Car insurance roadside assistance

Being able to phone for help can 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 may fill you with dread.

Roadside assistance providers come to the rescue of many Kiwi motorists each year, regardless of their level of mechanical expertise, and different companies offer various levels of care in this field.

What is car insurance roadside assistance?

Frequently called breakdown cover, car insurance roadside assistance can help with a wide range of motor vehicle problems (such as locking yourself out from your car), not only 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 the day or night.

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What does roadside assistance service include?

The list of what you’re covered for depends on the provider, as well as the level of cover you purchase. However, all assistance plans follow the same typical pattern:

  • Initial phone consultation. The dispatcher will ask you for details of 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 is sent to your location.
  • Towing services. If the technician is unable to get you back on the road, you are covered to have your car towed to a mechanic’s workshop for repair. A surcharge usually applies if you need to be towed further than a specified distance.
  • Optional extras. Some top-end membership packages entitle you to emergency accommodation and assistance with taxi fares.

Why do I need roadside assistance?

There are several reasons people phone for roadside assistance.

  • Battery issues. Whether you need a jump start 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 access your vehicle or organise a locksmith.
  • Emergency fuel supply. Mobile technicians usually carry an emergency supply of petrol or diesel, but they’ll need to arrange for your car to be towed if it runs out of fuel.
  • Failure to start. Sometimes you can’t get the engine running, but there is not an immediate apparent reason.
  • Tyre replacement. Putting on the spare wheel is a strenuous and grubby task, and even if you are physically capable, there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer to get help.
  • Caravan towing. Many providers offer to tow your caravan if it is within their size and weight limit 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 and functions independently of car insurance policies that cover you for accident, theft, or third-party damage.

With membership-based roadside assistance, you can usually choose from different levels of cover, which can range from a cheaper option that includes a limited number of call outs, essential mechanical support and towing, to top-of-the-line cover that helps with replacement car hire and accommodation.

Which companies offer roadside assistance?

  • Motoring clubs, for example, the AA.
  • Insurance companies, such as State and Tower.
  • Standalone roadside assistance organisations, including NZRA and VTNZ.
  • Some vehicle manufacturers offer roadside assistance cover if your car is regularly maintained at an authorised service centre.

What kind of exclusions are there?

Car insurance roadside assistance is usually limited to small-scale mechanical problems that immobilise your car.

  • You are not covered for damage caused by an accident.
  • If your battery needs to be replaced, you are generally expected to pay for the new one.
  • Some providers do not offer roadside assistance for vehicles older than a specified age.
  • There are limits on how far your vehicle will be towed if the mechanic is unable to restart it.
  • Some providers charge extra if your car breaks down due to a pre-existing condition.
  • You will not receive assistance if your vehicle is left 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 a vehicle that can be covered.
  • If your car is bogged down, most providers will only help to rescue it 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?

Major providers may allow you to become a member at the time your car breaks down, but they charge an additional “on-the-go” fee. This fee may also apply to any incident that takes place within a specified time frame after you purchase the membership, typically between 24 to 72 hours.

Some stand-alone companies charge a flat rate per incident to arrange assistance, which means instead of joining a membership program for a year and forking out an additional on-the-go fee, you 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 a tyre changed. However, stand-alone assistance rapidly becomes more expensive if you need more than one or two call outs in a year.

Whichever option you choose, always read the terms and conditions, so you know what it covers.

Does roadside assistance cover me nationwide?

Once you’re eligible for roadside assistance, you’re covered no matter where in New Zealand you are.

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 particular driver. So in most cases, it doesn’t matter who is driving the car, as long as the vehicle 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 need to pay an on-the-go fee, but it is heavily discounted.
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