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Roadside assistance coverage: What does it cover and how does it work?

Jan 27, 2021 |
All Blogs, Auto / Travel,  |
Amy Kelly Trlicek |
What is Roadside Assistance and What Does it Cover

Roadside assistance is a common optional addition to your personal auto insurance. Learn more about what it covers and how it works!

Got a flat tire? A dead battery? Maybe your vehicle just stopped and you don't know why! Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself stranded on the side of the road, it's always helpful to have roadside assistance. But what does roadside assistance cover, exactly? How does it work? Is it worth it? Read on as today we answer these questions and more!

What is roadside assistance?

As the name suggests, roadside assistance (RSA for short) services are meant to help you with most basic car troubles you might experience. They are typically offered through your auto insurance carrier as an optional add-on, but can also be purchased from a third party provider. 

The idea is simple: You pay a sort of subscription fee, either monthly or annually, and in return you have the ability to call on their help whenever you need it - rain or shine, night or day. 

While the name "roadside assistance" might lead you to believe they only lend a hand when you're on the road, most providers will send aid no matter where you're having car trouble. For example, if you accidentally lock your keys in your car in your office parking lot, they can dispatch someone to help you retrieve them. If you're getting ready to leave for the grocery store and your car dies in your driveway, RSA can give you a tow to the mechanic.

What does roadside assistance cover?

For many people, roadside assistance probably evokes an image of a tow truck coming to drag your incapacitated car to the nearest shop. While that's certainly something that your roadside assistance coverage could provide, it is far from the only thing. 

So, what does roadside assistance cover? Coverages may vary, but the following services are standard for most RSA plans:

Towing a disabled vehicle. Whether you're stuck on the side of a dirt road, a major highway, or even in a parking lot, it's easy to think of situations where a tow could be a life saver. With RSA, you simply call the given number, talk to the dispatch operator, and rest easy knowing that a truck is on the way. 

Minor on-site labor for mechanical or electrical breakdown. Sometimes, it doesn't take much to get you back on the road. For example, if your serpentine belt slips off of the track, a roadside assistance technician may be able to put it back in place and send you on your way. Of course, without a proper mechanic's shop, there's only so much that can be done. However, if all that stands in your way is a quick fix, RSA can usually get your wheels moving again. 

Battery failure. With the help of your alternator, a car battery can last for a long time. However, sometimes we forget to turn that dome light off, and the battery slowly drains. In such circumstances, a jump can give you the power needed to get back on the road. 

Fuel and fluid delivery. As much as we may try to stop for a fill-up before before the gas gauge gets to the "E," sometimes we don't notice until it's too late. Before you know it, your vehicle sputters and dies, leaving you stuck on the side of the road.

But gasoline isn't the only precious liquid that a car requires to operate! Perhaps you discover that your power steering system has a leak and suddenly, you find yourself unable to make even the most gentle turns. 

Fortunately, if all you need is a few gallons of gas or a couple quarts of a fluid, RSA can satisfy a thirsty vehicle with a phone call. 

Flat tire. In previous blogs, we've discussed several ways you can deal with a flat, either by changing the tire out with a spare, or applying a temporary fix, like a tire plug. However, circumstances may not always leave us with those options. 

Whatever the case may be, fixing a flat tire is a common, simple way that RSA lends you a helping hand. 

Lock out. There's often a horrible sinking feeling that comes along with the realization that you've locked your keys in your car. However, that feeling is quickly alleviated when you remember that your roadside assistance coverage can send someone out to help you get back into your vehicle. 

Entrapment. Sometimes, the road ahead is worse than it might first appear. Perhaps that mud patch is deeper and stickier than you anticipated, or perhaps your car doesn't handle the snow and ice as well as you hoped. If you find yourself stuck with your wheels spinning, RSA can get you back onto solid ground. 

Map services. While most of us have access to GPS with our smartphones these days, it's worth remembering that cell service can cut out during some portions of your journey. As an additional feature, many RSA providers offer specially prepared maps to help you on your travels. Simply call a few weeks in advance and give them your trip origin and destination and they take care of the rest.

Theft and hit and run protection. Unfortunately, auto theft happens. If your vehicle has been stolen, or if you were involved in a hit-and-run accident, many roadside assistance providers will offer a reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

What types of vehicles does roadside assistance cover? Who can use your roadside assistance coverage?

In general, roadside assistance plans cover all types of vehicles, from your smallest smart car to your most powerful pickup. Furthermore, a standard RSA plan usually allows anyone on the policy access to the services; you (the policyholder) can call for aid and so can your spouse and children. However, it's important to speak with your provider to double-check coverages and understand exclusions.

Most roadside assistance plans allow the following:

  • You, a family member, or another person on the policy can use RSA when driving a covered auto.
  • A covered auto is a personal private car, truck, pickup, van, or SUV.

Most RSA plans exclude the following:

  • Coverage for RVs, motorhomes, or mobile homes.
  • Coverage for company vehicle, commercial vehicles, or any vehicle that is not considered "private."

Depending on the provider, rental cars and borrowed cars could be considered private, personal vehicles, and would therefore count as a covered auto. Again, check with your provider just to be sure. 

How does roadside assistance service work with auto insurance? 

As mentioned, one of the most common ways to obtain roadside assistance coverage is through your auto insurance provider. Naturally, that may raise questions as to how that all works together. Before we answer some of those questions, it's important to understand how auto insurance companies typically provide RSA. 

Most auto insurance companies don't provide the actual roadside assistance directly; they don't usually have a fleet of tow trucks and service technicians that they send when you call for aid. Instead, auto insurance carriers usually partner with another professional vendor to provide convenient access to this optional service. When you call the number for RSA, the call goes directly to the vendor's dispatch operator rather than through the insurance company. This is referred to as "pass-through coverage," which simply means that the insurance company sells the coverage, but the vendor provides the service itself. 

So with that in mind, let's look at a few questions that auto insurance customers frequently ask:

  • Does roadside assistance increase my premiums?
  • Does using roadside assistance increase my premium? Will my insurance go up if I use roadside assistance?
  • Does using roadside assistance count as a claim?

The answer to all of these questions is "No!"

Although you will likely see the roadside assistance service charge added to your insurance bill, having the service does not affect your auto insurance rates. 

When you use the roadside assistance service through your insurance provider, it doesn't count as a claim for the purposes of insurance ratings, and it doesn't cause you to lose your Claims-free Discount on your personal auto insurance. 

There is no penalty to your insurance for using the roadside assistance coverage that you purchase - that's what it's there for! However, as we'll discuss momentarily, it is important to remember that there's often certain limits for usage outlined by the provider.

Common roadside assistance limitations and exclusions

It's important that you carefully read any roadside assistance service agreement to understand how the specific service works, what they cover, but more importantly, what they do not cover (exclusions).

Common limits and exclusions include: 

Cost of fuel, fluids, tires, etc. While roadside assistance will send a technician to help you change a tire or bring you a few gallons of gas, they typically don't cover the cost of the actual item being replaced or delivered. 

Towing from illegal situations. Roadside assistance providers won't tow your vehicle if it has been involved in something illegal. For example, they aren't likely to tow your vehicle if it was illegally parked and a boot was placed on the wheel.

Number of uses. Most providers have some limit on the number of uses covered by the plan within a given period of time. For example, they may only cover five uses during a policy period. 

Number of tows per disablement. This limit refers to the number of subsequent tows covered for a single "disablement." In other words, if you call RSA to tow your vehicle off the road after it breaks down, they aren't likely to tow it from the road to your house, then from your house to the shop. 

Tow distance. As previously mentioned, RSA providers will have some sort of limit to the towing distance they will cover. Of course, the driver will take you further if needed, but you would be responsible for covering the overages. For example, if your shop is 60 miles away, but your RSA has a towing limit of 50 miles, the tow truck will take you the additional distance, but will charge you for the last 10.

Is roadside assistance worth it?

Now that we've taken a good look at what roadside assistance is, what it covers, and how it works, the final question is whether or not it's right for you! Let's take a look at a few common questions that inquiring insurance customers ask when making that decision.

How much does roadside assistance cost? While the cost of RSA certainly varies, it is generally an inexpensive investment to make, and usually costs somewhere around $30 a year. Stand-alone towing services and locksmiths can cost much more, and after a single use, RSA can pay for itself.

Do you really need roadside assistance? Like a seatbelt, an airbag, or a roadside emergency kit, roadside assistance is a precautionary measure; you hope that you never need to use it, but it is invaluable in certain situations. 

The truth is, everyone needs a little help from time to time. Even the most experienced mechanics can't solve every roadside emergency on their own. You may be more than capable of fixing most automotive issues, but when you're stranded on the side of the road, you may simply lack access to the parts and tools you need. Valves leak, belts and hoses break - you simply can't carry all the parts needed to cover every potential problem. Roadside assistance is there to get you back to safety, whether that means bringing replacement parts, performing a quick fix, or towing you to a shop for repairs. 

Do you need roadside assistance if you have a new car? Theoretically, new cars don't break down as often as a used car might. But whether you have a brand new car or a 20 year-old car, both are equally capable of running over a nail and getting a flat tire. 

So, while you aren't likely to need RSA as often when you drive a new car, malfunctions do happen, and it's never a bad idea to have help at the ready when they do. 

Do I need roadside assistance if I don't drive often? If you personally don't drive that often, remember, roadside assistance isn't only available to you! If there are others on your policy, like your spouse or children (if they are of driving age, of course), they would also have access to the same service.  

In fact, roadside assistance is perfect for young drivers, or new drivers who are just learning to be comfortable behind the wheel. Knowing that your teen driver can get help with a phone call can give both of you some much needed peace of mind.

All of these things can factor into your decision and your individual situation and needs will certainly vary. However, when you weigh the cost against the potential benefits, most people find that there really is no reason not to have coverage. Roadside assistance is an affordable, useful, and immeasurably helpful service to have on hand. 


by Geoff Ullrich
About the Author: Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.

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Posted: Jan 27, 2021
Posted by: Staff
Kelley Insurance Agency | + 1 (281) 592-7506

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