Put the brakes on double breakdown insurance


Insurance companies routinely include free breakdown assistance as part of their comprehensive policies so why bother with expensive extra cover?

IT’S PITCH DARK, pouring rain and your car gives up the ghost, leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Who are you going to call? Preferably a friend who’s handy with a spanner and is willing to drive through the night to your aid, but if they’ve started screening your calls, what next? Before you resign yourself to sleeping in your car overnight, have a quick rifle through your glove compartment for your insurer’s details, as there’s a decent chance your motor cover includes breakdown assistance, even if you’re not aware of it.

Insurers such as Quinn, Aviva and Zurich automatically provide roadside rescue as part of their standard motor cover packages – for no additional cost. Simply call the relevant helpline and a knight in shining tow-truck will soon ride to your rescue.

Take Aviva. It insures about one in five cars on the road, and all of those cars are covered for free breakdown assistance. It attends over 35,000 call-outs a year, with a fleet of 14 Aviva-branded patrols and a number of contractors providing this service. If your car can’t be fixed on the roadside, they’ll tow it to the nearest competent garage or your own garage, whichever is closer, free of charge.

Pricewatch has first-hand experience of availing of Aviva’s breakdown rescue service (on numerous occasions), for everything from a flat battery in our driveway to a snapped fan belt on the motorway, and each time the call-out wait was short and the mechanics thankfully uncondescending. Most importantly they quickly had us on the road again.

Zurich offers free roadside assistance as part of its comprehensive motor insurance policies. This benefit is being used more and more frequently by its customers, as they become aware that it is included in their policy. Zurich also covers those ‘doh!’ moments, when you realise you’ve locked your keys in your car, filled up your new diesel vehicle with petrol or run out of fuel. Availing of Zurich’s service does not affect your no-claims bonus.

Quinn Insurance will arrange and pay for one hour’s assistance on the roadside or at your home. It covers everything from mechanical breakdown to fixing a puncture, replacing a wheel or dealing with a key broken in the lock. If the problem can’t be fixed, they’ll tow you to the nearest competent repairer or the garage of your choice, whichever is closer.

If your insurer doesn’t offer free roadside rescue, you might want to switch to one that does, or else buy a standalone rescue product to fill the gap, so that you won’t be left stranded in the event of a breakdown. With 179,000 members, the dominant player in this market is AA Ireland. It was called out to 154,000 breakdowns last year. It also has the largest fleet of rescue vehicles in the country, with about 100 directly-employed AA patrols, and a support network of 140 garage agents.

However, and this is a big however, AA cover is expensive. Its standard roadside rescue package costs €146 a year, which covers you for breakdown assistance on the open road (ie, not at your home) in Ireland and the UK. It costs an extra €48 to upgrade to the ‘home start’ option, which will mean you’re also covered at, or near, your home. Opting for AA’s premium membership, Rescue Plus, means the cost of onward travel will be covered if your car can’t be repaired straight away.

The specific benefits under this package include a replacement car, or overnight accommodation for five people or a refund of public transport expenses up to €200. This package will set you back €216.

There are much cheaper options such as the cover offered by breakdowncover.ie. This company has a nationwide network of breakdown and recovery agents, which it says is the same network used by other Irish recovery organisations when they can’t deploy their own patrols. Its two-star roadside assistance product costs just €25 a year, while its four-star package (which covers roadside assistance, onward travel and home start) is €49.

So why would a motorist join AA when such cheap alternatives exist? And why do some drivers effectively double-insure themselves by taking out cover with AA when they already have free breakdown assistance with their car insurer? A direct price comparison is unfair, argues AA’s director of policy Conor Faughnan, as AA membership is very much a “high-end quality product”.

“We are the largest and longest established breakdown provider in Ireland,” Faughnan says. He points out that that AA membership is “not just roadside assistance, as is the case with insurance policy add-ons”. For example AA members can avail of a range of discounts on home and motor insurance, and in other areas such as leisure and hotels.

He adds that AA’s membership is unique in that it covers the member and not the car. “This means that even if the member is travelling in a friend’s car they are covered for assistance anywhere in Ireland or the UK,” he explains. The downside of this policy is that if an AA member wishes to extend their breakdown cover to other people in their household who use their car, such as a spouse or child, they will have to pay an additional €50 a year to do so. Compare this to Zurich and Aviva: their breakdown cover is attached to the car rather than the person, so the car is covered regardless of who is driving it.

Faughnan also makes the point that the breakdown cover provided by insurers is not actually free, as the cost is embedded in the price of the insurance. No doubt that is true, but if you’re already with an insurer that offers this service, surely it is excessive to pay the AA a further €146 plus each year (as some motorists do) for a product that overlaps to a large degree? “Our customer surveys show that at the ‘moment of truth’, AA members are very glad to have AA membership rather than a simpler ‘free’ cover,” he says.

It’s a valid point that motorists shouldn’t be swayed by price alone, and presumably the expertise and size of AA provides reassurance to its members. However an examination of the free cover provided by Aviva reveals that it no less comprehensive than AA’s standard Roadside Rescue membership. Indeed it goes even further. Aviva’s offering includes home start cover, which AA’s does not. Aviva customers are also covered for onward travel if their car can’t be repaired; AA members would have to upgrade to the more expensive Rescue Plus product to be entitled to this benefit.

Furthermore you can make unlimited call-outs with Aviva, whereas AA applies a fair usage policy whereby members are covered for up to six call-outs per year, and may incur a service charge for any call-outs in excess of this. AA has the “best equipped and best trained” patrol force, Faughnan says, but its roadside repair rate of 82 per cent is exactly the same as Aviva’s.

Finally, for those drivers still thinking of double-insuring on breakdown cover, ask yourself this: in what possible scenario would you need to call out rescue vehicles from two different insurance companies?