There may come a day when your car breaks down and you aren’t within walking distance of your local Coast Motor Werk. We’d love to be there for you right at that moment, but it’s pretty unlikely – we’re good, but we aren’t that good.
When that day comes, you should already have a roadside assistance provider to call for that flat tire, empty gas tank, or any other mishap that strands you on the shoulder of the freeway.
According to Consumer Reports, roadside assistance has expanded from the exclusive niche of “motor clubs” like AAA or Better World Club to an add-on for businesses ranging from insurance companies to credit card and mobile phone providers.
We’re not going to tell you which roadside assistance provider is best (mostly because we don’t know) but we do have a few suggestions on what to look for if you’re shopping around.
Not All Roadside Assistance Plans are Equal
Every one of these programs will offer some form of roadside assistance and towing, or at least a reimbursement for towing. Not all of these programs are created equal, however.
Add-on roadside assistance programs are often more narrowly tailored than traditional motor clubs. Some cell phone companies that provide roadside assistance, for example, only provide service if the enrolled device is present. Similarly, limited towing distances or available roadside services could leave you stuck with a bill you weren’t expecting when the service is complete.
Manufacturer-Based Roadside Assistance
One growing source of roadside assistance plans is the carmakers themselves.
Many of our customers already know that BMW, for example, offers a roadside protection plan with lock-out service, towing, and extras like personal trip routing and emergency valet service. This plan is good for four years from the original in-service date or six years from the original in-service date for certified pre-owned BMWs.
These services often do more for the dealership’s reputation than the BMW drivers, however, since new cars rarely break down in the first few years of operation. And the options for towing, in particular, are often limited – in BMW’s case, cars can only be towed to the nearest authorized BMW center for service, not an independent shop.
(We’ve made our feelings about dealership mechanics clear in a different blog post.)
What to Look For in a Roadside Assistance Plan
As Popular Mechanics points out, the fine print of a roadside-assistance arrangement will tell you if the service will actually be useful. Look for details and ask questions like:
- Does it cover you in any vehicle, whether you’re a passenger or a driver?
- Does it cover only you and only in your car?
- Does it cover motorcycles, motorhomes, trailers, or all-terrain vehicles?
- Are you covered in Canada or Mexico?
- Are any nearby areas or highways excluded?
- Does the lost-key service or reimbursement cover your keyless system?
Also spend a little time thinking about your own driving routine. If you have a long commute or frequently drive long distances, will the towing range of your roadside assistance plan get your car back to your mechanic of choice?
The great thing about the Internet is that online reviews and comments make it easy to compare different services and look into these details. (Actually, online comments are also one of the worst things about the Internet, but that’s a subject for a different post.) Make sure that the plan you’re choosing fits your needs and doesn’t have any “glitches” that will leave you stranded, or on the hook for an unexpected expense.