Why Use Roadside Assistance Services?
The top performers in our review are AAA, the Gold Award winner; Good Sam Roadside Assistance, the Silver Award winner; and Allstate Motor Club, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a roadside assistance service to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 companies.
Car failure or an accident can happen at any time, anywhere, and it is imperative that you are prepared. Roadside assistance services provide the preparation and peace of mind you need when you travel in your vehicle. These services are especially useful for individuals who are constantly on the road for personal or business reasons or are planning a long vacation.
When you sign up with a roadside assistance company, you purchase a plan that includes multiple services to help you in the many different obstacles you may face on the road. For example, towing, fuel delivery, battery jump-start and locksmith services are a few of the services you will find with most of the companies on our lineup.
Should You Add Roadside Assistance to Your Car Insurance?
Like insurance companies, roadside assistance companies exist for two primary reasons: to make money and to help you in times of need and emergency. Many auto insurance companies already offer some type of roadside assistance that you can add to your auto policy. The roadside assistance options insurance companies offer vary, but they often include towing, tire changes and lockout services. When you add roadside assistance to your coverage, it may be only a few dollars each month, but the assistance is limited.
When you purchase roadside assistance coverage from a motor club or a full plan from an insurance company, such as Allstate, you can receive basic coverage such as towing and gas delivery, but also many travel perks such as rental car discounts, travel maps and emergency travel assistance. However, some of these benefits are only available on premium and elite membership plans. If you would like additional information, you can look at our articles on Roadside Assistance Services.
Do You Already Have Coverage and Not Know It?
Before you begin looking for roadside assistance, you need to determine what coverage you already have. Not only may you already have assistance included with your auto insurance, you may have coverage through your cell phone plan, the dealer of your vehicle or your credit card company, or if you purchase an extended warranty on your vehicle.
Many car dealers offer some type of roadside assistance when you purchase a vehicle from them. This coverage is often only available on certified used vehicles and from certain manufacturers. Additionally, once you are approved for certain credit cards, roadside assistance may be included in their benefits. However, some credit cards charge you for roadside services. Credit cards offer only certain services that differ from card to card. If you have several credit cards, you will want to know which card offers any type of roadside assistance and the specific services it offers.
Some cell phone plans also offer assistance. With some cell phone plans, it doesn't matter who drives the car that needs help; the cell phone under the plan must be used to contact help. Again, the services and coverage vary by plan and provider.
Furthermore, after you purchase a vehicle, roadside assistance may be available from the dealer or may be included if you purchase an extended warranty. Additionally, when purchasing certain new and used vehicles, you may receive a subscription to services such as OnStar, which allows you to request help directly from your vehicle, without calling in for help on your cell phone. This type of service is particularly beneficial for emergency assistance, such as calling medical personnel or police if an accident or other emergency occurs.
Roadside Assistance: What We Evaluated, What We Found
A quality roadside assistance plan should provide every possible roadside service, a generous selection of extras and helpful customer support. We assessed the quality of services against the price for standard and premium membership. We didn't test the individual services, but we did a comprehensive comparison of the strengths and weaknesses of the services available. We used the following criteria to evaluate the top roadside assistance plans.
The services a roadside assistance company provides are the most important factors to consider when choosing a plan. A company should offer 24/7 roadside assistance, such as calling a truck to tow you to the nearest service station at any time of day. It should also be able to unlock your vehicle for you when you lock your keys inside, change your tire when you find yourself with a flat on the side of the road, and extricate your car when it slides off of the road and becomes stuck in mud, snow or a ditch. Other standard services are gasoline delivery when you run out of gas and jump-starting a dead vehicle battery.
Other services you might want are emergency travel assistance and reimbursements for travel-interruption expenses. With this type of assistance, the company reimburses you for a certain amount of out-of-pocket expenses such as hotel rooms, meals and transportation if you are more than 100 miles from home and have an accident or car failure. The amount of money you are reimbursed depends on your plan. Premium and elite plans pay you more than standard plans with this assistance. Some services, such as AARP, even provide money toward a legal defense if you get a speeding ticket. Some plans intervene if a repair shop the roadside assistance company approves does sloppy work.
In addition, a company member should arrive at the scene in a timely fashion. Some companies offer an on-time arrival guarantee, which is a good indication that help will arrive fast. However, this feature is often included only on the premium or elite plan options and may be an additional cost.
When choosing a plan, you'll want to consider important issues such as how many times you can call for service each year and how much it costs to add a family member to the plan. Several plans in our lineup let you add your spouse for free, while others charge an extra fee for this.
While you can request service no matter where you break down, some roadside assistance companies are unable to enroll members from certain states, so you'll need to ensure your state isn't an issue with your chosen service. You should also choose a provider that covers the vehicles you drive the most. Some companies cover you as an individual rather than covering a specific vehicle, which means you are covered even if you are on vacation and using a rental. Some companies, like Good Sam Roadside Assistance, also cover all of your vehicles regardless of type, including RVs, motorcycles and trailers.
Most breakdown services offer more than one plan, giving you the option of better and more comprehensive coverage for an additional cost. You should look for a roadside assistance service that offers the most coverage you can get with a basic plan, then upgrade if you want the bonuses the enhanced plans offer.
Some companies, such as AARP, only provide coverage to individuals 50 years or older. However, most companies cover you as long as you have a valid driver's license. Additionally, some companies do not enroll members in certain states because of their availability and other exclusions. Certain services may not be available where you are located during a breakdown. You will want to call the service representatives and read the fine print in the membership manuals to know where these locations are before you commit to a plan.
When purchasing roadside assistance services, you should ensure the company covers your type of vehicle. Each company has different restrictions on the vehicles it covers. All companies cover cars. Many also cover light trucks – a vehicle that has a capacity between 1,500 and 4,000 pounds. This encompasses midsized trucks, vans and SUVs. Other companies provide coverage for RVs, such as motor homes, fifth wheels, travel trailers and even pop-up trailers.
Some companies also cover pulling trailers, such as boat trailers. However, with most companies, it's an additional cost to include roadside assistance for these items. If you do purchase coverage for these items and your vehicle breaks down while pulling the trailer, the company covers towing for both your vehicle and the trailer.
What Else to Look For
When choosing a roadside assistance service, you should read the small print. Our reviews point out some of the details you will want to be aware of.
Generally towing is included in your plan, but you will want to find out how many miles are free so you know at what point you'll be charged extra for towing. Companies vary on how they cover towing. Some companies cover you per mile, while others provide coverage up to a specified dollar amount. The distance and amount of money the roadside assistance company cover depends on the type of plan you choose. However, plans that cover per mile are more beneficial than those that cover a certain dollar amount. Many tow companies tack on charges such as hookup fees that can eat away any dollar amount the roadside assistance company provides, resulting in you paying per distance, which can be up to $25 per mile. In our evaluations, we scored companies that provided towing by mileage higher than those with a dollar amount.
Type of Plan
The plan you purchase determines how extensive your benefits are. With most plans, you pay for a one-year membership. Some companies require additional membership fees on top of the plan fees, but this is rare. Standard plans cover the basic roadside assistance, such as towing, jumping a dead battery, lockout services and tire changes.
When you buy a more advanced plan, you receive many perks, such as discounts on car rentals and reimbursement for legal fees on driving-related violations. The premium and elite plan options are often best if you do a lot of traveling within a year. However, premium and elite plans are much more costly than standard plans, often double the cost.
Travel perks are a nice addition to many of these services. For instance, a representative can help you plan a trip if your plan includes travel planning assistance. Concierge services are also available from many companies, which help you with your hotel bookings and planning activities. However, this service is usually for an additional cost. A company's website can also provide travel assistance through an online trip planner and even a mobile app.
The customer support you receive from a roadside assistance company is critical. You need a company with representatives who are friendly and provide the assistance you need. It is also important that you have access to representatives 24 hours a day, especially if you often drive at night. We gave credit to companies that addressed our concerns in a friendly and fast manner and were available 24 hours day.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
Good Sam Roadside Assistance is hard to beat, with its extensive coverage and unlimited towing. It can cover a variety of vehicles, such as RVs, trailers and even motorcycles, without much additional cost. You won't be charged hundreds of dollars to tow your vehicle to the nearest service center, as Good Sam covers all towing. This is a rare benefit; most of the services we reviewed have strict limitations on how far they will tow before you incur additional charges.
AAA is a popular option for roadside assistance, and rightly so. Like Good Sam, it provides coverage for a variety of vehicles, and the annual cost is low compared to similar services. The elite plans from AAA provide exceptional benefits, such as legal defense reimbursement, trip planners, and retail and rental car discounts.
Allstate Motor Club is another roadside service that ranks high. This company doesn't have any costs for adding a spouse to your plan, and its numerous services include tire changes, extrication and lockout assistance.
While we found these three were the best roadside assistance services overall, all of the companies in our lineup have some attractive benefits. For example, Better World Club is a unique service that offers eco-friendly options, including roadside coverage for your bicycle. You can use our reviews to determine which one best serves your needs.