Roadside Assistance vs Emergency Towing Services: How They’re Different

Roadside Assistance vs Emergency Towing Services: How They’re Different

When something goes wrong with your car out on the road, most people have two options: Call an emergency towing service, or contact your roadside assistance program. Those two choices may sound like the same thing, but there are important differences.

Read on for a breakdown of what you can expect from each of these services, including pros and cons, and average costs.

Recommended: Does Auto Insurance Roadside Assistance Cover Keys Locked in a Car

What Is Roadside Assistance?

Roadside assistance comes to your aid when your car breaks down or some other mishap keeps you from using your car. If you find yourself stranded, roadside assistance will send help (a mechanic, locksmith, tow truck) to get your car back on the road, to a repair shop, or back home.

Roadside assistance packages vary from one provider to the next, but most include the following:

•   Flat tire change

•   Battery jump-starts

•   Fuel delivery

•   Lockout assistance

•   Winching/extrication

•   Quick-fix services

Any benefits you receive on top of these basics are determined by the roadside assistance plan you sign up for. For example, some plans include trip interruption coverage or a guaranteed arrest bond if you’re charged with a traffic violation. Plans may also offer savings on car maintenance costs, car rentals, hotels, and other perks. Extra benefits may come at an extra cost, however, so it’s important to compare plans carefully.

There are a few different ways you can get a roadside assistance plan, including:

•   Many insurance companies offer some type of roadside assistance coverage, usually as an add-on to your auto insurance policy. If you’re concerned about cost, there are other ways to lower car insurance premiums.

•   Another option is to pay for an auto club membership that’s separate from your car insurance.

•   Your car manufacturer may include a roadside assistance package as part of your warranty or as a limited free trial for a service you can later purchase.

•   Some credit card companies offer access to roadside assistance as a perk to cardholders.

Recommended: Why Personal Insurance Planning Is Important

What Can You Expect When Calling Roadside Assistance?

One of the benefits of participating in a roadside assistance program is that you’ll know exactly who to contact if you need help with your car. You can program the customer assistance number into your phone or download the program’s app, or you can tuck your membership card into your wallet or glove compartment.

Here’s what to expect when you call roadside assistance:

Recommended: How to Get Car Insurance

Calling for Help

First things first: If your child is locked in the car or you’re in a situation where you feel unsafe, you may want to make your first call to 911. The 911 dispatcher will determine whether to send an officer to help.

If you feel safe, you can go straight to calling roadside assistance. You may be asked to verify that you have an account or that the car is yours; so it can help to be ready with your license and registration, proof of insurance, and your roadside assistance plan’s membership card.

Your roadside assistance dispatcher will send the appropriate help from a network of service providers to your location. A technician may try to fix your car onsite, but if that isn’t possible, you can have your vehicle towed to a repair shop or your home, if that’s your choice and it’s within your plan’s mileage limit.

Getting Home

If your car needs to be towed to a repair shop, you probably will be able to ride with the tow truck driver. Once you’re finished there, it’s up to the tow truck driver (or company policy) if you can get a ride home. During busy times, you may be responsible for getting home on your own.

If you’re out of town when your car breaks down, roadside assistance coverage will sometimes pay for an overnight stay in a hotel. (If you travel a lot, you may want to see if this benefit is available when you’re comparing plans.)

Wait Times

Many roadside assistance programs work with a network of providers, so when you call, there may be someone nearby who can get to you quickly and offer the services you need. Generally, you can expect help to arrive in less than an hour.

Several factors can impact your wait time, however. If there’s heavy rain, wind, or a snowstorm, for example, you may have a longer wait. It can also take a while to get help if you’re in a rural location that’s far from a locksmith, mechanic, or towing service — or if you’re in a busy city at rush hour.

Some plans provide updates through texts or an app, so callers can track their current wait time.

Payment

How the service provider who comes to your aid is paid depends on the plan you’re enrolled in. With some programs, if you use the toll-free number or an app, and the dispatcher sends a technician to help, you may not have to pay anything upfront for covered services. But if you contact a tow service, mechanic, or locksmith directly, you will likely pay out of pocket, then submit receipts to your plan for reimbursement.

Some plans don’t have a central dispatcher. In that case, you’d call a provider directly, pay for the services, and then file a reimbursement claim. No matter how your plan handles payments, it’s a good idea to keep a credit card on you when driving.

There is no deductible for roadside assistance. Most programs have very specific limits on what they will cover. For example, if a service technician delivers fuel to your car because you’ve run out of gas, the delivery may be free, but you may have to pay for the gas.

Recommended: How to Lower Car Insurance

What Is the Average Cost of Roadside Assistance?

The price of a roadside assistance plan varies based on several factors:

•   how many vehicles or drivers you want to cover

•   where you live

•   whether coverage is through your auto insurance or another source

•   the level of coverage you choose

Some plans charge less for annual coverage and more for services received, and vice-versa. It can be useful to compare online insurance benefits and quotes to get a sense of what’s available and at what cost.

Generally, you’ll pay less for a plan that’s an add-on to your auto policy versus a stand-alone membership. Allstate, for example, offers a roadside assistance insurance add-on for as little as $25 per year for one vehicle. Without an Allstate policy, the cost of a roadside assistance membership starts at $79 for the first year.

If your insurer doesn’t offer 24-hour roadside assistance, or you don’t like your insurer’s plan, you may want to check out what other insurance companies are offering.

Recommended: How Much Does Insurance Go Up After an Accident?

Pros and Cons of Roadside Assistance

One of the biggest pros of roadside assistance coverage is that you know you’ll have someone to contact any time you’re in need. You can call for advice or hands-on assistance, and someone will be there to help.

As noted above, some plans will post a bond if you’re charged with a traffic violation or reimburse you (within limits) if you need to stay in a hotel overnight. Plans may also include benefits that go beyond roadside breakdowns, such as discounts on travel and entertainment.

If you have to call roadside assistance even once, you may save enough on the services rendered to cover your cost for the year.

Still, no one likes the idea of paying for something they may never use. If you have a newish car that’s well-maintained or you seldom drive far from home, you may decide roadside assistance isn’t for you.

Coverage limits can also be disappointing. Enrolling in a roadside assistance plan doesn’t mean you’ve got a blank check that will cover any cost you incur. You may have to pay something for a tow if you go beyond the mileage limit, for example, or you may have to pay for a new battery or tire if yours needs replacing. There also may be an annual limit on the number of calls for service you can make.

Also, not all costs are covered upfront. Your plan may require you to submit receipts for reimbursement in some or all instances. If you’re averse to paperwork, that may be something to consider.

What Is an Emergency Towing Service?

The main purpose of emergency towing services is to move a vehicle when the driver can’t get back on the road without help. There are several circumstances that might require calling for an emergency tow, including:

•   When you’re in an accident, and either your car can’t be driven or you’re in no shape to drive

•   If your car isn’t running and it’s blocking traffic or putting you and other drivers in danger

•   If you’re pulled over by law enforcement and the officer determines you can’t drive

There are a couple of circumstances in which your car insurance may pay for a tow, even if you don’t have roadside assistance coverage:

•   After an accident and you have collision coverage

•   If your car is damaged — in a flood, fire, etc. — and you have comprehensive coverage

But in most cases, if you don’t have roadside assistance or “towing and labor” coverage through your auto insurance policy, an auto club membership, or a car warranty, you may be on your own when it comes to paying for your vehicle to be towed away.

What Can You Expect When Calling an Emergency Towing Service?

If your car breaks down close to home, you may be able to directly call a reliable repair shop or towing service you’ve worked with in the past. Having that connection can be a benefit if you want to choose the company that will come to your aid quickly.

But if you’re far from home and unfamiliar with the service providers available, you may have to cross your fingers and hope for the best when you call for a tow.

Here’s what you can expect when you call for emergency towing without a roadside assistance plan:

Calling for Help

If your regular mechanic or garage has the right equipment for your needs (a tow truck, a flatbed truck, a winch, etc.), you may be good to go. They can come pick up your car and get you the help you need.

But if you can’t call your favorite repair shop — because you’re out of town or it’s after hours — you may have to make a few calls before you find the appropriate help.

Some companies don’t require a subscription to use their towing and roadside assistance network, so you can try contacting them for help. But if their network doesn’t include services where you are, you may have to try your luck dialing local tow truck companies.

When a tow truck comes to your location, the driver may be able to offer onsite assistance with a flat tire, dead battery, or other problem — but you can’t necessarily count on getting the same help you’d get with a roadside assistance plan. The driver may be equipped only to tow your car back to your house or to a repair shop. And you can expect to pay in full for every service you receive if you don’t have roadside assistance coverage.

No matter who you call, it’s important to be clear about what you need. And of course, if you’re in an accident or feel as though you’re in danger, you should call 911 first.

Getting Home

You may be able to get a ride home from the tow truck driver after they take your car to the garage. But just as with a roadside assistance plan, it will likely be up to the individual driver’s discretion or company rules. If you aren’t sure if there will be a cost for the ride, you may want to ask before you get in the truck. And if you’re far from home, you also may want to ask for hotel recommendations.

Wait Times

Response times for tow trucks generally are determined by availability. If you call a tow company directly and there’s a truck close to your location, you may be able to get faster service than you would calling a roadside assistance plan because you’re eliminating the middleman.

But the same things that can hold up a truck coming through a roadside assistance dispatcher can slow down a company you call directly, including inclement weather, rush hour traffic, and distance.

Payment

If you call a tow truck directly, you can expect to pay the bill out of pocket. Depending on why you’re calling and the type of insurance coverage you have, you might be reimbursed for some costs. But if you’re calling about an overheated engine, dead battery, or flat tire, and you don’t have roadside assistance coverage, your insurance company typically won’t reimburse you for your costs.

What Is the Average Cost of Emergency Towing Services?

According to J.D. Power, towing rates in the U.S. can range between $2.50 and $7 per mile, and the average cost of a tow is about $109. But besides distance, several factors can affect the overall cost of a tow.

It may cost less to have your car towed after a breakdown than if you’ve been in an accident. And if the tow company needs to use special equipment — because your car is stuck in mud, snow, or a deep ditch, for example — that can also increase the price.

Many tow companies also include a base charge or “hook-up” fee that can range from $35 to $100. Some tow companies have a list of basic charges on their website, but if you can’t find pricing, you may want to ask so there aren’t any surprises.

Pros and Cons of Emergency Towing Services

One of the biggest upsides to using emergency towing service may be that you’re eliminating the middleman. You don’t have to wait for the dispatcher to find a network-approved provider to come and get you; you can call any company you like.

Of course, this can also be a drawback if you’re far from your favorite mechanic or repair shop. You may have to make multiple calls to find a tow truck that can come to your rescue.

Another plus to consider is that you won’t have to worry about paying for roadside assistance coverage every year whether you use it or not. You’ll only pay for services you actually use.

But if you do end up calling a tow truck even once and you don’t have coverage, it can mean a whack to the wallet. You can end up paying more for that one tow than you would for a year of roadside assistance coverage — and you won’t be getting the perks.

How To Decide Between Roadside Assistance and Emergency Towing Services

Because there are pros and cons to both roadside assistance coverage and emergency towing services, here are some things you may want to look at when you’re trying to decide between the two:

Your Comfort Level

Are you someone who likes having a plan when things go wrong, or are you OK with winging it? If you like the security of knowing you’ll have just one call to make if you need help on the road, you may prefer roadside assistance coverage.

Your Car

If your car is new or it’s well-maintained and the chances of a breakdown are slim, you may decide you don’t need to pay for roadside assistance coverage.

The cost of some roadside fixes may be covered if your car is still under warranty. And if you have collision or comprehensive coverage through your auto insurance policy, towing costs may be paid in some circumstances.

Your Family’s Needs

Maybe your car is an older model that isn’t exactly reliable. Or maybe you have some first-time drivers in the family, and you want to feel confident they’ll know who to call (besides you) if they run into trouble on the road. You might want to look into what it would take to get new drivers roadside assistance coverage for the whole family.

Value

You may want to list side-by-side the costs of having a roadside assistance plan versus what you might end up paying for a tow or other services out of pocket. Can you afford a plan that fits your needs and budget? Can you afford to not have coverage? (Keep in mind that if you use your plan just once, it may pay for itself for the year.)

Recommended: Auto Insurance Terms, Explained

The Takeaway

When the unexpected happens on the road, you can wing it and call for a tow truck. Or you can contact roadside assistance and feel confident that someone will come help you out ASAP. And some or all of the cost of getting your car back on the road could be covered under your plan. Many drivers consider roadside assistance a good deal for the money: The cost of just one tow is often more than the annual cost of roadside assistance. If you travel a lot, or have young children or new drivers in the family, roadside assistance may be what you need.

If roadside assistance sounds like something you could use, SoFi can make it easy and convenient to find the best auto insurance policy with the right benefits for your needs. SoFi can help you compare auto insurance policies today.

FAQ

What is emergency roadside assistance good for?

Roadside assistance coverage can help you deal with and pay for a range of unexpected costs you might run into while on the road — from fixing a flat tire onsite to towing you to a repair shop for major repairs.

Is emergency roadside assistance worth it?

No one likes paying for something they may never use. But if your car breaks down just once, the convenience and savings you get through your roadside assistance plan may make it worth paying the annual cost.

What is the difference between emergency towing and roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance coverage is meant to help you get the service you need when you have car trouble — on the road or at a repair shop. Depending on the problem, roadside assistance may cover all or a portion of the costs. On the other hand, emergency towing is meant to get your car off the road and to a repair shop where it can be fixed. Generally, you can expect to pay for all the costs related to this service.


Photo credit: iStock/sefa ozel

Insurance not available in all states.
Gabi is a registered service mark of Gabi Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
SoFi is compensated by Gabi for each customer who completes an application through the SoFi-Gabi partnership.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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24-Hour Roadside Assistance for Cars and Trucks

24-Hour Roadside Assistance for Cars and Trucks

Think of 24-hour roadside assistance coverage for your truck or car like having another tool in your emergency kit. Roadside assistance can provide the services you need to get you back behind the wheel ASAP. Services include changing flat tires, fuel delivery, jump-starts, and lockout assistance. The national average cost for roadside assistance when added on to an auto insurance policy is $20/year.

Before you sign up for roadside assistance, it can be useful to know some basics. In this guide, we’ll look at what you can expect when you enroll in a roadside assistance program.

Recommended: Does Auto Insurance Roadside Assistance Cover Keys Locked in a Car

What Is 24-Hour Roadside Assistance?

Roadside assistance plans cover a range of problems that commonly affect motorists. Whether you’re stuck on a busy highway or a lonely roadside, in a mall parking lot or your own driveway, you can ask for help with a dead battery, flat tire, being locked out, and more. These programs not only cover cars and trucks but also motorcycles, RVs, and boat trailers.

Since problems can happen at any time, roadside assistance programs make their services available around the clock. There is no deductible for service calls. Depending on your plan, any costs you incur in an emergency may even be reimbursed.

Recommended: Ways to Save on Car Maintenance

What Are Some Benefits of 24-Hour Roadside Assistance?

Roadside assistance is designed to cover all drivers, but it can be especially useful for parents of young children, first-time drivers, and people with physical limitations. Probably the top benefit of having 24-hour roadside assistance coverage is that there’s a number to call any time you’re in need. You can keep that number programmed in your phone or put it in your wallet or glove compartment — or your provider may offer an app.

You can call for advice or hands-on assistance, and someone will help you get what you need. Some plans may even post bond if you’re charged with a traffic violation, or reimburse you if you need to stay in a hotel overnight because your car broke down. Some plans include other benefits, such as travel discounts and rewards points.

Recommended: How to Get Car Insurance

What Does 24-Hour Roadside Assistance Cover?

Assistance programs vary significantly depending on the service provider, the coverage level, and what you’re willing to pay. So when you’re comparing roadside assistance for cars and trucks, it’s important to understand the details of what each plan covers. Roadside assistance is not intended for use after an accident. In that case, 911 will arrange for help to arrive.

Most companies that offer roadside assistance programs set limits on what they will and won’t pay for. A provider may offer to deliver fuel to your vehicle for free, for example, but you can expect to be charged for the gas you receive. Similarly, roadside assistance may offer free lockout assistance, but there may be a charge if you need to have a new key made. If your car needs a tow, there may be a limit on how many miles you can go for free. There may also be a limit on how many service calls you can make in a year.

Plans have different rules on whether a particular driver or vehicle qualifies for a service call. With some plans, you must be driving your own car when you call for assistance. Other plans will cover you even if you’re the passenger or driver in someone else’s car.

Programs generally include some type of coverage for:

Vehicle Towing

If your vehicle can’t be safely repaired or restarted onsite, roadside assistance can tow it to a nearby repair shop.

Battery Jump-Start or Replacement

Roadside assistance can give your dead battery a jump and, if that doesn’t work, install a new battery onsite or give you a tow.

Changing a Flat Tire

If you have a usable spare tire, your service provider likely can change a flat or blown-out tire onsite. If not, they can tow you somewhere for help.

Lockout Assistance

If you’ve locked your keys in your car, roadside assistance can get a locksmith to help. Even if you’ve lost your keys, the service may be able to get you back in your vehicle and back on the road.

Winching Service

Stuck in snow, mud, sand, or water? Your service provider may bring in a winch to extricate your car or truck.

Fuel Delivery

If you run out of gas, your provider can deliver fuel to your location. And if the battery in your electric car needs a charge, you can ask for a tow to the nearest charging station.

Quick Fix First-Aid

If you have a minor mechanical problem that can be fixed quickly, it may be possible to do so onsite. If not, the service can tow your car to a nearby repair shop.

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What Are Some Ways Drivers Can Get 24-Hour Roadside Protection?

There are few different ways you can get roadside assistance coverage for yourself and your family members. For individuals who set aside time for personal insurance planning, consider adding roadside assistance to your list.

Auto Club Membership

Probably the best-known way to get 24-hour roadside assistance is through an auto club like AAA (pronounced “triple A”). The company will issue you a membership card with numbers to call for service. You may also be able to download an app or send a text to get service.

Plans range from $50 to $160 per year. Your price will depend on how many family members are covered, your location, and the services you’ve selected.

Credit Card Company Benefits

You may be able to access roadside assistance through one of your credit cards. Again, the cost for your overall coverage or a specific service will vary depending on the plan. For example, one credit card provides the service for free to its members but charges $69.95 for a standard service call, including 5 miles of towing.

Vehicle Manufacturer

Some car and truck manufacturers also offer roadside assistance as a perk for new car buyers. Your vehicle may come with protection that lasts for a few years or the length of your limited warranty, or it may be available for only a few months as a free trial for a service you can later purchase. Your sales agreement should provide the details on what your plan covers, or you can ask the dealership.

Car Insurance Company

Many car insurance companies make some type of roadside assistance coverage available to their customers. Some plans provide only the basics, while others may offer two or three different levels of coverage. Costs range from $2 to $5 a month, or $15 to $60 a year.

When you’re considering cost, keep in mind that you may be able to lower your car insurance cost by bundling it with other types of insurance coverage.

Recommended: How Much Does Insurance Go Up After an Accident?

Which Insurance Companies Offer 24-Hour Roadside Assistance?

Insurance companies that provide 24-hour roadside assistance typically offer the service as an add-on to an auto policy. However, in some instances you may be able to access a roadside protection membership without being a policyholder.

If you aren’t sure if you already have roadside protection, contact your agent or log in to your account on your insurer’s website to get information about your coverage. You may also view benefits via online insurance comparison sites. The information also may appear on your insurance card.

Here are a few companies that offer roadside assistance:

Allstate

Allstate offers its 24-hour roadside assistance programs to both policyholders and non-policyholders. Costs and limitations will vary based on the plan you choose.

Geico

Geico’s roadside assistance program is available to policyholders as an add-on, and it covers most of the basics other plans offer. The cost is determined by the number of vehicles you want to cover.

Liberty Mutual

To access Liberty Mutual’s 24-hour assistance program, which offers basic roadside services, you must purchase optional towing and labor coverage as an add-on to your policy.

Nationwide

Nationwide offers roadside assistance as an optional add-on for policyholders. The plan covers the same basic services offered by other insurers, but optional features and program details vary by state.

Progressive

Emergency roadside assistance is available as an optional add-on for Progressive auto insurance policyholders. Progressive’s program covers service basics such as towing, jump-starts, lockout assistance, etc.

State Farm

State Farm’s roadside assistance program is an add-on for policyholders. If you have this coverage and need assistance, State Farm will be billed directly for any basic services you receive, so you won’t have to worry about waiting to be reimbursed.

(The above coverages are accurate as of the writing of this article but may differ in the future.)

What Is the Average Cost of 24-Hour Roadside Assistance for Cars?

When added to your car insurance policy, roadside assistance coverage costs an average of $20 per year. The price of a roadside assistance plan can vary based on how many vehicles you want to cover, where you live, whether your coverage is through your auto insurance or some other source, and the level of coverage you choose.

Some plans charge less for coverage and more for services, and vice-versa. It’s a good idea to compare several different plans and choose the one that works best for your individual needs and budget.

Recommended: How to Lower Car Insurance

What Is the Average Cost of 24-Hour Roadside Assistance for Trucks?

The cost of roadside assistance for a pickup truck is similar to the cost for a car. If you have an RV or another large vehicle, however, you’ll need to check out a plan tailored for the problems you might encounter.

How Much Does 24-Hour Roadside Assistance Cost Without Insurance?

The national average cost of a tow without roadside assistance coverage is $109, or between $2.50 and $7 per mile.

What Makes 24-Hour Roadside Assistance Different from Other Coverage?

Standard car insurance is designed to protect car owners against financial losses when they’re in an accident, or if their car is damaged, stolen, or vandalized. But a standard auto policy doesn’t typically include roadside assistance for something like a flat tire or running out of gas. That’s a different kind of coverage, and it usually costs extra to add it to a car insurance policy.

Another difference: In most states, you are required to carry minimum required car insurance. You aren’t required to carry roadside assistance coverage. It’s your choice.

How Do You Choose a 24-Hour Roadside Assistance Program?

There are a few points you should consider when you’re shopping for a roadside assistance program:

Do You Already Have Protection?

If you aren’t sure, check your car warranty, credit cards, and your car insurance policy. Even if you are covered, it can be a good idea to compare your coverage to what’s available to make sure you have everything you need.

What Are the Coverage Limits?

Read the fine print for details and coverage limits before you sign up for a plan. Be sure you’re getting the services you expect and want most.

What Will It Cost?

Plans are generally low-cost, ranging from $20 to $150 per year. Compare the costs of different plans and determine which works best with your budget.

Does the Provider Get Good Reviews?

Don’t forget to check the provider’s reputation. Reliability is important when you’re stuck on the side of the road waiting for a tow or jump-start. An important part of researching different plans includes reading customer reviews.

The Takeaway

A 24-hour roadside assistance plan provides drivers with whatever help they need to get back on the road as soon as possible. Drivers typically get roadside assistance through their auto insurance, but you can also find it via credit card benefits, car manufacturers, and auto clubs like AAA. Prices vary from $20/year as an auto insurance add-on, to $50-$150/year through an auto club. Considering that the cost of a single tow without coverage can be over $100, many people say the cost of roadside assistance is well worth it.

If you’d like to check out roadside assistance options, you can start by going online to compare your current auto insurance plan and benefits with other major companies. SoFi makes comparing auto insurance policies and rates quick and convenient, so you can get the coverage you need at a price that feels right.

Wondering if you have the car insurance coverage you need? Get started with SoFi Protect today.

FAQ

Does using roadside assistance increase your premium?

If you make only one or two claims a year, utilizing roadside assistance is unlikely to affect your insurance premium. But if you make more than 4-5 roadside assistance claims in a year, your insurance company may want an explanation.

What does roadside assistance cover?

Every plan is different, but most include basic coverage for lockout assistance, changing a flat tire, jump-starting a battery, fuel delivery, using a winch to extract a stuck vehicle, minor engine fixes, and towing.


Photo credit: iStock/nopponpat

Insurance not available in all states.
Gabi is a registered service mark of Gabi Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
SoFi is compensated by Gabi for each customer who completes an application through the SoFi-Gabi partnership.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Should You Call Roadside Assistance for a Flat Tire?

Should You Call Roadside Assistance for a Flat Tire?

Flat tires are one of the top reasons motorists call roadside assistance. Even when you know how to change a tire yourself, calling roadside assistance can be a good move: If you’re stuck on a dark or busy road or you have kids in the car, roadside assistance is safe and fast.

Roadside assistance plans are available from your car insurance provider, car rental companies, and other sources. We’ll explain how roadside assistance works, how much it costs for them to change a tire, and what else the service covers.

What Is Roadside Assistance?

Roadside assistance coverage is designed to help motorists experiencing a range of problems — from a dead battery to an overheated engine. You can call a toll-free number or use an app to contact your provider, and a dispatcher will send a qualified technician to your location. Depending on what services you require, your plan may pay all or some of the costs involved in getting your car back on the road.

You may be able to get roadside assistance coverage as part of your auto insurance policy. There also are auto clubs that sell subscription plans, or you may have a plan through your car’s warranty, credit card, car rental company, or another source. If you’re one of many people who sit down annually for a personal insurance planning session, discuss this option with your insurer.

Recommended: Car Insurance Terms Explained

What Are the Benefits of Roadside Assistance?

Having a specific point of contact anytime you’re in need is arguably the top benefit of having roadside assistance coverage. This is especially important for first-time drivers. Instead of making multiple calls to find help from a nearby mechanic or garage, you can program your provider’s number into your phone or store it in your glove compartment with other relevant papers. If your provider offers an app, you can take advantage of that convenience.

With one call, you can get useful advice on what to do next. After assessing your situation, the dispatcher will get the appropriate service person out to help you. If your car can’t be fixed onsite, you can get a tow to a repair shop — and that cost may be covered, as well.

Some plans offer benefits such as posting bond if you’re charged with a traffic violation, or reimbursing you if you’re away from home and have to stay in a hotel overnight. Plans also may provide discounts on car maintenance, car rentals, hotels, and other perks. However, extra benefits may come at an extra cost.

Recommended: How Much Does Insurance Go Up After an Accident?

What Does 24-Hour Roadside Assistance Cover?

All roadside assistance programs are not the same, so it’s important to understand the coverage details and limitations of each plan you may be considering.

A plan may offer free fuel delivery, for example, for drivers who run out of gas — but typically there will be a charge for the gasoline received. Similarly, a plan may offer free lockout assistance, but a driver can expect to be charged if the locksmith has to make a new key. And there is usually a limit on how many miles a car can be towed for free.

Some plans limit the number of service calls you can make in a year. And plans also can have different rules regarding when a driver is or isn’t covered. With some plans, for example, you must be driving your own car when you call for assistance. But some plans will cover you even if you’re the passenger or driver in someone else’s car.

Programs generally include some type of coverage for:

1. Changing a Flat Tire

If you have a usable spare tire, your service provider likely can change a flat or blown tire onsite. If not, they can tow you to someone who can help.

2. Vehicle Towing

If your vehicle can’t be safely repaired or restarted onsite, roadside assistance can tow it to a nearby repair shop.

3. Battery Jump-Start or Replacement

Roadside assistance can give your dead battery a jump-start and, if that doesn’t work, tow you to a repair shop to get a new battery installed.

4. Lockout Assistance

If you’ve locked your keys in your car, roadside assistance can get a locksmith to help. Even if you’ve lost your keys, the service may be able to get you back in your vehicle and back on the road.

5. Winching Service

Your service provider may bring in a winch to extricate your car if it’s stuck in mud, ice, or a ditch.

6. Fuel Delivery

If you run out of gas, your provider can deliver fuel to your location. And if the battery in your electric car needs a charge, you can ask for a tow to the nearest charging station.

7. Quick Fix First-Aid

If you have a minor mechanical problem that can be fixed quickly, it may be possible to do so onsite. If not, the service can tow your car to a nearby repair shop.

Recommended: How to Lower Your Car Insurance

Auto Insurance Companies That Offer Roadside Assistance

Insurance companies that provide roadside assistance typically offer these services as an add-on to an auto policy. If you aren’t sure if you already have roadside protection, contact your agent or log in to your account on your insurer’s website to get information about your coverage. The information may also appear on your insurance card.

If your car is damaged after an accident or in a flood or fire, your auto policy’s collision or comprehensive coverage may apply to your towing costs. But this is not the same as having roadside assistance or “towing and labor” coverage.

Here are a few insurance companies that offer roadside assistance:

Recommended: Does Auto Insurance Roadside Assistance Cover Keys Locked in a Car

Allstate

Allstate offers its 24-hour roadside assistance programs to both policyholders and non-policyholders. Costs and coverage vary based on the plan you choose.

Geico

Geico’s roadside assistance program is available to policyholders as an add-on, and it covers most of the basics other plans offer. The cost is determined by the number of vehicles you want to cover.

Liberty Mutual

To access Liberty Mutual’s 24-hour assistance program, which offers basic roadside services, you must purchase optional towing and labor coverage as an add-on to your policy.

Nationwide

Nationwide offers roadside assistance as an optional add-on for policyholders. The plan covers the same basic services offered by other insurers, but optional features and other program details may vary by state.

Progressive

Emergency roadside assistance for flat tires is available as an optional add-on for Progressive auto insurance policyholders. Progressive’s program covers service basics such as towing, jump-starts, and lockout assistance.

State Farm

State Farm’s roadside assistance program is an add-on for policyholders. If you have this coverage and need assistance, State Farm will be billed directly for any basic services you receive, so you may not have to worry about turning in your receipts and waiting to be reimbursed.

How Much Does Roadside Assistance Cost for a Flat Tire?

The cost to get your flat tire fixed may depend on if you have a usable spare tire and other factors. If you have a good spare tire available, the roadside assistance technician may be able to change your tire onsite and get you right back on the road at no charge.

If, for some reason, the tire can’t be changed onsite and your vehicle must be towed to a repair shop, the tow charge will be based on mileage. Many roadside assistance plans will go 15 miles or to the nearest qualified repair shop for free. But if you ask to be towed to a shop that’s farther away, you may have to pay for any extra mileage.

When your car arrives at the repair shop, you can expect to be charged if you need any parts or repairs, or a new tire.

Recommended: How to Get Car Insurance

How Much Does Roadside Assistance Cost Without Insurance

The most inexpensive way to get roadside assistance coverage is usually to have it included as an add-on through your auto insurance policy. Allstate, for example, offers a roadside assistance insurance policy add-on for as little as $25 per year for one vehicle, while an Allstate roadside assistance plan membership without an Allstate auto policy starts at $79 for the first year.

If your insurer doesn’t have 24-hour roadside assistance, or if you don’t like the plan your insurer is offering, you may want to check out online insurance companies to see what’s available based on your budget and needs.

How to Change a Flat Tire Yourself

Even if you have roadside assistance coverage, it can be a good idea to know how to fix a flat tire — just in case you forget your phone or can’t get cell service when you run into trouble.

If no one ever taught you how to change a tire, you might want to practice sometime when you’re in a safe place and you’re not in a hurry or wearing nice clothes. There are plenty of YouTube videos on the topic — or you can ask someone who knows their way around a car for a demonstration.

Here are a few tire-changing basics:

1. Drive Prepared

Make sure your spare is in good shape and your jack, lug wrench, and owner’s manual are always in your car. You might want to keep rain gear, work gloves, a flashlight, and wheel wedges in your trunk, as well.

2. Safety First

If you suspect your tire is flat, turn on your hazard lights and pull off to the side of the road — as far as you can. Once you’ve stopped, you can put on your parking brake and get out to inspect your car. If you do indeed have a flat, secure your tires with wheel wedges or a couple of large stones.

To change a rear tire, place the wedges behind the front tires. To change a front tire, place the wedges behind the rear tires.

3. Remove the Hubcap/Wheel Cover

Consult your owner’s manual for instructions on removing the hubcap or wheel cover.

4. Loosen the Lug Nuts

Turn the lug nuts counterclockwise with your lug wrench. (Getting them started may require some effort!) Loosen the lug nuts about a quarter- to half-turn, but don’t take them off completely.

5. Put the Jack in Place

Check your owner’s manual for specific placement instructions.

6. Use the Jack To Raise the Vehicle

Carefully raise your car until the flat tire is about 6 inches above the ground.

7. Unscrew the Lug Nuts and Take off the Tire

Remove the lug nuts completely and put them in a safe place (a cup, envelope, hat, purse, etc.). Pull the flat tire toward you until it comes free and place it on the ground on its side.

8. Put on the Spare

Grab the spare tire and place it on the hub by lining up the rim with the lug bolts. Push gently until you can see the lug bolts through the rim.

9. Put the Lug Nuts Back in Place

Put the lug nuts back on the lug bolts and tighten them by hand.

10. Lower the Car and Tighten the Lug Nuts Again … and Again

Lower the vehicle until the tire is touching the ground, but don’t let it down all the way yet. Tighten the lug nuts with the wrench, as tight as you possibly can, then lower the car all the way to the ground and remove the jack. Tighten each lug nut again, with the wrench, to be sure they’re all as secure as possible. Replace the hubcap (only if you can and want to), or put it in the trunk with the flat tire.

11. Stow Your Stuff

Congratulate yourself for being prepared, and be sure you put everything back in the trunk before you pull away. If you have a tire gauge, check to see if the spare has plenty of air (temporary spares typically require 60 psi). If the pressure is low, drive with caution to the nearest repair shop.

12. Get Your Damaged Tire Repaired

Spare tires aren’t meant to be driven on for long. Get your car to a tire shop or garage as quickly as possible to buy new tires or get your old tire patched.

Should You File an Insurance Claim?

It can be convenient and less expensive to purchase roadside assistance coverage as an add-on to your car insurance policy. But keep in mind that when you use your insurer’s plan — even for a flat tire — it can count as an insurance claim.

Though occasional use likely won’t cause your insurer to drop you or raise your auto insurance rates, if you make several roadside assistance claims over a short period, it might affect your overall policy. You might want to ask your insurance agent if multiple roadside assistance claims could be a problem. (And get it in writing if the answer is no.)

Do Insurance Policy Deductibles Apply to Roadside Assistance Claims?

Even with roadside assistance coverage, you could end up having to pay some out-of-pocket costs. And if your auto insurance policy has a deductible that applies to roadside assistance claims, you might have to pay that amount, as well. This could be another topic to cover with your insurance agent. (Read more about the different types of deductibles.)

Recommended: How to Lower Car Insurance

The Takeaway

Roadside assistance insurance can cover a range of problems you might have on the road — from fixing a flat tire to unlocking the car to jump-starting the battery.

Insurance companies typically offer roadside assistance as an add-on to an auto policy. Plans may look pretty much the same from one company to the next, but it can be a good idea to look beyond the basics to find the level of coverage and other benefits that are a good fit for your needs and budget.

SoFi can help you compare auto insurance companies. If you find a quote you like, you can sign up and drive away happy. Real rates, with no bait and switch.

Get started with SoFi Protect today.

FAQ

What should I do if my tire is flat?

If you know how to change a tire and you can pull off the road to a safe place, you might want to tackle the job yourself. But if you aren’t prepared to DIY, you can call roadside assistance instead. A technician may be able to change your tire onsite and get you back on the road for free.

Will 911 help with a flat tire?

If your tire is flat and you’re in potential danger or blocking traffic, the safest move is to turn on your flashers and call 911 for assistance. The 911 dispatcher will then assess your situation and determine whether to send help. If you don’t feel you’re in danger or that your car has become a hazard to others, you can call your roadside assistance company’s toll-free number for help.

Can you drive a couple of miles on a flat tire?

Driving on a flat tire, even for a short distance, can further damage the tire and possibly the rim. If you can turn on your hazard lights and drive slowly to a safer location, that may be your best option, but you should try to limit the distance you travel.

How much does it cost to put on a spare tire?

If you have roadside assistance coverage, it may not cost you anything to have your flat tire replaced onsite with your spare.

Should you tip roadside assistance for a flat tire?

There’s no obligation to tip any service provider your roadside assistance plan sends to help you. However, just as with any service, if you feel that person went above and beyond, you may want to show your gratitude with a tip.


Photo credit: iStock/okugawa

Insurance not available in all states.
Gabi is a registered service mark of Gabi Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
SoFi is compensated by Gabi for each customer who completes an application through the SoFi-Gabi partnership.

Non affiliation: SoFi isn’t affiliated with any of the companies highlighted in this article.
Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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Does Auto Insurance Roadside Assistance Cover Keys Locked in a Car?

Does Auto Insurance Roadside Assistance Cover Keys Locked in a Car?

Roadside assistance coverage is designed to help motorists in trouble get back on the road. That usually includes helping drivers who have locked their keys in their car. Keep in mind that some plans place an annual limit on the number of calls for service or the amount they’ll reimburse you for specific services — including lockout assistance.

Read on for more information about what to expect when you sign up for auto insurance roadside assistance.

How Much Does It Cost to Unlock a Car?

If you don’t have roadside assistance and lock your keys in the car, expect to pay as much as $300 to have a locksmith come to your aid. The price varies depending on several factors, including the time of day, age and model of your car, and how far the locksmith has to drive. If you’re close to where the locksmith is working and your call comes in during normal business hours, the cost could be closer to $75 to $150.

There may be additional fees, however, if you’ve lost your key completely (rather than locking it in the car) and the locksmith has to cut a new one for you.

But if you do have roadside assistance coverage, all or some of the cost could be covered. Some plans cover getting you back into the car, for example, but not the cost of a replacement key, key fob, or repair of a damaged keypad.

Recommended: Ways to Save Money on Car Maintenance

Should You Call Roadside Assistance to Unlock Your Car?

When deciding whether to call roadside assistance to unlock your car, think safety first. If you’ve had an accident, you’ve locked a pet or child in the car, or you feel in danger in some way, make your first call 911.

But if you feel safe, roadside assistance is probably your best bet. You’ll get help quickly and with the least amount of risk to you, any passengers, and your vehicle. (Just remember to program the number into your phone.)

Recommended: How Does Car Insurance Work

Common Roadside Assistance Service Benefits

Roadside assistance can be useful when you’re stranded on the side of the road and need a repair or some other type of service. This can be especially important for seniors, first-time drivers, people with a physical disability, and parents of young children.

Here are some of the most common circumstances for which a motorist might use roadside assistance:

Towing

If your car can’t be quickly or safely repaired or restarted where it is, roadside assistance can have it towed to a nearby qualified repair shop.

Battery Jump-start

Roadside assistance can jump-start a dead battery. In some cases, they may be able to install a new battery on site.

Flat Tire Change

Sometimes it just isn’t possible to get out and change your own tire on the roadway. Roadside assistance providers are trained to take care of flats on scene — if you have a spare available — or have your car towed to a location where the tire can be changed.

Emergency Fuel or Electric Car Battery Charge

If you run out of gas, roadside assistance may offer free fuel delivery to your location. And if the battery on your electric vehicle needs a charge, you may be able to have your car towed to the nearest charging station at no cost. (However, expect to pay for the fuel or the battery charge.)

Recommended: What Does Car Insurance Cover

How to Choose the Right Roadside Service Provider

Before you go shopping for coverage, check to see if it’s already provided by your auto insurance, vehicle manufacturer, credit card company, or an organization with which you’re associated. Customer reviews can indicate how reliable a provider is.

Be aware that some plans that come with a new car cover you for only a limited period of time, from a few months (as with a free trial) to a few years (such as the length of your limited warranty).

Roadside assistance is typically offered for an annual fee. Some plans provide only the basics (which usually includes lockout service), while others offer several tiers of benefits. When choosing your level of coverage, know that cheaper plans often have lower limits on the numbers of calls you can place, or cover only a portion of towing and other services. Read the fine print to make sure you understand what you’re getting.

Has your insurance gone up after an accident? If you’re doing some personal insurance planning, see how a new SoFi auto policy might fit in your overall strategy. You may be able to lower your car insurance premiums by bundling it with other types of insurance coverage.

Recommended: Car Insurance Terms, Explained

Ways To Get Your Car Open If You’re Locked Out

Locking your keys in your car is a maddening experience, especially when you’re running late or alone in a dark parking lot. If you’re stressed out, you may want to call for help right away. But if you’re up for trying a DIY break-in, here are a few tips.

Use a Wire Hanger

If your car has a manual lock, you can try threading a hanger or similar tool through the rubber gasket around the driver’s side window and into the door frame to pull up the lock-pin. Keep in mind that this method can damage your car, which could cost more than waiting for a pro.

Go Through the Trunk

If your trunk is open, you might be able to access the backseat. Check to see if there’s a panel you can push that allows you to crawl through to the car’s main interior.

Turn Your Phone Into a Digital Key

If you’ve already added a digital car key to your smartphone, now is the time to try it out!

Get the Key Code to Make a New Key

After the roadside assistance service person verifies that the car you want to get into is yours, he or she may be able to get the key code from the manufacturer or dealer (or by using decoding tools) and cut you a new metal key.

Recommended: What’s the Cheapest Way to Rent a Car?

The Takeaway

Roadside assistance programs typically cover a wide range of problems that befall motorists for an annual fee. The most common service calls are lockouts, flat tires, battery jump-starts, and emergency fuel delivery when you’ve run out of gas. Most plans consider lockouts a basic service, but you should check the fine print on your plan to verify what’s included.

Did you know that SoFi can help you find the best auto insurance policy for your needs? SoFi offers a true comparison shopping experience, and provides an apples-to-apples comparison against your existing policy to find you a great deal. SoFi can walk you through the whole research process, from explaining about different types of insurance deductibles to offering tips on how to save on car maintenance costs.

SoFi Auto Insurance: Real rates, with no bait and switch.

FAQ

How does roadside assistance open a locked car?

A roadside assistance service provider will likely have several different tools available to pop or pick a car lock, or they may be able to cut a new key for you. If all else fails, your car can be towed to a location where the car can be worked on.

What should you do if your car is locked and the keys are inside?

If you’ve locked in a child or pet, or you feel in danger, call 911 right away. But if you feel safe and you’re looking to get help quickly and with the least amount of risk to you and your vehicle, a call to roadside assistance can be a good choice.

Can 911 help with locked keys in a car?

911 was created to deal with emergencies, and it will be up to the dispatcher to decide how to prioritize your call. If an officer is dispatched, or if one sees you stranded and pulls over to help, you still may have to wait for a locksmith with the proper tools or a tow truck.


Photo credit: iStock/ronstik

Insurance not available in all states.
Gabi is a registered service mark of Gabi Personal Insurance Agency, Inc.
SoFi is compensated by Gabi for each customer who completes an application through the SoFi-Gabi partnership.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
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