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.
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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.
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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.
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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:
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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’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.
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 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.
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’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.
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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.)
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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.
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
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