The Value of Roadside Assistance

Nothing can put a damper on your vacation like running into mechanical problems with your vehicle as you travel. Unfortunately, mechanical breakdowns can strike without warning, leaving you stranded on the side of the road. Many Canadians are turning to roadside assistance plans for peace of mind on long road trips. As of 2008, there were more than 20.2 million vehicles in Canada registered with various roadside assistance plans.

Many insurance companies offer a roadside assistance plan as part of, or in addition to their regular coverage. This type of plan is helpful in two ways:

- It tends to be cheaper than private roadside assistance programs

- It simplifies your record keeping to have both your insurance and roadside assistance with the same company.

Roadside Hazards

Let's look at some of the emergencies that roadside assistance plans cover and how much they can cost for those who aren't covered by a plan. Coverage varies from plan to plan, but most cover these major items. Consult your plan administrator for details if you're in any doubt.

•    Flat tires. This is one of the most common problems that can befall you on a long road trip. Changing a tire on the side of a major highway can be a dangerous and stressful experience. Roadside service professionals can do the job quickly and easily and get you back on the road as soon as possible. Tire repairs typically cost $30-40 without a plan.

•    Lockout Service. Locking your keys in your car is something most of us have done at least once. Your roadside service plan covers the cost of having someone come and open your door.  Lockout service usually costs about $50-60 per incidence without a plan.

•    Minor Repairs. Sometimes you might be lucky enough to have a breakdown that can be fixed quickly, right on the side of the road. Your roadside service professional can perform minor repairs quickly and get you back on the road, without having to tow you to a repair center. The cost depends on the type of repair.

•    Fuel Delivery. If you've run out of fuel, most roadside services will deliver enough fuel to get you to the nearest gas station. Without a plan this service call can cost you around $50 plus the cost of fuel.

•    Battery Boost. Few things are more frustrating than not being able to start your car due to a dead battery. Roadside assistance professionals can jump-start your battery, giving you a chance to recharge or replace it. If you don't have a roadside assistance plan, battery boosts can cost you $40-50.

•    Towing. Some mechanical problems are too serious to fix at the side of the road. If you're in this situation, your roadside assistance plan will pay for towing to the nearest repair location, or in the case of automotive dealer plans, to your dealer's repair shop.  Without a plan towing costs will depend on the towing company that assists you and on how far you're being towed.

•    Winching. If your car has gone off the road and into a ditch, your roadside assistance professionals can help get you out. Winching service can cost $100 or more without a roadside assistance plan.

How to Protect Yourself

In many cases, you can adjust your insurance policy to allow for some of the costs associated with roadside assistance. In Ontario, for example, you can add an Optional Policy Change Form (OPCF) to your policy which covers various situations not covered by the standard policy. For example, OPCF #35 covers the cost of towing your vehicle if it is immobilized due to insured damage.

Talk to your agent or broker to find out the details of the coverages available in your area.

Roadside Assistance Plans

There are a number of roadside assistance plans available in Canada. For example, CAA is the best known Canadian roadside assistance provider. They offer 24 hour service anywhere in Canada for any type of roadside problem you'll encounter. In addition to CAA, there are a number of other service providers.

•    Automotive Dealer Plans. All of the major automakers have their own roadside assistance plans which they administer. You'll be offered membership in the plan when you buy your vehicle and you can contact your dealer to join their plan anytime.

•    Banks and Insurance Companies. The major banks and insurance companies have their own private plans as well. You may be eligible for a discount on your membership fee if you buy your insurance through the same company.

•    Private plans. There are a number of private companies who also offer roadside assistance plans. The level of coverage may vary depending on the company so make sure you thoroughly investigate the costs and benefits before you join.

No matter which service you choose, membership in a roadside assistance is a good idea.  Being prepared for emergencies can help keep you and your family safe as you travel this summer.