Getting stuck on the side of the road with no way home can be frustrating at best, especially if you have basic car insurance. When you need a tow, there are options to consider when it comes to the right amount of coverage.
No, many insurance providers don’t include roadside assistance as part of a bare-bones, liability-only plan. However, if you’re in an accident and your car is too badly damaged to drive, the at-fault driver’s liability insurance should cover towing your vehicle to the nearest repair shop.
Roadside assistance is typically considered an add-on, and it’s often only available if you have comprehensive and collision coverage. That means you’ll likely need to have more coverage than liability only to take advantage of your provider’s towing services.
If you’re driving a car that’s prone to breaking down, ask your provider about plans that include roadside assistance. Other options include joining an auto club like AAA. Although you’ll pay an annual membership fee, you’ll gain access to towing and other important roadside emergency features.
How do I get my car towed after an accident?
If your car is damaged enough that you aren’t able to drive it anywhere, chances are you’ll need a tow to get it off the road and have it repaired. Here are some tips to keep in mind when getting your car towed from the scene:
Contact your insurer. Before agreeing to anything, call your insurer and find out what’s covered. Towing costs may not be covered by your policy. Either way, your insurer may be able to arrange a tow for you. And let your insurer know how many people (or pets) need to fit in the tow truck.
Ensure the tow service is trustworthy. Just because a tow company was the first to show up on the scene doesn’t mean it’s a legitimate business. Towing scams are common, so verify with your insurer that it’s the right tow truck.
Know what you’re signing. The only thing you should ever sign from a tow company is a standard towing authorization form. Read the fine print. You have the right to contact anyone you need to before agreeing to the service to make sure it’s legitimate. The form shouldn’t ask anything more than details about the car and contact information. Keep a copy of whatever you sign.
Know where your car is going. Make sure you know who is towing your vehicle and the address where it will end up. This will help prevent it from being “carnapped” by an untrustworthy provider.
Empty your car of valuables. If you’re able to, remove valuables or perishables from your car before it’s towed.
What’s included in towing services with car insurance?
What your insurance company covers depends largely on your provider and how you’ve ended up on the side of the road. If your vehicle is damaged in an accident, your policy’s collision likely covers the cost of towing your car to a certified mechanic for repairs.
Roadside assistance insurance kicks in when your vehicle breaks down during a drive. It often covers the cost of the towing service and per-mile fees up to a specified amount in your contract. If you pay the towing company at the time of service, your insurance company reimburses you after it processes your claim.
When can I use roadside assistance services?
Any time you can’t drive your vehicle, you can take advantage of your roadside assistance insurance.
Most insurance companies cover towing for a limited number of miles. If you need your vehicle towed further, you’re often responsible for the excess costs.
Here’s how your roadside assistance might apply to everyday breakdowns and situations.
You run out of gas
You’re locked out of your car
Your stolen vehicle is found
You’re too drunk to drive
Call for help to get just enough juice to make it to the next gas station.
Call a locksmith who can let you back in.
Get a tow to bring your recovered car back home.
Towing won’t cover you if you’ve done too much drinking to drive.
Does using roadside assistance count as making a claim?
No, it’s not the same as making a claim, so you won’t pay a deductible. Activating your towing coverage won’t raise your rates like making a claim would either.
How much will roadside assistance cost?
Typically you’ll pay between $5 to $10 per month to add roadside and towing if it’s not included for free.
The cost of roadside assistance — which covers more than just towing — depends on your specific vehicle, your driving history and the state you live in. But if you can afford comprehensive and collision coverage, roadside assistance can be worth its towing coverage alone, which can be expensive to pay for out of pocket.
Not every insurance provider requires comprehensive and collision coverage to qualify for roadside assistance add-ons. State Farm, Allstate and Progressive don’t require more than basic coverage if you’re looking for roadside assistance.
Call your insurer if you’re interested in roadside assistance and want to know what you’ll be charged.
How do I pay for a tow if I don’t have roadside coverage?
Call a motor club for a quick tow. Some motor clubs let you call and sign up and get a tow the same day, though there may be an extra fee.
Get towed and get reimbursed later. If you have roadside coverage but don’t know the number, many insurers let you get a tow from any company and then submit receipts for reimbursement.
Pay out of pocket. You don’t have to go through insurance or a motor club to get towing help. Do a local search to find a towing company whenever and wherever you need it.
Where should I have my car towed?
When getting a tow, you decide where it will end up, unless the police request to have towed somewhere specific. You usually have the choice between your own home or a mechanic. You can have your car towed to a repair shop even if it’s closed for the day.
You have the option of sending your car to the towing company’s holding yards, but there are some things to be aware of. Depending on its charges, you might have a couple of days before you start accruing storage costs between $30 to $80 a day. If there are any delays in dealing with your insurer or arranging repairs, these storage costs can add up quickly.
If you’re unsure where you want your car to go, have it taken to your home. Assuming you have somewhere to put it, you won’t have to worry about any extra storage fees while you’re figuring out the next steps. However, keep in mind that you may have to arrange for a second tow to get it repaired, which may or may not be covered.
Should I pay for roadside assistance coverage?
If you’re thinking about getting roadside assistance, think about the likelihood of needing a tow and costs of all your options.
The length of your commute. If you have a long commute, roadside assistance could be helpful if you need a tow in the middle of a highway.
Where you commute. Consider the kinds of roads you typically drive and what would happen if you needed a tow. A car breaking down on a busy, one-lane road without a shoulder is a different experience from your car dying on a highway with a sizable median or shoulder.
Your vehicle’s age. Towing is expensive.If you drive an older car, roadside assistance could provide savings and peace of mind in an emergency.
Any previous damage. If your vehicle has been in a previous accident or has a history of mechanical problems, roadside assistance could help with future roadside breakdowns.
Help from friends and family. If you live near someone who could pick you up or give you a ride or even repair or tow your car for you, you might not need roadside assistance.
Case study: Honda Accord
Kevin’s Honda Accord broke down on the interstate. The car was safely towed and repaired, but Kevin is worried his Accord might break down again. He wants to compare the costs of getting roadside assistance coverage through his car insurance or AAA.
Cost of towing up to 40 miles
Annual coverage cost
AAA (Plus membership)
Kevin decides that since he’s had other issues with the car and he doesn’t need any of the extra benefits from getting a AAA membership, adding roadside assistance to his existing car insurance policy makes the most sense for his situation.
If you own a vehicle that’s prone to stalling out or breaking down, look into the protection that roadside assistance coverage offers. And compare your car insurance rates to find affordable comprehensive and collision coverage.
Compare car insurance policies with free towing
Frequently asked questions about towing coverage
If you don’t add roadside coverage to your policy, you’ll have to pay for the cost of any towing yourself.
Towing mileage depends on your policy’s contract. Contact your insurer if you’re unsure how far your vehicle will be towed in an emergency.
No. But adding roadside assistance to your policy often pays for itself after one roadside situation. Third-party providers of roadside assistance include the membership organization AAA.
Roslyn McKenna is an insurance expert who's driven to help people get a great deal on insurance to protect their families and finances. Roslyn earned a BA in writing and communications from Maryville College and has written professionally for more than a decade, showing up on Bankrate, MSN and Reader's Digest.
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