UPDATED: May 20, 2013
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There are several types of emergency roadside assistance coverages offered by insurance companies, and it’s in your best interest to research your options before settling on any particular coverage. Roadside assistance coverage is an optional feature on any auto insurance policy, and you must ask for it specifically when buying the policy; it will not usually be included automatically in a full-coverage auto policy.
The simplest type of roadside assistance pays only for towing. Be aware that accident-related towing is already covered by your collision or comprehensive coverage if the vehicle is rendered non-drivable in an accident. For example, if you hit a tree and damage your engine, your collision coverage will pay to tow your vehicle to a nearby repair shop.
Towing coverage, then, is useful in non-accident situations when your vehicle requires a tow. Examples may include a dead battery, flat tire or other mechanical issue. Depending on your policy, your towing coverage may be limited by a flat fee or mileage amount.
In addition to basic towing coverage, some insurance companies offer more complex roadside services. The policy may cover the cost of a locksmith, or it may pay to deliver you gas if you run out on the side of the road. The most complex of these policies include additional coverages that will pay for things like a hotel if your car is wrecked away from home.
Using Your Roadside Assistance Coverage
Many insurance companies handle their towing and roadside assistance policies on a reimbursement-only basis. This means that you are responsible for paying the tow truck driver yourself, then submitting a receipt to your insurer. In other cases, you may be able to call your insurance company to have a tow truck or locksmith dispatched to your location. These policies may be more expensive than the reimbursement-based ones.
Depending on your situation, roadside assistance coverage may not be necessary. In many cases, it’s possible to get similar or better protection from another source. For example, some vehicles include roadside assistance in their warranties, so you can have these services completed by your dealership. You can also enroll in an auto club like AAA for affordable towing coverage. Many cell phone providers also offer roadside assistance for a few dollars a month.
Before purchasing roadside assistance or towing coverage on your car insurance policy, shop around to see if you can get a better deal elsewhere. Although the coverage is not usually very expensive, it may not be as thorough as coverage offered by a different company. Determining what you need and finding the best price for that coverage will ensure that you stay well-protected without any unnecessary expense.