Instant breakdown cover

Discover if you can take out immediate breakdown cover after you've broken down, what it includes and what other options you have.

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Breaking down at the side of the road is frustrating, but it can also be expensive if you don’t already have breakdown cover. Can you even get instant cover when you break down? The short answer is yes, but it can cost an extra £110 before anyone has even come out to look at your car. We’ve looked at your options and whether getting an annual policy is likely to be the better bet.

What is instant breakdown cover?

Most breakdown insurance policies start at least 24 hours after you first apply for cover, which means they cannot be used if you’ve already broken down.

Instant breakdown cover is a breakdown policy that takes effect as soon as you take it out, so that you can start using the cover immediately.

Who might need instant breakdown cover?

Instant breakdown cover can be useful if you’ve already broken down.

Calling a tow or someone to help you in an emergency can be expensive, so an instant breakdown policy can provide an alternative. However, note that these type of policies tend to cost more than a regular breakdown policy.

You might also take out an instant breakdown policy if you’re going on a last-minute long trip and want to make sure you are covered in case you break down (if you don’t already have breakdown cover in place).

What types of instant breakdown cover are available?

The specs of the cover will depend on the provider, but options include:

  • A one-off call out. The insurer will send someone out to help you in that specific instance, but cover won’t continue after that. You’ll likely just get basic roadside cover with this.
  • A basic instant cover policy. Some providers offer the most basic type of breakdown cover – roadside assistance – to help in the immediate situation, and then give you a policy for one more call-out within a year.
  • A full membership policy. Some providers ask you to sign up for a full annual policy, and charge an extra fee for the instant cover.

Can I get instant breakdown cover if I’ve already broken down?

Yes, but it will probably cost you. If you want cover to start immediately, you will likely have to pay an emergency call-out fee, which can be quite expensive.

Additionally, the cover you get may be limited. For example, you might only be allowed to make one more claim in the year.

Do I have to pay extra for instant cover?

Yes, immediate breakdown cover costs more than regular policies. Cost will vary by provider, but you may be charged a fee of up to £110 on top of the cost of signing up to a new policy.

How long will it take for help to arrive?

This will vary by insurer and will depend on their workload at the time you break down.

Most providers aim to arrive within an hour, but some might get to you in 45 minutes. Ask what the average response time is before you buy a policy.

What should I do if my car breaks down?

The first thing to do would be to get your car off the road if you can and get yourself and your passengers to safety.

Once you’ve done that, you can call for help. You can do this either by calling an insurance company and getting immediate breakdown cover, or by calling a local garage and asking them for help.

You can also use an emergency telephone if you have broken down on a motorway, but note that you may be charged £100 to have your vehicle towed to a garage.

How do I buy instant cover?

You cannot get instant cover online. You have to call the provider you wish to purchase a policy from and explain your situation. You can find some potential insurers in our guide to the best breakdown cover.

Frequently asked questions

Finder survey: What proportion of Brits would consider upgrading their car to have a personalised numberplate?

ResponseYorkshire and the HumberWest MidlandsWalesSouth WestSouth EastScotlandNorthern IrelandNorth WestNorth EastGreater LondonEast of EnglandEast Midlands
Personalised numberplate14.12%18.26%12.12%17.39%13.25%21.05%12.5%20.66%9.52%21.3%16.09%19.32%
Source: Finder survey by Censuswide of 1032 Brits, December 2023

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