 members). There is also a $10-$20 signup fee.
- Coverage: Up to three calls per year for basic, and five calls per year for plus for individual members. Standard assistance mentioned above is covered, plus three miles of towing with basic, or 100 miles covered for plus.
- Extras: No-fee travelers checks, trip tickets, maps and travel discounts. Attraction ticket discounts: $1-$12 off tickets for zoos, amusement parks, water parks, movie theaters and more.
Better World Club
It’s the only “green” auto club that provides discounts for green cars and green travel. It also offers bicycle coverage add-ons and options. The service also touts a 30-60 minute response time. Membership covers an individual.
- Cost: $55.95 for basic or $89.95 for premium (bicycle, motorcycle or RV plans also available). You can add up to three additional members for $25 or $35 per person respectively. There’s a $12 new member sign up fee, which is waived if you’re making the switch from AAA. They will also match AAA membership costs if you’re an AAA member.
- Coverage: Up to four calls per year for individual members. Standard assistance is covered, plus five miles of towing with basic, or 100 miles covered for premium (no secondary tows from a repair facility).
- Extras: If you drive a hybrid, diesel or biodiesel vehicle, your membership fee will be discounted. Better World will match your AAA membership fees. It can provide travel services and discounts (some with fees), free maps/trip routing and discounts with other eco-friendly companies.
AARP Roadside Assistance
Available for those 50+. AARP membership is required at $16/year or $43/three years
- Cost: Standard plan costs $36 (single), $46 (couple) or $66 (family up to 4 dependents); Premier plans are $61 (single), $71 (couple) or $91 (family up to 4 dependents).
- Coverage: Up to four annual calls for single, five calls for couple, or seven calls for family. Standard services, plus five miles towing for Standard or 100 miles towing for Premier.
- Extras: Lodging and car rental discounts.
GM Motor Club
This plan may be more expensive for individuals, but less expensive for families.
- Cost: $84 couple, $99 couple with one child, or $114 couple with two children.
- Coverage: Members are covered in any passenger car; includes basic services plus unlimited towing to repair facility.
- Extras: Free maps, discounts, trip planning and some expense reimbursement if you have an accident more than 100 miles away from home.
Good Sam Roadside Assistance
Good Sam members get a discount off regular fees. This service also offers one of the more comprehensive RV assistance programs.
- Cost: $59 for Good, $69 for Better or $79 for Best plans for new members.
- Covered: Up to five calls per year. Good – owned vehicle is covered, basic services plus towing up to 100 miles. Better – Owned vehicles plus spouse and dependent children are covered, basic services plus unlimited towing to nearest facility (no return towing). Best – Covers all of the above plus travel discounts, coverage for motorcycles and trailers, leased, borrowed, or rented vehicles, and auto service discounts.
- Extras: Three months free Internet special.
Allstate Motor Club
This plan is less expensive, but it only covers up to a certain amount of assistance, which could easily be used up in one service call.
- Cost: $52 for Roadside Advantage or $108 for Deluxe.
- Coverage: Covers immediate family members in any car. Standard assistance is covered, plus towing, but only up to $100 benefit for Roadside Advantage or $150 benefit for Deluxe for all services.
- Extras: Some travel planning and discounts. A service provider is guaranteed to arrive within 30 minutes of the dispatch time estimate or you receive 25% off next year’s service.
Allstate Good Hands Roadside Assistance
This plan boasts no annual fee and flat fees when you need services.
- Cost: No annual fee; most basic services cost $50 or $75 per tow.
- Coverage: Up to five registered drives and vehicles are covered.
- Extras: Nothing – you only pay for the services that you use.
Add-on Coverage Plans
These plans are offered by select cellphone companies, auto insurance companies and credit cards. You either pay a small fee on your normal bill, or are only charged with you utilize the plans.
AT&T Roadside Assistance
I’ve used this service for towing to and from a nearby repair shop and all charges were covered.
- Cost: $2.99/month billed monthly, 30 days free ($36/year).
- Coverage: Up to four calls per year with a $50 service benefit per call. This service follows the phone, covering drivers or passengers, family members or friends, your car or theirs, as long as the enrolled phone is present. You, or anyone you authorize, can use the service. This plan provides up to $50 of coverage for basic services within 72 hours of enrollment, along with towing (for mechanical failure only), winching up to 30 minutes and minor mechanical adjustments. For services over the $50 limit, payment must be made at the time of service and will not be billed to the cellphone account.
- Extras: Avis rental car savings. AT&T does not charge for up to three gallons of fuel (many companies charge for the fuel cost).
- Cost: $3/billed monthly per cellphone line.
- Coverage: Up to four service calls per year. Coverage follows the cellphone, so any vehicle is covered as long as the phone is present. Coverage is active 48 hours after enrollment and includes basic services, plus towing up to 10 miles (for mechanical failure only) and winching (up to $100 worth).
- Extras: No charge for up to three gallons of fuel.
- Cost: $3 per month per cellphone line.
- Coverage: Up to six service calls per year. Coverage follows the phone and is available within 24-72 hours after activation. This plan provides up to $50 worth of coverage for basic services per incident, along with towing (for mechanical failure only) and winching.
- Extras: No charge for up to three gallons of fuel.
Most insurance companies offer a towing and labor add-on for $2-$5 per month that includes basic services and some level of towing. Some companies require that you have comprehensive and collision coverage. Before you sign up, find out whether service calls are treated like a claim and will result in higher premiums.
Credit card companies
Many credit card companies offer roadside assistance that follows the credit card. Most do not require an annual fee, but will charge $59-$95 per service call for basic services and limited towing, and extra services may incur additional charges. Discover, Visa, and MasterCard all follow the preset service charge model, while American Express will pay the first $50 for services up to four times per year.
While this may not be the roadside assistance program on which you want to rely, if you find yourself without coverage and need help, you may save money by going through your credit cards rather than paying completely out of pocket.
Making a choice
When deciding which program is right for you and your family, consider who needs to be covered and what vehicles they drive, and whether you need to be covered in other vehicles. You also want to compare different companies’ average response times for service calls, whether memberships cover all costs or if you’ll need to seek reimbursement, whether calls cover accidents or just electrical/mechanical failure, and how often and for what distance towing is covered.
Roadside assistance programs aren’t one-size-fits-all, but many people will benefit from having a plan in place. Even if you own new cars that are still under warranty and you find the coverage is sufficient, you may want to sign up for coverage for your teens’ cellphone lines that will cover them if they are riding with friends. Once you’ve decided on a plan for you or your family, make sure each covered person has the number programmed into his or her cellphone or written down in a wallet, and has the information easily accessible in the car.
Image by Salvatore Vuono, freedigitalphotos.net.