What you need to know about Roadside Assistance programs

With one of the world’s highest rates of car ownership, Australia has a lot of vehicles out on the road (roughly 21 million) but with that, some problems can come along for the ride.

One of these is breaking down, an inconvenience that most drivers have had, or will have happen at least once in their driving lives. In reaction to, or even to pre-empt this, roadside assistance can seem like an obvious service to engage.

What is roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance is a service to help drivers with car breakdowns or other car health issues. They are sold by state-based motoring clubs like NRMA and RACV, car insurers, some major car companies and dedicated roadside assistance providers.

All roadside assistance programs generally offer the same services. Firstly, they put you in touch with a call centre who will try to diagnose the problem (if you aren’t sure) and offer advice to try and fix it. If this can’t be done, they will send out a technician to either fix your car (even if it is a temporary fix) or tow it to a service centre if it can't be fixed and/or driven.

According to a spokesperson from Australia’s leading customer advocacy program, CHOICE, roadside assistance services differ depending on the plan you have but some common services include flat batteries, flat tyres, running out of fuel, towing and basic repairs.

“Extra features that come with more expensive plans include 'health checks' for your vehicle, child seat installation, accommodation if you break down away from home, and a hire car if your car can't be repaired quickly,” says CHOICE spokesperson, Daniel Graham.

How much does roadside assistance cost?

It depends. The cost of roadside assistance varies from basic plans starting at around $100, to plans with the highest benefits and extra features which can be upwards of $300.

“As you'd expect, more expensive plans tend to come with more bells and whistles than you get with a budget plan. Top shelf plans tend to have higher benefits, as well as extra features that go beyond simply getting your car back on the road,” says Graham.

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Which one should I get?

Some considerations when choosing roadside assistance include where you live and how much driving you do.

“If you live in a city, a budget plan might be enough to suit your needs. But if you live in the country or you travel a lot, then you should consider opting for a higher level of cover,” says Graham.

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Additionally, some providers have weight restrictions for their cheaper options.

“If you have a trailer or caravan, 4WD or motor home, you'll probably need to look for a more expensive plan. The same goes if you do a lot of travelling: these options usually have higher benefits for accommodation and towing outside metro areas,” he says.

To help weigh up your options, and compare prices, the price comparison site, Finder has information about state-based roadside assistance service companies where you can view what is offered with a variety of plans.

They also have the customer satisfaction awards from 2023, which shows 600+ customer reviews of different roadside assistance brands – NRMA took out the number one spot, with 94% of customers recommending it, YOUi and Virgin Money were also highly recommended.

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Other things to consider

You may already have it – Sometimes car insurance can include roadside assistance and often if you have purchased a new car, this will be included too so it’s a good idea to check your car insurance policy and your after-sales service.

Pre-existing conditions Like health insurance some roadside assistance plans don’t cover vehicle pre-existing conditions, so it’s important to check to see if the plan you’re considering does.

Annual call-out limits – Some services will have a maximum number of callouts included per year.

Driver or vehicle – Some roadside assistance services cover the driver, and others, the specific vehicle.

Towing limits – The distance they will tow your vehicle before you must pay extra for it.

Related: What sort of car insurance is right for you?
Related: What should I do if my car breaks down?
Related: Is no spare tyre a real deal-breaker?

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