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Choosing a Roadside Assistance Plan

by Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L

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Imagine this scenario. You could be driving out in the middle of nowhere on your idyllic country vacation and your front left tire blows out. You have no clue how close you are to a town or to any tire shop or full service gas station. You start to remove the blown tire and put on the spare when a Good Samaritan offers help, which you happily accept. Thankfully, he's able to get the spare tire on the car quickly. As he leaves, he suggests to you that you might consider buying a roadside assistance plan.

Before you complete an application to join a motor club, you'll want to explore the many different options and weigh them against your lifestyle and travel and driving habits. There's a wide range of roadside assistance plans to consider. Flat tire changing and dead battery charging seem basic to any of the programs, but some offer much more. Many of these plans differ in their limitations, specifically towing. Some only tow to specific places and others just tow within one hundred miles. If you're far from home, that could be a problem. Some roadside assistance plans limit the number of tows per year.

Full roadside assistance is handy if you want more member benefits and also travel services.

A full service roadside assistance plan has much to offer. The services are comprehensive, including towing, battery charging, tire changing, locksmith services, and empty gas tank assistance. Also, they have far more extensive member benefits. They're essentially travel agencies for those who typically travel by car. Atlases, maps, tour books and trip planning make the travel service component of these plans very attractive. Many also offer financial services. Full roadside service through one of the national motor clubs may cost an individual approximately $75 annually. But, you may not require all the benefits of full roadside assistance since travel services such as maps and directions can easily be found and customized online. Also, many vehicles have navigational devices.

Limited roadside assistance may be adequate for you and your family.

A limited roadside assistance plan, such as plans available through clubs like those for seniors, offers members help with flat tires and dead batteries, empty gas tank, and locksmith services. They usually don't offer other travel-related services. Sometimes their rates aren't much lower than full assistance plans. Read the details carefully for limitations on how many tows and other services are allowed per year.

Towing and other services can be added to your auto insurance for a nominal price.

If all you might need is occasional help with a flat tire or battery charge, you might just consider adding towing services to the coverage on your auto insurance policy instead of buying any roadside assistance plan. The services are extremely limited, but for approximately $10 annually added to your insurance premium, this service may be adequate. Also, some car extended service warranties also provide help on the road. Peruse the booklet that comes with your car's warranty.

Not an auto club member? Compare roadside assistance plans.

Maybe the best option is to not buy any roadside assistance plan.

Before you commit to any kind of towing or roadside assistance plan or club, evaluate your own family's situation. The number of drivers and cars should be considered, as well as who and how many people are usually in the car. Adults in the car should consider how willing they are to change a flat tire. If your typical drive is work-related and you're wearing business attire, or if you're not particularly handy, you might be a good candidate to purchase some form of assistance for the road. Times of day like early morning or late at night and time of year like snowy winter as well as typical distance of driving are important to think about, too. Frequency and driving distance should also be considered. And think about where you drive; highway driving in populated areas is quite different from in-town or rural travel. Condition, reliability and age of your vehicle are also factors in deciding if any kind of roadside assistance would benefit you.

A roadside assistance plan can be very useful and cost-effective for those who drive often. Stretch your dollar by only purchasing the extent of service that you really need. Take the time to shop for the plan that best suits you.

Reviewed April 2017

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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