Cheap breakdown cover: RAC vs AA vs Green Flag

We compare the basic roadside recovery insurance from the three main breakdown cover providers: the RAC, the AA and Green Flag.

When shopping for breakdown cover, it's important to make comparisons between the providers to see which offers the best value for money.

Breakdown cover has become far more expensive since we last wrote about it in 2016, with RAC cover going from £29.99 to £45, and AA more than doubling from £39 to £99.

These prices are for the budget option, a roadside repair service. The labour is free, but parts are not. If your vehicle cannot be repaired at the roadside, it will be towed to a garage, where you will have to pay for the repairer's services.

Here's an overview of the three biggest operators:

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The main features

Budget policy details

RAC

AA

Green Flag

Name

Roadside

Breakdown

Rescue

New online customer price

£45 (or £4.50/month)

£99 (or £9.50/month)

£25+* (10% of customers or fewer will be eligible for the cheapest price)

What is covered?

Your vehicle (not you)

Your vehicle (not you)

Your vehicle (not you)

Area

Residents of UK, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man

Residents of UK - also includes basic cover in Republic of Ireland

Cover in UK and Isle of Man (and, for residents of the Channel Islands)

Vehicles

Cars, motorhomes, vans, minibuses and motorbikes (over 49cc)

Cars, motorbikes, motorhomes, minibuses and small vans (max. weight 3½ metric tonnes, max. width 2.55m)

Cars, motorbikes, small vans and 4x4s

Vehicle age restrictions

No limit

No limit

No limit*

Distance from home

More than ¼ mile

More than ¼ mile

More than ¼ mile

Towing details if car can't be repaired at roadside

Tow your vehicle to a destination of choice within 10 miles or to nearest approved garage. 

Tow you to a local AA-approved garage or your choice of destination if no further than the garage

Tow you and your passengers up to 10 miles to a destination of your choice or to nearest approved garage.

Transport from garage

Taxi fare of up to 20 miles from garage if your vehicle can't be fixed

No cover

No cover

Number of call-outs

Five per year

Unlimited

No limit specified, although claims can lead to higher premiums in following years

Are parts covered? No Yes - up to the value of £5 No

*The price of Green Flag's breakdown cover is based on you and your vehicle, and the likelihood of you claiming or making big claims. 10% or fewer of its customers will get the cheapest price of £25. But cover is arranged to your specific needs rather than being a one-fits-all policy, which you may find advantageous.

These prices are relevant to single vehicle cover. As you can see, the policies are similar, yet there are differences in price. 

Green Flag will take you to a destination within a reasonable distance (e.g. your home or a place you are staying) if your vehicle breaks down and the closest approved garage is not open. They will then tow your vehicle to the garage the next working day. In the meantime, you get a free message to your friends and family to tell them what’s happened.

Reviews of breakdown cover

On Trustpilot, the RAC has a 7.7 out of 10 score; the AA scores 6.7 and Green Flag scored much lower on 4.1.

Car magazine Auto Express put together a ranking of breakdown cover providers, based on readers' experiences, which you can read here.

It put Green Flag in 3rd place, AA in 5th and RAC in 6th. The first and second spots were taken by smaller providers GEM Motoring Assist and Britannia Rescue.

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More useful details

The RAC will not cover you for a second assistance if it advised you that the roadside work was just a temporary fix, or if you haven't had the original fault properly repaired by a garage.

The AA says repairs are discretionary if the fault is the same or similar to faults that have occurred within the past 28 days. Green Flag said it could charge extra or refuse on a second call-out for the same problem, but in practice this normally only happens on the third call-out. 

The RAC says it fixes four out of five failures at the roadside, within 30 minutes on average, although that excludes accidents and extreme failures.

The AA says it repairs eight out of ten vehicles at the roadside and that it arrives within 45 minutes, on average. The AA also claims to have more dedicated mobile mechanics than other providers (2,700 patrols as opposed to 1,500).

A word of warning: breakdown services require you to produce your membership card and proof of ID to use their services, so take them with you on all journeys.

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Service versus price

Most of us have heard good and bad experiences from each of these providers. We can't read too much into individual anecdotes unless they are overwhelmingly one-sided, which isn't the case here. They are all still going strong, so that's a sign their service is generally acceptable.

With the AA and RAC you can expect to pay more at renewal. It's advisable to shop around each year for the cheapest, but if you've had good service from one organisation, then you might feel more comfortable sticking with them. By staying with the same service at renewal you might be entitled to more call-outs in a year or discounts for not making a call-out – as is the case with Green Flag.

You could try switching from one to another and back in a 24-month cycle to compare their services, and it's possible you might even save a little money doing this. However, since the AA and RAC have both increased their budget price by a significant amount each time we've updated this article since 2013, it doesn't seem too likely that you'll benefit much.

Remember to put a note in your diary to shop around in 11 months, because all three services could auto-renew.

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Beyond budget cover

If you go beyond budget cover, more comprehensive options include:

  • Cover for more than one vehicle
  • Cover for older vehicles
  • Cover for you and family members, regardless of vehicle driven
  • Recovery to your home or another address in the UK, wherever you are
  • Transportation for you and others
  • Transportation for you if you are taken ill and no one else can drive
  • Assistance within ¼ mile of home
  • Replacement car hire
  • Reimbursement of public transport costs
  • B&B accommodation
  • Medical assistance
  • European cover

Finally, some insurers add breakdown for free or as an optional extra when you buy car insurance, so see if you can get a cheaper overall package when you're shopping around for car insurance before buying breakdown cover separately.

This is a classic loveMONEY that has been updated.

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