When you’re already paying hundreds of dollars per month for auto insurance, it’s tough to justify the extras. But if you get stranded by the side of the road? You’ll sure wish you had.
Roadside assistance services, which most insurers offer for a few extra dollars per month, usually include vehicle unlocking, fuel delivery, and towing services. Using roadside assistance might come with surcharges like fuel surcharges and long-distance or oversize towing. But fortunately, it won’t impact your auto insurance score, which insurers use to calculate your monthly premium.
Is it worth paying more every month — and perhaps surcharges after you use it — for a policy rider may or may not actually need? Here’s what to consider:
- The age of your vehicle
The single greatest factor in your roadside-assistance decision should be the age of your vehicle. Most car manufacturers offer complimentary roadside assistance for the first few years (or several thousand miles) after purchase. If yours doesn’t — or if that period has passed — use a “5 and 50” rule of thumb: If your car is less than 5 years old and has fewer than 50,000 miles, you’re at relatively low risk of a breakdown.That risk goes up, of course, as your car ages. Brake and suspension issues, both of which can make your car dangerous to drive or inoperable, are two of the most common problems with older cars. Ask a mechanic to check your brakes, suspension, engine, and transmission the next time you take it in for maintenance. If they’re worried about any of those four systems, spend the few extra bucks per month for some peace of mind.
- Your commute
The average American’s commute, at 26.9 minutes each way, is longer than it’s ever been. Assuming you work a 5-days-per-workweek, 50-workweeks-per-year job, that’s more than 224 hours per year on the road. If you drive that much to a job that forbids late arrivals, it’s probably smart to spring for roadside assistance.
Don’t just consider time on the road, either. Do you drive on highways or interstates, where a roadside crash is more dangerous? Do you the roads you use have a shoulder, where you can park your car without impeding traffic? Are the roads you take covered in potholes, which can increase the chances of a tire blowout or suspension damage? Often, it’s the roads themselves that make roadside assistance a good move.
- Your credit card
You might not think to look inside your wallet — except to count bills, that is — when shopping for roadside assistance, but some credit cards offer roadside assistance as a perk. Before paying your insurer more money each month, call your card issuer to ask whether you’re already covered.
If you use an American Express or Visa Signature card, you automatically receive the benefit. Mastercard offered it as a “core benefit” until 2014, after which it made roadside assistance an option that banks could pay to add. Most major banks, including U.S. Bank, Citi, Chase, Capital One, and Wells Fargo, still do on all but their secured and student credit cards.
- Your personal and family situation
If you’re a single guy in his physical prime, you may be making the right move by declining roadside assistance. But if you fall into any number of other categories, you may want to think about the possibility of sitting or walking for hours alongside a rural road at night.
Nearly every car owner suffers a breakdown at least once in their life. If you need assistance in the middle of nowhere, you may not have cell service. You could walk until you find it or wait for another driver to stop, but that leaves you awfully vulnerable.
You may never need roadside assistance, but that’s true of any insurance policy. For a few extra dollars each month, it could save you a serious headache. Whether that’s worth it, however, is up to you.