European breakdown cover

Taking a European road trip? We explain how to get breakdown cover and what to watch out for.

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Millions of Brits drive on holiday to Europe every year. So unfortunately, by law of odds, a few of us are going to end up at the roadside standing next to our broken vehicle. We explain what you’ll be covered for when you take out European breakdown cover, from roadside assistance to courtesy cars. More importantly, we tell you what insurance companies won’t pay out for. Which could help you stay cool, calm and collected on your big trip away.

What is European breakdown cover?

European cover offers the same protection when you’re driving on the other side of the Channel as you would get with equivalent UK breakdown cover. This could mean roadside assistance to get you back up and running, or a tow to the nearest garage if your car needs a more serious looking over.

Some insurers might even pay to get you and your car sent home if it’s beyond repair, which could be vital if you’re pulled over in a ditch in rural Europe, unable to even come up with the word for “help”. Plus, without breakdown cover, you might end up blowing the whole holiday budget on getting the car fixed.

European breakdown cover isn’t included as standard with UK breakdown policies, or as part of car or travel insurance, so you’ll need to pay extra for this cover.

What types of European breakdown cover are there?

There are different types of cover depending on whether you want to take a car, van or motorbike. You’ll also have to decide whether you want one-off cover for a single holiday, or whether you want to be covered all year round.

  • Single-trip cover. If you plan to drive to Europe once or twice a year then this could be your best bet.
  • Multi-trip cover. If you have a second home or make frequent journeys to Europe, opt for this. It covers all your trips in a year.

Be wary of time limits on multi-trip policies. You might not be allowed to be abroad for more than 90 days in the year, or more than 31 days at a time. If you think you might break these caps then call the insurer and ask if it can extend cover. Bear in mind too that some UK breakdown providers won’t offer cover if your trip is to a second home, so watch out for this exclusion.

What features does European breakdown cover include?

What’s covered varies between insurers, and some insurers offer more than one level of cover. Here’s a list of some of the most common features you might get, depending on the policy you opt for.

    • Problems before you head off. This provides coverage should your car break down before you even set off on your trip.
    • Roadside assistance. A recovery vehicle will come and try to get you going at the roadside.
    • Towing service. If roadside repairs don’t work, the recovery vehicle will take your vehicle to the nearest garage.
    • Garage work. Your policy should pay out for some if not all the labour costs of repairing your car at the garage. It often won’t cover the cost of any parts that are needed, though.
    • Courtesy car. Some insurers might offer this but only give you a certain type of car. If you’re lugging a caravan around you don’t want to be given a tiny 4-seat car – that could cause some major problems.
    • Onward travel. Depending on your policy, you may be covered for the cost of getting where you need to go – for example, public transport costs you rack up. You may even get cover for accommodation you need to book while you wait.
    • Repatriation. Some insurers will cover all or some of the costs for getting your car back to the UK should it prove beyond repair at the European garage.
    • 24/7 assistance. Some, but not all, providers offer this. So if you’re planning on doing a big night journey, check that you’ll get round-the-clock cover.
    • Misfuelling. This covers for problems if you put diesel in a petrol car, or vice versa. Not many providers cover this, and there may be an additional charge if they do.
    • Key cover. This reimburses you for the cost of replacing your keys if you lose them while travelling.

European breakdown cover restrictions to look out for

    • Pay and claim. Many European breakdown policies will make you pay the breakdown company out of your own pocket then claim back the cost from your breakdown provider.
    • Countries. Different providers cover you to drive in different countries, and with some it varies by the specific policy. Double check before you go, especially if there’s a chance you might cross a few borders.
    • Pay out limits. Some insurers will put a cap on how much they will compensate you for a single trip. Given onward travel and vehicle repatriation could spiral into thousands of pounds in costs for you and your family, check the pay-out limit is high enough for your travelling needs.
    • Trip time limits. Many breakdown providers cap the number of days you are covered for abroad. You don’t want to break down and suddenly discover your policy finished yesterday. So check with your insurer.
    • Callout limits. Some providers will limit how many times you can call them out in a period of cover. If you have a fault-prone car, make sure this limit isn’t too low.
    • Caravans. If you’re off on a caravan holiday, make sure you’ll get help towing this away. Some insurers exclude caravans from cover.

What countries are covered under European breakdown cover?

The specific countries each provider includes will vary. Most providers are happy to cover at least all EU and European Economic Area (EEA) countries. Many will go beyond this to cover some non EEA countries such as Norway and the parts of Turkey that fall within Europe. Watch out for any exclusions though – for example, not all companies cover Russia.

Some providers offer tiers of cover – so you might pay less for driving in Western European countries than those further afield, for example.

What happens if I break down without European breakdown cover?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

If your car conks out in Europe and you don’t have European breakdown cover, you’ll need to find a local recovery company and repair garage yourself. You may also need to muddle by in the local language. Unless you’re fluent, this could mean relying on the likes of Google Translate to interpret technical car jargon. Many UK-based breakdown companies offer English-speaking helplines, often with multi-lingual operators, to help you get things sorted.

Plus, you’ll be liable for the full cost of rescue and repairs, and potentially for getting your car back to the UK. These costs can quickly mount up. While it might seem like an annoying extra expense, unless you have an ultra-reliable car the relatively low cost of European breakdown cover could prove to be money well spent.

Is my European breakdown cover still valid now that the UK has left the EU?

It should be. Unless your provider has contacted you to say differently, any existing policies should continue on the same basis as before the UK left the EU.

How much does European breakdown cover cost?

If you’re buying standalone European breakdown cover from one of the UK’s leading providers, expect to pay from £7 a day for single-trip cover, depending on the country or countries you’ll be driving in. Annual cover is likely to set you back at least £100ish and could be much more, depending on the provider, but could work out cheaper than lots of single trips if you drive in Europe regularly.

If you already have UK breakdown cover, it may be more cost-effective to add European cover to your existing policy.

What affects the cost of European breakdown cover?

Factors affecting the cost of European breakdown cover include:

  • How long you’ll be away for
  • Which countries you’ll be driving in
  • The vehicle you’ll be driving
  • The level of cover; the more comprehensive the cover, the higher the likely cost

How can I reduce the cost of European breakdown cover?

  • Do you already have cover? Before buying a separate European breakdown policy, double check whether you’re already covered as part of existing breakdown cover, a car insurance policy add-on, or even a packaged bank account.
  • Choose the right type of cover: single-trip or annual. Single-trip cover may seem cheaper, but could be a false economy if you make several trips per year.
  • Add on cover to an existing breakdown policy. Your existing breakdown provider may well offer European breakdown cover; it might even give you a discount for getting its European breakdown policy.
  • Consider a car insurance add-on. Some car insurance providers offer breakdown cover as an optional add-on, and this might include European cover. Buying breakdown cover as a car insurance add-on to an existing policy can work out cheaper than buying standalone cover, but make sure the level and quality of cover meets your needs.
  • Shop around. The cost of European breakdown cover can vary dramatically between providers. Compare prices and quality of cover carefully to get the right policy at the right price.

What do I need to get a European breakdown quote?

To get a quote for European breakdown cover, you’ll need to supply:

  • Your vehicle’s registration number (number plate)
  • Usually, the countries you’ll be travelling to (this may not always be needed for annual policies in particular)
  • For single trips, the dates of travel
  • Whether you’ll be towing a caravan or trailer
  • Your personal details (name, address, contact details, date of birth)

How can I add European breakdown cover to my existing policy?

Ask your provider for a quote and see what cover you’ll actually get for the countries you’re heading to. Is it just roadside assistance, or will it tow your vehicle and offer you a courtesy car too? Use comparison sites or get quotes directly from other companies too. See if any offer a better deal; you can use this to haggle with your existing provider.

What else do I need to do to prepare for driving in Europe?

Buying good-quality European breakdown cover is only one of the things to sort out before you drive in Europe. Here’s a checklist of some of the main things to tick off your checklist.

1. Get the right car insurance

Most UK car insurance policies cover you to drive the insured car in Europe, but this is usually only on a third-party basis. And check that your policy covers you for the countries you plan to drive in. For full insurance cover in Europe, you may wish to extend your existing policy or buy a short-term European car insurance policy.

2. Check the rules of the road in the countries you’ll be driving in

Some European countries have specific laws to follow, so check before you go. For example, some require you to keep your lights on at all times, or that all kids under 12 must sit in the back. Check what safety equipment the countries you’re driving in expect you to carry too. Many require you to carry a reflective safety vest and red safety triangles. In France, you’re also expected to carry a breathalyser.

You’ll also need to make sure your tax and MOT are up to date (a legal requirement for driving in the UK too), and that you have hard copies of all relevant documents, including:

  • Your full, valid driving licence
  • Your passport
  • Your vehicle’s registration document (V5C; this should be the original document, not a copy)
  • Relevant insurance documents (car insurance and travel insurance) – you’ll need these as proof that you have at least third-party insurance
  • In some non-EU countries, an insurance Green Card

In some cases, you may need to attach a GB sticker to your car. You won’t need this if your number plate already includes the GB identifier, unless you’re travelling to Cyprus, Malta or Spain. These countries always require a GB sticker, no matter what’s on your number plate.

3. Tell your breakdown provider when you’re off

This may be needed to trigger cover if you have an annual policy.

    Bottom line

    Dealing with different rules and languages can make driving in Europe stressful enough in the first place. Breaking down part way between Paris and Provence could send those stress levels through the roof. Buying good European cover can give you peace of mind that if your car lets you down, you won’t be left stranded and struggling. Shopping around and comparing quotes can help keep costs down – but check the small print to make sure you strike the right balance between price and quality of cover.

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