When your car breaks down, getting it fixed is expensive enough – but so is just getting it towed to the mechanic. Here's how to cheaply get off the hook the next time your car is on the hook.
I own a clunker. It guzzles gas and makes strange noises. A couple of weeks ago, I got into the car, turned the key, and it made no noise. After an hour of trying and cursing, I gave up. Another hour later, I was riding shotgun in a tow truck, glaring at my broken car in the rearview mirror.
Two hours of car trouble was bad enough, but then the tow truck driver told me it would cost extra to cross county lines. It was also going to cost extra since my problem was “probably related to the key” – whatever that means. In the end, I paid $100 to have my car towed 8 miles home.
I paid too much because I didn’t plan ahead. Only later did I learn that cheap roadside assistance is available. In fact, you may already have it.
Some auto insurance companies, credit card providers, and auto manufacturers offer the service (basically) free to their customers. If you don’t have it, you can add it onto another service or pay for a standalone car club. Here’s what I’ve learned…
Some new and used cars come with a warranty that covers roadside assistance. The coverage varies, but you can typically use it if you lock yourself out of the car, run out of gas, or need a tow. Edmunds.com has a list of roadside assistance coverage by manufacturer. There is one caveat – they may only tow your car to the nearest dealership.
Some credit card companies (like Bank of America) offer roadside assistance free. There may be a limit on the number of towing miles or other exclusions, so call and ask before you use the service.
If you have comprehensive and collision auto insurance, you can add roadside and towing assistance to your plan. While the cost varies depending on your location and the type of car you drive, these are the estimates I got:
While my wireless provider (T-Mobile) doesn’t offer roadside assistance, most of the major carriers do. You get towing (distance limits may apply), locksmith assistance, tire changes, and gas service. Here are the costs:
These standalone services require a membership. Here are the rates:
Roadside assistance programs come with restrictions, and sometimes the cheapest plans aren’t worth the limitations. Before you sign up, ask these questions:
In the end, I added roadside assistance to my Geico insurance policy and signed up for Allstate’s Good Hands program as a backup. (Hey, it’s free.) I’m paying $29.96 a year for the service, but that’s $70.04 cheaper than my recent tow. If I end up needing four tows in the next two years – pretty likely given my clunker – I’ll save $340.08. That’s a good chunk of change to put toward a new car.
Angela Colley is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.