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How to pick the best roadside assistance program

You can never predict whether you’re going to need roadside assistance for a flat tire, dead battery or other vehicle issue, but if you’re a member of a roadside assistance program, you’ll be covered when it happens. The difficult part is deciding which program best fits your family’s needs. Roadside assistance plans are most often offered along with new or certified used car purchases, by stand-alone companies, or as add-ons through your insurance, credit card or cellphone company.

Roadside assistance for new or used cars

If you’re purchasing a new or certified used car that is still under warranty, you may have free roadside assistance coverage for a limited length of time or mileage. Automotive industry resource Edmunds has compiled a list of roadside assistance coverage for new cars by manufacturer. Each automaker sets its own limits on how long the free service will last by mileage or age of vehicle. Covered services vary per manufacturer or dealer and may require that the vehicle is towed to the nearest dealership, which could result in high repair costs.

Many people purchase extended warranties on late-model used cars through the dealership or a third-party service. Roadside assistance and towing are often included in the warranty purchase price, but may be limited to specific dealerships or conditions. While you should never purchase a warranty for the purpose of obtaining roadside assistance, if you are already planning to purchase a warranty, you may have the coverage.

Both of these options for roadside assistance will only apply to the specific car, so unless you only have new or covered certified used cars, you will need another type of coverage for your other vehicles. Also, you won’t be covered if you’re riding in someone else’s car or in a rental.

Stand-alone roadside assistance companies

AAA may be the most well-known roadside assistance program, but there are several others that are worth a look. Most programs cover basic roadside assistance: jump starts, flat-tire assistance (using your spare), fuel delivery (usually at cost), lockout assist (with a fee if a locksmith is needed), and towing and extrication, though limits vary greatly on these.

AAA

AAA membership covers an individual. Roadside assistance plans are based out of regional offices, so costs and coverage may vary per region.

  • Cost: Basic or plus membership options; fees vary by region: Around $59 for basic or $89 for plus (single), or $119 for premier. There is also a $10-$20 sign-up fee. Additional members can be added to plans for an extra $30 – $45 each. 
  • Coverage:  The basic plan offers towing up to three miles, flat tire change, battery boost, fuel delivery, and other benefits. The plus membership offers  towing up to 100 miles, flat tire change, battery boost, free fuel delivery and other increased benefits. 
  • Extras: No-fee traveler’s checks, trip tickets, maps and travel discounts. Attraction ticket discounts: $1-$12 off tickets for zoos, amusement parks, water parks, movie theaters and more.

Better World Club

Better World Club is the only “green” auto club that provides  roadside assistance discounts for green cars and green travel. It also offers bicycle coverage add-ons and options. The service also touts a 30-60 minute response time. Membership covers an individual.

  • Cost: $58.95 for basic or $97.95 for premium (bicycle, motorcycle or RV plans also available).  You can add up to three additional members for $37 or $51 per person respectively. There’s a $15 new member sign up fee, which is waived if you’re making the switch from AAA. 
  • Coverage: Up to four calls per year for each covered member. Standard assistance is covered, plus five miles of towing with basic, or 100 miles covered for premium (no secondary tows from a repair facility).
  • Extras: If you drive a hybrid, diesel or biodiesel vehicle, your membership fee will be discounted.  It can provide travel services and discounts (some with fees), free maps/trip routing and discounts with other eco-friendly companies.

AARP Roadside Assistance

AARP Roadside Assistance is now offered as a special plan through Allstate Roadside. It is available for those 50+. AARP membership is required at $12/year, $43/three years, or $63 five years.

  • Cost: Save up to 20% off Allstate Roadside programs. The Roadside Assist plan is discounted 10% for a price of $62 for the first year for up to two people. Their Roadside Elite program, with the discount, is $119 for the first year for up to two people.  
  • Coverage: For the Assist plan, you’ll get up to three rescues a year and 10 mile towing coverage. Elite members get up to seven rescues a year and a 100 mile towing coverage. 
  • Extras: You’ll be covered in any car, whether you’re the driver or the passenger. There’s also a variety of travel, car care, and auto club benefits. 

National General Motor Club

National General Motor Club offers roadside assistance plans that may be more expensive for individuals but less expensive for families.

  • Cost: $59 for basic plan for single and couple, $79 for standard plan (single), $94 (couple + additional $15 for each dependent), $89 for elite plan (single), $99 (couple), $119 (family, including those under 26 years old).
  • Coverage:  Members are covered in any passenger car. The basic plan includes towing up to five miles, the standard plan up to 20 miles, and the elite plan up to 100 miles. Locksmith services are also covered up to a certain amount under each plan, and all plans cover key replacement up to $25. 
  • Extras: Free maps and trip planning, as well as partner discounts on entertainment, dining and retail with perks connect. 

Good Sam Roadside Assistance

Good Sam Roadside Assistance members get a discount off regular fees. This service also offers one of the more comprehensive RV assistance programs.

  • Cost (current specials): $49.95 for Platinum Auto, $54.95 for Platinum + Auto, or $89.95 for Platinum Complete Auto.
  • Covered:  Up to five calls per year. Platinum Auto — all your owned vehicles are covered, basic services plus towing.  Platinum + Auto — Owned vehicles as well as motorcycles and sport trailers are covered, plus spouse and dependent children are covered, basic services plus unlimited towing to nearest facility (no return towing).  Auto + RV Platinum — Covers all of the above plus travel discounts, tire and wheel road hazard coverage, and emergency travel and medical assistance services.
  • Extras:  10% off AAMCO Repair Discounts. Rental car and hotel discounts. 

Allstate Roadside Assistance

Allstate Roadside Assistance plans are less expensive but only cover up to a certain amount of assistance, which could easily be used up in one service call.

  • Cost:  Their membership plans are $79 for Roadside Advantage and $149 for Roadside Elite. Also offer pay-per-use service starting at $119 per tow, and insurance add-on coverage as low as $25 per vehicle.  
  • Coverage:  The Advantage plan offers up to three rescues a year and up to $100 road hazard benefits. The Elite plan offers up to five rescues a year and up to $250 road hazard benefits. 
  • Extras: Some travel planning and discounts. Trip interruption insurance included in both plans. 

Add-on coverage plans

These add-on roadside assistance plans are offered by select cellphone companies, auto insurance companies and credit cards. You either pay a small fee on your normal bill or are only charged with you utilize the plans.

Phone companies

AT&T Roadside Assistance
If you’re an AT&T customer, look at AT&T Roadside Assistance. I’ve used this service for towing to and from a nearby repair shop and all charges were covered.

  • Cost:  $2.99/month billed monthly per enrolled phone, automatically billed to your wireless account. 
  • Coverage:  Up to four calls per year with a $75 service benefit per call.  This service follows the phone, covering drivers or passengers, family members or friends, your car or theirs, as long as the enrolled phone is present. You, or anyone you authorize, can use the service. This plan provides up to $75 of coverage for basic services within 24 hours of enrollment, along with towing (for mechanical failure only), winching and minor mechanical adjustments. For services over the $75 limit, payment must be made at the time of service and will not be billed to the cellphone account.
  • Extras:  AT&T does not charge for up to three gallons of fuel (many companies charge for the fuel cost).

Verizon Roadside Assistance

If you have Verizon, take a look at Verizon Roadside Assistance. 

  • Cost:  $4.99/billed monthly per cellphone line.
  • Coverage:  Up to four service calls per year. Coverage follows the cellphone, so any vehicle is covered as long as the phone is present. Coverage is active 48 hours after enrollment and includes basic services, plus towing up to 10 miles (for mechanical failure only) and winching (up to $100 worth).
  • Extras:  No charge for up to three gallons of fuel.

Insurance companies

Most insurance companies offer a towing and labor add-on for $2-$5 per month that includes basic services and some level of towing.

Some companies require that you have comprehensive and collision coverage. Before you sign up, find out whether service calls are treated like a claim and will result in higher premiums.

Credit card companies

Many credit card companies offer roadside assistance that follows the credit card; in other words, the cardholder is covered even if it’s someone else’s vehicle. Most do not require an annual fee, but will charge $59-$95 per service call for basic services and limited towing, and extra services may incur additional charges. Discover, Visa, and MasterCard all follow the preset service charge model, while American Express will pay the first $50 for services up to four times per year.

While this may not be the roadside assistance program on which you want to rely, if you find yourself without coverage and need help, you may save money by going through your credit cards rather than paying completely out of pocket.

Choosing a roadside assistance program

When deciding which roadside assistance program is right for you and your family, consider who needs to be covered and what vehicles they drive, and whether you need to be covered in other vehicles. You also want to compare different companies’ average response times for service calls, whether memberships cover all costs or if you’ll need to seek reimbursement, whether calls cover accidents or just electrical/mechanical failure, and how often and for what distance towing is covered.

Roadside assistance programs aren’t one-size-fits-all, but many people will benefit from having a plan in place. Even if you own new cars that are still under warranty and you find the coverage is sufficient, you may want to sign up for coverage for your teens’ cellphone lines that will cover them if they are riding with friends.

Once you’ve decided on a roadside assistance plan for you or your family, make sure each covered person has the number programmed into his or her cellphone or written down in a wallet and has the information easily accessible in the car.

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