A minor roadside breakdown, flat tire, dead battery or an empty gas tank can quickly ruin your day. These kinds of incidents are the bread and butter of roadside assistance plans, and they will step in to save the day.
There are many roadside assistance plan options. You can choose from motor clubs, such as AAA, to plans offered by insurance companies, automakers, and even credit card companies.
“According to our data, direct-to-consumer motor clubs (think AAA) and direct-to-tower (the towing company) calls are the most frequently used services for roadside assistance, followed by insurers, extended warranty and new vehicle warranty services,” says Jeff Blecher, chief strategy officer of Agero, which provides and manages roadside assistance for insurers, automakers, and other companies.
During an emergency, you might even forget you have roadside assistance and call a towing company directly. This can be an expensive mistake.
Most plans don’t allow reimbursement if you call a towing service directly. According to Agero, per-event costs when requesting a service provider can range from $50 to $200 per event.
Many drivers have more than one roadside assistance option available to us. Depending on how you drive, how far you commute and what you expect from roadside assistance can help determine the best roadside assistance plan for you.
What is roadside assistance?
Roadside assistance is designed for specific situations. A roadside service professional tries to get your car running and back on the road. If that’s impossible, the person transports the vehicle safely off the road. However, the help is limited to minor mechanical repairs. If the service pro can’t get your car running, one of the other services of a roadside assistance program may be called into play.
Most roadside assistance programs include some form of the following in addition to minor mechanical work:
- Towing: If your vehicle won’t start or is deemed unsafe to drive, a tow truck will be called to get you safely to a mechanic. All roadside assistance plans come with a towing limit varying from as little as two miles up to 250 miles or more — the more expensive the plan, the longer the tow in most cases. If your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and the nearest repair facility exceeds your tow limit, you will be on the hook for additional towing charges. Prices vary, but $2.50 to $7 per mile is standard. Cost can go up on holidays, at night or over a weekend.
- Flat tires: If you blow out your tire, your roadside assistance plan will send a professional to change your tire with the spare. It should be noted that most roadside assistance plans exclude this service on RVs, motorcycles and ATVs.
- Battery jump-starts: Roadside assistance will jump-start your ride if your battery is dead. Most roadside assistance plans will bring you a new battery, if necessary, but you will be responsible for the new battery’s cost.
- Lockout service: This service comes in a couple of different flavors. Depending on what you need, it may or may not be covered. For instance, the plan should cover a roadside professional getting your car open using a wedge or other tool. If the roadside assistance pro cannot jimmy the door open and an actual locksmith is required, the cost may or may not be covered depending on your plan. It may also be partially covered, leaving you to fork up some cash.
- Fuel delivery: Roadside assistance programs will bring enough gas to get you to the nearest gas station. Depending on your plan, you may have to pay for the gas (area prices apply), or it may be free.
- Winching or extrication: If you end up in a ditch, your roadside assistance should pull you out. There can be restrictions on how far off the road the car can be, and if more than one truck is required to set you free, there may be additional costs.
Remember, these services are only for roadside issues. If your car is sunk in three feet of water or is un-drivable due to an accident, flooding, fire or another disaster, this doesn’t fall under roadside assistance.
AAA roadside assistance program
AAA is the granddaddy of roadside assistance and is probably the first name that springs to mind when you hear the words roadside assistance. AAA has been around since 1902 and has 58 million members across the U.S. and Canada.
While AAA is one of the oldest roadside assistance providers, it is also one of the most robust programs available. However, AAA is also one of the more expensive programs, especially when you get into their premium plans.
Here is the breakdown of the various plans offered by AAA:
- Classic: Cost: $64.99 a year. This level gets you 5 miles of towing, $50 locksmith reimbursement, emergency fuel delivery (fuel cost not included), AAA battery service and bicycle towing. Additional benefits include DMV, passport photos and notary services, vacation planning help, identity theft monitoring and discounts on movie tickets, hotels and car repairs.
- Plus: Cost: $99.99 a year. This level gets you 100 miles of towing, $100 locksmith reimbursement, emergency fuel delivery (fuel cost included), AAA battery service and bicycle towing. Additional benefits include trip interruption and baggage coverage in the U.S., Mexico and Canada (up to $750), lost baggage coverage (up to $250), passport photos and notary services; vacation planning help; identity theft monitoring; and discounts on movie tickets, hotels and car repairs.
- Premium: Cost: $124.99 a year. This level gets you 200 miles of towing, RV and motorcycle towing, one-day car rental included with tow and a $50 windshield replacement credit. Additional services: $150 locksmith reimbursement, emergency fuel delivery (fuel cost included), AAA battery service, bicycle towing. Other benefits include emergency medical transportation coverage worldwide, worldwide travel accident insurance, trip interruption and baggage coverage in the U.S., Mexico and Canada (up to $1,500), lost baggage coverage (up to $500), DMV, passport photos and notary services; vacation planning help; identity theft monitoring; and discounts on movie tickets, hotels and car repairs.
Good Sam roadside assistance program
While AAA is the best-known roadside assistance program for drivers of cars, RVers are probably more familiar with the services of Good Sam. This roadside assistance program was started in 1966 as a helping hand for RVers but, over the years, has grown into a significant competitor to AAA.
In addition to helping RV drivers, Good Sam offers roadside assistance plans for regular car drivers. Good Sam’s plans tend to be more affordable than AAA and offer a robust list of services. Here is a quick breakdown of their plans:
Platinum Auto: This plan costs $49.95 a year. It offers coverage for these vehicle types: cars, trucks, vans, and SUVs. It does not offer coverage for any type of recreational vehicle. It also limits coverage to vehicles you own; it does not cover rental or borrowed vehicles. It should also be noted that the towing is unlimited to the nearest facility — if you want to go to a location of your choice, there may be charges.
This plan offers the following coverage:
- Unlimited towing distance to the nearest service facility
- Service for flat tires, lockouts, battery jump/replacement, fuel/fluids delivery
- Onsite technician support and access more than 30,000 towing and service specialists
- Discounts and savings on a rental car, hotel discounts, service/parts and more
- Family coverage for your spouse or domestic partner and dependent children under 25
Platinum+ Auto: The next level costs $54.95 a year and adds motorcycle and sports trailers to covered vehicles. It also supports vehicles that are rented, leased or borrowed. In addition to covering more vehicles, it also offers trip interruption service up to $1,000.
Platinum Complete Auto: The top-of-the-line plan runs $89.95 a year. It contains all of the benefits of the other plans and adds Tire and Wheel Road Hazard coverage, which will replace your tire and repair or replace your wheels, up to $500 an incident. Two incidents a year are allowed.
Emergency Travel & Medical Assistance Services is also included, which offers the following benefits:
- Emergency medical evacuation
- Transportation home after a medical emergency
- Vehicle return after a medical emergency
- Repatriation services
- Emergency travel and medical assistance services benefit up to $25,000 per qualifying medical event
Other roadside assistance options
Many new cars come with some form of roadside assistance. You can also purchase a plan from your insurance company or credit card issuer.
Here is a quick overview of the various options available:
Insurance company roadside assistance programs
Most insurance companies offer roadside assistance programs. The benefits and price can vary dramatically. Pricing can run as low as $5 or more than $100 on the high end. Benefits can be limited or as robust as an AAA plan.
One thing that should be considered with an insurer’s roadside assistance plan is whether they classify a callout or a claim. If it’s regarded as a claim, you are better off going with a standalone product (such as AAA) because these service calls can impact your rates and insurance record.
Using your roadside assistance should not be considered a claim. It should not impact your rates. Typically, roadside assistance bought through your insurer is serviced by a third party, so when you use it, your insurer should not know of it — but even if they did, it shouldn’t affect your rates.
Most insurers don’t report roadside calls as a claim, but it’s wise to check.
“It’s always a good idea for the consumer to call and confirm with their provider broker or agent. Insurance companies change their rules all the time, so it would be wise to confirm with them directly,” says Marci Lall with the FSB Group.
Here are some highlights of insurers that offer roadside protection:
Allstate is comprehensive and provides a few different options. The good news is that you don’t have to be an Allstate customer to join.
- Platinum Elite – This $164-a-year plan (rate goes to $179 at renewal) provides towing, tire changes, fuel delivery (with two free gallons of gas), lockout, and road service. The plan reimburses up to $250 per incident, making this one of the more robust plans available. It covers motorcycles and RVs, which is rare, and comes with $1,500 in trip interruption insurance.
- Roadside Advantage – This one comes in at $89 a year for the first year and then jumps up to $105 at renewal. Roadside Advantage reimburses incidents up to $150 per incident and $1,500 in trip interruption benefits. A total of two tire and wheel incidents are covered per membership year up to $100 each. Motorcycles and RVs are covered by the Allstate plans.
- Good Hands Rescue – This mobile app is bare bones and free. It connects you to Allstate’s network of roadside assistance providers. Using this app is pay-per-use, but the minimum tow fee is $154 making it a bit expensive unless you only use it very rarely.
Their roadside assistance plans are limited to customers who have a car insurance policy with them. They offer two plans. The pricing can vary depending on your policy and where you live.
- Basic: This plan can cost as little as $12 a year. It provides 15 miles of towing along with standard roadside services, such as jump-starts, fuel delivery, flat tire change and lockout assistance.
- Premier: This affordable service starts around $23 a year and bumps up the towing to 100 miles, along with the other services included in the basic package. In addition, it offers trip interruption coverage up to a $600 limit and $500 of personal property coverage related to a breakdown.
This plan is reasonably robust but does come with some restrictions. Pricing varies depending on your car and where you live but expect to start around $35 a year. Pricing may vary depending on the insurance coverages you are carrying.
Towing coverage is limited to 15 miles or the nearest repair facility if you break down in the middle of nowhere. Roadside assistance is covered for an hour of a professional’s time.
The plan covers the other basics: battery jump-start, fuel delivery (you pay for the gas), locksmith service and tire-changing assistance. If your car is located within 100 feet of the road, they’ll winch you out for free; beyond that, you will incur some costs.
State Farm offers robust roadside assistance plan options and it is relatively affordable. Pricing may vary depending on the coverages you carry but expect to pay between $10 and $30 a year for State Farm customers. It includes one hour of mechanical labor, towing to the nearest repair location and delivery of fuel, batteries, oil or tires, but you have to pay for the product. One hour of a locksmith is also included.
Many automakers offer roadside assistance for their new vehicles and connected services like OnStar. While OnStar and other related services provide many benefits of a roadside assistance plan, the pricing is well above the average cost, so we have excluded them.
Program details can vary dramatically between manufacturers, but most include the basics. That includes towing (to the nearest dealership), lockout service, fuel delivery, flat tire change and battery jump-starts.
This service usually comes free with a new vehicle and lasts two to five years. For example, Ford’s program for new cars in 2023 covers the first five years or 60,000 miles from the vehicle’s warranty start date, whichever comes first.
If you purchase a certified used Ford, it may also include roadside assistance. A Gold Certified vehicle comes with seven years of roadside assistance, while a Gold Certified EV may be eligible for eight years of coverage. Blue Certified vehicles get 90 days of roadside assistance.
There are a few restrictions that apply to these types of plans. The biggest one is that you’re towed to the closest dealership. So, you will be out of luck if you have a favorite mechanic farther away. The other major restriction is that the plan only applies to the new vehicle, compared to a motor club like AAA, which covers the driver, not the car, so any vehicle you are in is protected.
There are too many manufacturers to look at in detail. Here are three examples:
- Ford: Their service lasts five years or 60,000 miles for new cars. It includes towing to the nearest Ford dealership, battery jumpstart, flat tire change, fuel delivery up to two gallons, and opening your locked car.
- Audi: Just because you spend more on the car doesn’t mean you get more service. Audi’s new car roadside assistance program lasts four years from the purchase date. It includes towing to the nearest Audi dealer, jumpstarts, flat tire changes, fuel delivery (the fuel cost is covered), lockout service and even winching as long as the car is located next to the road.
- Honda: Honda is on the low end of coverage, with protection only lasting three years from the date of purchase. It includes all the standard items, towing to the nearest dealership, winching, flat tire changes, jump-starts, two gallons of fuel free of charge and lockout service. Coverage also includes trip Interruption with a total benefit of $300, translating to $100 per day for three days maximum.
Numerous credit cards offer some roadside assistance. You often have to pay for it on a per-incident basis. The roadside program may be free for more upscale cards, such as ones with an annual fee.
The roadside assistance program offered by a credit card company can be convenient. However, if you are in an older car and need roadside assistance more than once a year, it may not make financial sense.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Visa: Most of their standard cards offer roadside assistance for a flat fee of $79.95 per incident. The coverage gets you towing up to five miles, tire changing, jump-start, lockout service and winching if your car is within 100 feet of the road. You also get fuel delivery, but you pay for the cost of the fuel.
- AMEX: American Express has discontinued roadside assistance on all its cards.
- MasterCard: While MasterCard does offer roadside assistance, you must pay for all the services you use; the cost will be charged to your card. MasterCard has pre-negotiated fees for standard roadside assistance services.
Which is the best roadside assistance plan for you?
There is no definitive answer to this question; it all depends on your needs and budget. Here are a few things to consider:
Be strategic: When shopping for a roadside assistance plan, consider your needs before signing on the dotted line. It is easy to overpay for something you won’t need or use.
Auto clubs, such as AAA, offer various other services. That includes trip planning, hotel discounts, motels and other attractions, maps and even identity theft monitoring. If these services are something you need or would use, an auto club probably makes the most sense.
Even in the auto club sphere, you have choices and switching plans over time may make sense.
“Be strategic when choosing a plan, AAA Basic will probably work fine for a new car owner but consider upgrading to plus or premium as the car gets older,” says Skyler McKinley, director of public relations & government affairs with AAA Colorado.
However, if you are only interested in roadside assistance when you need it without the bells and whistles, there may be cheaper options out there. Consider your budget and needs. Then, decide which plan is correct for you.
Age of your vehicle: If you are driving a brand-new car or one only a few years old, you probably won’t use a roadside assistance plan often.
“The incident rate (how often you use it) for roadside assistance averages 35%,” Blecher says. “That number drops down to 10% for drivers in new cars or vehicles that are only a few years old.”
This means that most drivers use their roadside assistance roughly once every three years. So, if your car is brand new, you can probably get by with the plan offered by your vehicle manufacturer or insurer.
Once the vehicle ages out of the manufacturer’s roadside assistance program, you may want to switch to an auto club or a program offered by your insurance company.
How far you drive: If you don’t drive that far and mainly stick around familiar areas, you may not need the full support of an auto club. Using an insurance company plan or the one from your vehicle manufacturer may be the best option.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, these plans will meet your needs,” Blecher says.
On the other hand, if you spend hours behind the wheel and often end up in the middle of nowhere, the more generous benefits of an auto club are probably your best bet.
The good news is that there are many options, including cheap roadside assistance plans. However, what’s the best roadside assistance plan depends on multiple factors.
AAA. “Compare Memberships and Pricing.” Accessed November 2023.