Short-term breakdown cover

Find out how you can take out temporary breakdown cover for the UK or Europe, what it includes and how to find the right policy for you.

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Breakdown cover is not a legal requirement to drive on UK roads, but it can get you out of an unpleasant situation. However, you may only need to take it out for a short time – if you’re going on a long trip, for example. We looked at the options available for short-term breakdown cover and how it compares to an annual policy.

What is short-term breakdown cover?

Short-term breakdown cover is breakdown insurance that only lasts for a limited time – usually between 1 day and 1 month.

This type of cover can be useful for people who need to borrow someone else’s car for a short time. Even if you don’t usually bother with breakdown cover on your own car, you might want to get short-term cover if you’re taking a long trip or driving to Europe (short-term European cover is also available).

How can I get short-term breakdown cover?

There are 2 main ways to get short-term breakdown cover:

  1. As a standalone policy, separate from any car insurance you may have. Many annual breakdown cover providers will also offer cover for short periods.
  2. As an optional extra from your car insurer if you take out a temporary car insurance policy.

Where can I get short-term breakdown cover?

Many mainstream breakdown providers offer short-term breakdown cover, including some big names like RAC and the AA and specialist providers like Rescuemycar.com

The best way to find the best policy for you is to compare insurers. You can look at some of the top providers in our guide to the best breakdown insurance companies in the UK.

What is short-term breakdown cover for?

You might not feel the need to take out an annual breakdown policy if you don’t drive enough to justify it or don’t own your own car. A short-term breakdown policy can be useful if you need to use a car for a limited time and want to protect yourself in case something goes wrong.

Some scenarios where you might consider taking out temporary breakdown insurance include the following:

  • Borrowing a car from a friend or family member
  • Borrowing a van when moving house
  • Embarking on a long-distance road trip or holiday (including driving to Europe).

How long am I covered for in a short-term breakdown cover policy?

The minimum and maximum cover periods will vary by insurer, but they are usually between 1 day and 1 month. Some policies may even let you get cover for as little as a few hours, which could be handy if you’re borrowing or hiring a vehicle for less than a day.

How much does short-term breakdown cover cost?

As well as the usual factors, like your age, your driving history and the make and model you drive, the cost of temporary breakdown insurance depends on a number of additional details, including the following:

  • The age of your vehicle
  • Your vehicle’s breakdown history
  • The length of your cover
  • Your level of cover and any optional extras

Is short-term breakdown cover more expensive than annual breakdown cover?

A short-term breakdown policy is likely to be more expensive per day than annual cover, but if you only require it for a limited time, it can still work out cheaper overall than paying for an annual policy you don’t need.

If you’re taking out a temporary car insurance policy, you should be able to add breakdown cover to this. It might work out cheaper than taking out a separate breakdown policy.

Make sure to compare quotes from different insurers to find the best deal for your needs.

Temporary breakdown cover vs annual breakdown cover

Whether you need temporary breakdown cover or an annual breakdown policy will depend on your circumstances.

If you don’t own your own car and just need to borrow a car from a friend or family member, a temporary breakdown policy can be much more cost-effective than an annual one. However, if you think you might need to borrow the car several times in the year, it might be worth your while paying for annual cover.

This is also true if you need to take out breakdown cover for a month. Temporary insurance is usually more expensive than standard insurance, so even if you only need cover for a month, it might work out cheaper to take out an annual policy. Some providers offer annual breakdown cover for affordable prices, so shop around to find the best deal for you.

European cover is not usually included in standard breakdown insurance, but can often be added for an extra premium. If you intend to drive out to Europe several times in the year, it might be better to add European cover to your existing breakdown policy, rather than repeatedly taking out temporary cover.

Do I still get the same level of cover with short-term breakdown cover?

Yes. Temporary breakdown insurance is usually offered with the same cover levels to choose from as regular breakdown cover. This can be anything from basic roadside assistance to a comprehensive policy that will come out whether you break down at home or further afield and will tow you to a destination of your choice.

What does short-term breakdown cover include in the UK?

A temporary breakdown policy usually offers a similar level of cover to an annual one, only for a shorter period.

The exact features will vary by provider and the level of cover you need, but you should be able to choose from the following (or a combination of several of these elements):

  • Local roadside assistance. If your car or a car you’re travelling in breaks down, you’ll get roadside assistance and recovery to a local garage for any repair work that can’t be completed at the roadside.
  • National roadside assistance. Regardless of where your car or a car you’re travelling in breaks down, you can choose to have the car towed to any location in the UK for repair work if the mechanic is unable to fix your car at the roadside.
  • Home breakdown. If you’re a certain distance from home (usually up to a mile) when your car or a car you’re travelling in breaks down, or the car won’t start outside of your home, you’ll get assistance with repairs.
  • Onward travel. This will ensure your journey can continue even if your car or a car you’re travelling in can’t immediately be fixed. You could get a replacement car or tickets for public transport. In some cases, you may be covered for an overnight stay.

What does short-term breakdown cover include in Europe?

This will vary by insurer and the type of policy you choose, but European cover usually includes basic roadside assistance – sending someone out to look at your vehicle and towing it to a local garage if it cannot be fixed at the roadside.

Some policies also include onward travel, either immediately or if your car cannot be fixed within a certain number of hours. This means you and your passengers will be taken to your intended destination and, in some cases, be provided with a replacement car so that you can get around. If you prefer to stay with your car, the cost of alternative accommodation may be covered, depending on your original booking (mainly whether it’s paid for and if a refund can be obtained).

A good European breakdown policy will also include repatriation, meaning getting you, your passengers and your car back to the UK if your vehicle is still not fixed by your intended return date.

What isn’t covered with short-term breakdown cover?

Depending on the insurer and the policy you choose, some elements of cover may not be included as standard and require an extra premium. This is often the case for onward travel and European cover. Make sure to check your policy details to see what is and isn’t covered.

The policy might also come with certain conditions and limitations. Common exclusions that might mean you can’t call out your breakdown service include the following:

  • The car is not properly maintained. General maintenance of cars, such as oil checks and tyre checks, are important to ensure a vehicle is safe to drive.
  • The car breaks down on private land. The recovery vehicle may not be able to access the land you’re stranded on.
  • The car breaks down after a collision. At the very least, recovery may be delayed while emergency services tend to the scene of an accident. Some policies may also completely exclude breakdown recovery following a collision.

As with annual breakdown cover, the cost of repairs that can’t be made at the roadside – including replacement parts – won’t be covered by your breakdown policy.

Could I already be covered for short-term breakdown cover with my bank as a perk?

Potentially – it’s certainly worth checking, especially if you pay for your bank account. Some so-called “packaged” bank accounts include extras such as travel insurance, smartphone insurance and breakdown cover. If you have one of these accounts, your breakdown policy will usually cover you regardless of the car you are driving and how long you’re driving it for.

Bear in mind that the policy included with a packaged bank account may only be a basic roadside assistance policy. It may not cover you if you break down at home or in Europe, for example.

If I have a breakdown policy on my own car, will it give me short-term breakdown cover for other cars?

Potentially, yes. It depends on whether you have personal or vehicle breakdown cover. Vehicle breakdown policies only offer protection for a specific car, so it won’t cover you if you break down in a car you borrow or hire.

However, if you have personal breakdown cover, this covers you for breakdowns as a driver or passenger in any car. It tends to be more expensive than vehicle cover, but if you regularly drive cars other than your own, this could be a good option and avoid the need to take out short-term breakdown cover.

Is short-term or annual cover better value?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

The answer to this depends on your circumstances and isn’t quite as simple as annual vs short term.

If you drive a car (whether your own or someone else’s) fairly regularly and want the reassurance of having a breakdown service on hand if the car conks out whenever you’re using it, it’s almost certainly cheaper to take out an annual breakdown policy for it. That’s because, per day, short-term breakdown cover is much more expensive than annual cover. You may even find that it’s cheaper to buy an annual policy than one that only covers you for a month.

If, on the other hand, you rarely drive – perhaps borrowing or hiring a car for a couple of days once or twice a year – then temporary breakdown cover could work out cheaper overall. That might apply particularly if you bolt it on to temporary car insurance. This principle might also apply if you feel you don’t usually need breakdown cover (perhaps because you mostly use your car for pottering about locally) but occasionally go on longer trips.

There’s also a third option, whereby you regularly drive your own car, but also drive borrowed or rental cars every now and then. In this case, one option is to take out annual vehicle breakdown cover on your own car and pay for short-term breakdown cover on the other vehicles as needed. But it’s probably also worth exploring the option of annual personal breakdown cover, which protects you whatever car you drive. It’s typically more expensive than a single-vehicle breakdown policy, but could well work out cheaper overall than a vehicle breakdown policy plus multiple temporary policies.

Pros and cons of short-term breakdown cover

Pros

  • Could work out cheaper than annual cover if you rarely drive
  • Bolting cover on to temporary car insurance could save money
  • Offers peace of mind if you’re driving an unfamiliar (and potentially unreliable) car

Cons

  • If you have personal breakdown cover, you may already be covered to drive other cars temporarily
  • You may not need it if you have breakdown cover with your bank account
  • More expensive per day than annual breakdown cover

Bottom line

Breakdown cover can provide peace of mind that there’s a service you can call out for “free” if the car you’re driving grinds to a halt. And in some cases, short-term car insurance is a good option – for example if you’re borrowing a friend’s car for a couple of days. But before you buy, check if you’re already covered through your bank account or an annual policy on your own car. Even if you’re not, bear in mind that short-term breakdown cover is much more expensive per day than annual cover. If you’re likely to drive that friend’s car several times over the course of a year, it could work out cheaper to take out an annual policy.

Compare breakdown cover providers

1 - 6 of 6
Name Product Personal Price (from) Vehicle Price (from) Roadside Assistance National Recovery Home Start Onward Travel Key Benefits
The AA Roadside & Home
£139
£119
RAC Basic
£98.45
£76.45
Rescue 1
Quote based
£16
Compare Breakdown Cover National
Compare Breakdown Cover National
£30.73
£18.56
Exclusive 10% discount.
Motor Easy Nationwide Recovery
Motor Easy Nationwide Recovery
Vehicle only
£36.30
Row
Row
Vehicle only
Quote dependent
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