Finding the Best Roadside Assistance Plan

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AAA may be the best-known provider of roadside assistance, with more than 50 million members, but it has plenty of competition. Numerous insurance firms, automakers, oil companies, and even cellphone service providers offer assistance plans for emergencies on the road. Most plans cover the basic problems, such as dead batteries, flat tires, empty gas tanks, lockouts, and mechanical breakdowns that require a tow. The fees and details for these services vary, though. Here's a closer look at some of the most popular plans -- including some coverage you may already have.

Starting Price for Basic PlanTowingLockout AssistanceDead Battery AssistanceTire Change ServiceMobile App
AAA$52/year (in New York; varies by state) Up to 3 milesUp to $50YesYesYes
BP Motor Club$78/yearUp to 5 milesYesYesYesNo
Allstate$52/yearUp to $100YesYesYesYes
ProgressiveVaries by policyUp to 15 milesYesYesYesYes
HondaFree (within warranty term: three years or 36,000 miles)To nearest dealerYesYesYesNo
ToyotaFree (within warranty term: two years or 25,000 miles)To nearest dealerYesYesYesYes
Verizon$3/month/lineUp to 10 milesYesYesYesYes
AT&T$3/month/lineUp to $50Up to $50Up to $50Up to $50Yes

Auto Clubs.

This is the most popular type of roadside assistance plan, with AAA the dominant player. Auto club memberships usually follow the member regardless of the vehicle and usually cover rental cars, as well. Memberships typically are for individuals and family members can be added for an additional fee. The basic annual plan at AAA, where fees vary by state, costs $52 in New York and $28 for an additional driver, for example, and includes three miles for each tow; $40 more extends towing coverage to 100 miles. By comparison, BP Motor Club costs $78 a year for basic coverage that includes five miles for each tow.

Insurance Companies.

Another avenue to explore is the roadside assistance services offered by insurance providers. Most car insurance plans charge a small fee, in the range of $5 extra on a premium you already pay, to cover the basic services. Read the fine print, though, because some plans require a certain level of insurance coverage before the policyholder can add roadside assistance. Also find out whether a service call will bump up your rates and whether the plan covers the vehicle or the driver. With Allstate, for example, the regular insurance is good only for a specific vehicle, and Progressive offers roadside assistance only when the driver is marooned in a car insured on the policy. Allstate Motor Club provides roadside assistance for any car the member (or another adult in the household) is driving.

Automakers.

For new and certified used cars still under warranty, roadside assistance is often provided by the manufacturer. For example, starting in 2015, a new Honda includes complimentary roadside service for three years or 36,000 miles. Each automaker offers different levels of coverage, and not all are free. Some manufacturers place restrictions on who can tow a vehicle and where it can be delivered for repairs. Toyota, for example, will tow a car to the nearest Toyota dealership at no charge. While the free tow is appealing, it may result in higher repair costs at the dealer compared with an independent shop.

Cellphone Service Providers.

A cellphone can come in handy in more ways than one when you're stranded on the highway. Some cellphone service providers offer relatively affordable roadside assistance plans. These plans are attached to the phone, which means that others can use the assistance as well, as long as you (and your phone) are on the scene. For Verizon customers, coverage costs $3 a month for each line and includes up to 10 miles of towing. A plan from AT&T costs $2.99 a month and covers up to four service calls a year for a $50 maximum benefit.