According to the AA, one-in-three of the Britons who take their cars abroad each year do so without taking out the right breakdown cover.
They may already have such cover for their UK motoring, and honestly believe that it’s also sufficient for when they’re driving on foreign roads, but many know it’s not and simply take the risk.
Having no cover is a high financial risk
And it certainly is quite a risk. Recent research by SAGA, the company specialising in products and services for older Brits, showed that there are around one million over-50s who drove their cars in Europe last year.
Of these, 5,000 had to be towed back to Britain because their cars broke down and another 80,000 experienced minor breakdowns which were dealt with either at the side of the road or in a local garage.
The AA estimates that the average cost to repatriate a vehicle to the UK is around £1,000, so getting your car towed home doesn’t come cheap!
The dangers of not having breakdown cover in Europe
Without breakdown cover when driving abroad, you’re leaving yourself open to some pretty major costs which you would have to stump up for yourself without the back up of an insurance company.
Towing from a motorway or remote spot in the mountains can be extremely expensive. In addition, would you really be confident enough in your language skills and ability to source help to get your car fixed, not to mention without being ripped off? Who would you call? Would you even be able to pay the full amount if it runs into many hundreds, or even thousands, of euros?
Additionally, you might be en-route to a pre-paid vacation villa or hotel. If the breakdown or accident is serious, you could be stranded for days before the correct parts have been delivered and work carried out to fix your car and allow you to carry on your way.
What to consider when buying European breakdown cover
Breakdown policies for driving overseas vary widely, depending on many factors such as how long you want the cover for, what claim limits you require and the scope of the cover. As with most insurance it’s usually the case that the better, more comprehensive policies cost more.
You can buy it as a stand-alone, additional policy to your existing UK car insurance, but usually, assuming your current insurer is of a reasonably good enough standard, you should be able to simply add it to your UK cover at additional cost.
Main points to consider
Here are the main points to consider when buying breakdown insurance for driving abroad:
Where you’re going
If you’re just going on a one week trip to the north of France, cover costs less than for a policy covering ‘Zone two’, which is most of Europe.
Length of trip
If you’re certain your trip will only be once a year for a few weeks or less, it’s probably going to be cheaper to buy cover just for the period you’re away, rather than for an annual policy. Expect to pay around £45 for short-term cover in Zone two, with annual cover costing around £100.
Basically, you’ll pay more for an older car, which reflects the greater potential for it to break down.
Parts and labour
Having a car fixed in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is fraught with the potential for being ripped off, and standard cover doesn’t usually include parts and labour. However, this can usually be added to the terms of your cover, but it will cost you more.
Don’t just buy on cost!
Choosing European breakdown cover shouldn’t just be about cost. If you end up with the cheapest policy, you might find yourself still stranded abroad, with only the cost of the tow you received to the local garage covered. If you want car repatriation, roadside rescue, vehicle replacement, parts and labour and accommodation included, make sure they are; even if it costs you a little more it could be worth it.
The better policies provide you with a replacement vehicle while you’re car is being fixed, or for the rest of your holiday if it can’t be. It really is a good idea to make sure this is included otherwise you could find yourself having to pay for expensive car hire, possibly in peak season.
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Alternative travel and accommodation arrangements
Many policies will pay for travel costs, including alternative accommodation if your plans have to change because of breakdown. But some of the cheapest policies won’t.
As with UK cover, there are claim limits applied to European breakdown cover. Maximum allowable claims of between £1,500 and £2,500 are not uncommon. For short breaks, such as four days, this figure is more likely to be £350 to £400.
Better standard policies include covering the cost of repatriating a vehicle to the UK, but the cheaper policies might not. Check carefully, as for most people, this is a fairly vital element of cover.
Bad workmanship isn’t covered
Unfortunately, if the work carried out on your car is of a poor quality and more work is needed when you get back to the UK, the European breakdown insurance won’t cover it.
Most European breakdown cover doesn’t include theft from vehicles.
Ongoing mechanical issues
If your car consistently has trouble starting, or has another slow-burn problem which flares up while you’re away, you may not be covered. You should tell your insurer about the issue before you leave; if you don’t it could invalidate your cover completely, even if it’s not related to the issue which actually caused the breakdown.
Number of claims
As with UK breakdown cover, there will be a limit to the number of claims you can make (this is only really relevant to an annual policy).
One key thing to look out for is dedicated, multi-lingual claim helplines which you can call for assistance, from the roadside if need be, for obvious reasons! Most of the better policies should offer this, but cheaper ones might not.
It’s not an obligation
You’re not legally obliged to take out European breakdown cover, but as explained above, the financial risk you’re taking is considerable if you don’t.