European breakdown cover - what you need to know
Driving in Europe is an increasingly popular holiday choice for us Brits.
The channel tunnel means car trips to the continent, whether to visit family or friends, conduct business, spend time in a second home or just do a booze run to Calais, have never been easier.
But drive without the right cover and you risk coming a cropper.
Cutting corners and going without cover might seem like a tempting way to keep your costs down, but emergency repairs, booking a hotel, alternative transport and vehicle recovery could blow a huge hole in your holiday budget.
Don’t forget the added stress of a language barrier when you’re stuck on the roadside.
With 48% of British drivers admitting they wouldn’t have a clue how to get assistance if they broke down abroad, breakdown cover (including an English-speaking call helpline) is clearly needed!
When you compare car insurance deals, check if European breakdown cover is included as standard, particularly if you use a car abroad regularly.
Axa, Admiral, the AA, the RAC and plenty more all offer European breakdown cover.
Read our reviews to make an informed decision.
What is European breakdown cover?
European breakdown cover does what it says on the tin.
If your car packs up while you’re driving on the continent, you’ll get the same protection as with a UK policy.
Your car will be repaired at the roadside or, if that’s not possible, taken to the nearest garage. If it’s still beyond repair, it will be sent back to the UK.
It’s unlikely that a standalone car insurance policy includes European breakdown as standard.
Instead, it’s typically either available on comprehensive policies or as an optional extra; you’ll likely have to soup up basic levels of cover.
While 90 days is common, the number of days’ European cover will vary from policy to policy.
What to check before you travel
First things first, check exactly what your policy covers you for by going through the terms and conditions with a fine tooth comb.
European countries have different insurance requirements, so the specifics of your cover will depend on where you’re travelling.
Ask: Is the country I’m visiting included? Will I be covered for multiple countries? Is vehicle recovery included? What’s the most my insurer will pay-out if I break down? If I break down on the way to my destination, for example, am I still covered for the onward journey?
Check your insurer will help you find an alternative vehicle, should you not be able to hire a car. If yes, will it be a like-for-like replacement?
Contact your provider before you travel to inform them you’re leaving. With some annual policies, this is necessary to trigger your cover.
Other aspects to check:
Parts and labour costs – does your insurer have an upper limit on what it will pay for? Remember, anything not covered is coming out of your pocket. Generally, only the more expensive policies will include parts and labour costs.
Mileage limit – if you go over your mileage limit, will it affect your claim?
Honest mistakes – are you covered for human error? If you add the wrong fuel, say?
Second home – If you’re visiting a second home, will my provider cover me? Some insurers exclude visits to second properties.
Call-out cap – Does your annual policy limit the number of claims you can make in a year?
If you’re unhappy with your breakdown cover provider, make a complaint on A Spokesman Said.
We’re in your corner.
Do I need annual or single trip cover?
This, as you would expect, depends on how often you plan on driving in Europe.
Frequent travellers to the continent may find adding annual European breakdown cover to an existing policy is the most cost-effective option.
Talk through the options with your insurer if you’ve already got a standard breakdown policy without European cover.
A one-off, single-trip deal can save money if it’s the right option.
Even with annual cover, though, you’ll need to check your provider’s agreed limit on the number of days you’re covered for abroad in a year.
It may have a cap in pace for both the year and the specific trip – normally 31 days a trip and 90 days in total for the year.
How can I get cheap European breakdown cover?
Driving in Europe doesn’t have to cost the Earth.
First things first, try and haggle a better deal when your policy comes up for renewal (especially if the price has shot up without reason).
Ask your insurer if they’re willing to offer a discount on European breakdown cover, or even chuck it in for free – your hand is particularly strong if you haven’t made a claim in the last 12 months.
Arm yourself with the market’s cheapest deals by running a comparison before you try to negotiate.
European breakdown cover – final checklist
* Remember to contact your insurer to make sure your European cover is activated
* Check exactly what you’re covered for by going through the T&Cs
* Don’t assume your destination is automatically covered