Too many people avoid buying roadside assistance, thinking it will be expensive or unnecessary. But it's actually super affordable and can save you major money in the long run.
Advertisement

You'd be surprised how many people brush off roadside assistance as too expensive or unnecessary. Maybe it's because they feel they have the tools and knowledge to jumpstart a car or change a flat tire on their own. However, roadside assistance is actually much more than just that—and is likely not nearly as expensive as you might think.

I vividly remember the first time I used roadside assistance for something other than a dead battery. My Ford Escape was stuck in a huge pile of snow. Do you know what that's like? You park your car between a few piles of snow, thinking it won't be that hard to get it out—but then the plow truck drives by, piling more snow around your car. Then it happens again and again and again. 

By the time you get to the car, it's impossible to get it out. To make it worse, it warmed up slightly during the day and then refroze at night, turning the piles of snow that surrounded my car into solid ice. Since I was used to driving a Subaru, I thought that the Ford could easily make it over the pile—and inevitably I became stuck on top of a giant mountain of snow. Roadside assistance came to my rescue, lifting my car out of the snow-turned-ice and onto the pavement. And that's exactly the point. 

"It's a security blanket for drivers," says Kevin Quinn, vice president of claims and customer experience at Mercury Insurance. "Roadside assistance covers more than most people think and tends to get quite a bit of use by owners."

While roadside assistance is useful for snow emergencies like I had (and basics such as jumpstarting a car and changing a tire), it's most crucial when you have a major failure.

"All too often, we see people without roadside assistance who fear paying for a tow attempt to limp their vehicle to the shop, only to have that extra driving end up ruining major components such as motors or transmissions," says Nicole Miskelley, manager at PMR Auto & Diesel Repair and PMR Towing.

What's included in roadside assistance?

Most policies cover:

  • Installing a flat tire
  • Jumpstarting your car
  • Installing a new battery 
  • Towing to a repair facility (distance depends on your coverage)
  • Key retrieval if you lock your keys in the car
  • Fuel delivery in the event that you run out
  • Winching if stuck in snow, mud, water, or sand (usually on-road or within a short distance)

Additional benefits some roadside assistance plans include, but not limited to:

  • Tow to an EV charging station
  • Mechanical labor on scene may be covered to a certain extent
  • Bike towing
  • Trip interruption coverage
  • Motorcycle / RV coverage
  • Roadside assistance coverage in cars that aren't your own, like rentals, friend's vehicles, etc.

How much does it cost?

All roadside assistance is not created equal, but having any roadside assistance that covers towing is better than no coverage at all. With so many benefits and generational misinformation, many people think of AAA as the only roadside assistance option. And when they hear the price, sometimes that scares folks away. But here's the thing: a AAA membership is about more than just basic roadside assistance; there are so many other quality options available, and some people may have coverage without realizing it. 

Most new cars come with some level of roadside assistance as part of the initial warranty. If you purchase an extended warranty, those typically also come with roadside assistance. But, if you have to buy it separately, one of the least expensive places to buy roadside assistance is your own car insurance company.

"Roadside assistance is really easy to purchase," says Quinn. "It is a separate coverage, like rental, that can be added to any Mercury comprehensive and collision coverage plan by contacting a local agent or Mercury directly."

Many insurance companies offer roadside assistance at a very low rate—starting at less than one dollar a month, in fact. You can also buy insurance directly from roadside assistance companies such as AAA. 

"Many contractual cell phone carriers also offer roadside service to customers—a service many customers never even realize," says Miskelley. "Auto repairs can carry roadside service, too. Many parts suppliers now offer nationwide roadside coverages that their shops can pass on to customers as an additional incentive."

Read the details of what's covered, the distance the company will tow your vehicle, and additional benefits, comparing them to make an educated decision on where to purchase coverage from. If you forgot to call your roadside assistance provider, or if they are unavailable, "for those who have coverage, and did not call Mercury, we'll reimburse them," says Quinn. Many other providers offer this as well.

This story originally appeared on RealSimple.com.