/ Motoring

Why being loyal drives up the cost of breakdown cover

Our latest research into car breakdown cover has found that renewal prices can leave you out of pocket. Is it right that existing loyal customers are asked to pay more for breakdown cover than new ones?

We have just completed our annual survey of car breakdown cover, comparing companies like the AA, RAC, Green Flag and Britannia Rescue to see if any of them have made the grade as a Which? Recommended Provider.

Our surveys cover waiting times, repairs, customer satisfaction and value for money – it’s this last one that I’m feeling slightly irked about today.

Put simply, I don’t think the costs of breakdown cover are transparent enough. Headline prices look tempting (just £23 for a year’s roadside recovery with Green Flag, for example), but many providers only offer a discount upfront if you agree to automatic, year-on-year renewal.

And your premium’s likely to go up quite a lot after that first year is up, unless you shop around.

Don’t just accept your renewal quote

People regularly contact us complaining that their breakdown renewal premiums are far higher than the previous year’s cover. So we used a real case of someone renewing with the AA.

Our case study had cover for two people and two cars, with roadside assistance, and AA’s ‘relay’ and ‘stay mobile’ cover. The renewal quote they received was £205 – £65 more than the £140 they would pay if they took out a new policy with the AA online. This quote was also £100 more than they would have paid with Aviva, and £85 more than Britannia Rescue.

So our case study called the AA and pointed out the discrepancy between the renewal quote for loyal customers and the price charged for new ones. After a short delay, the AA offered to cut the price to £135 – not quite as low as elsewhere, but a hefty discount nonetheless.

Shop around for the best deal

This problem of inflated renewal premiums isn’t confined to breakdown cover, of course. I recently saved money on my home insurance renewal by entering my details into a comparison website. I ended up insured by the same company, but saved £40 in the process – not bad for 10 minutes work.

So, always shop around and consider checking cashback sites, such as Topcashback or Quidco, for their latest deals.

Has your renewal price for breakdown cover gone through the roof? Let us know how much you were quoted, and whether you were able to make a saving after a bit of haggling.


I have now come to the conclusion that car insurance is just one big con. Been with Direct Line for years and paying over the odds on my premiums. Had a no fault accident back in December and stupidly allowed my own insurance co. to put it right. Big big mistake, should gone with the other parties insurance, as Direct Line took my car and ruined it even more. Still waiting now for it to be put right. It’s been a totally stressful nightmare and Direct Line don’t seem to give a damn!

David Strachan says:
18 August 2017

I have been with the RAC since 1964 and have just received my RAC renewal notice and it has increased from £192.00 to £252.99. £50.00 of this is due to the RAC now having the policy arranged by RAC Financial Services. who may charge a fee for providing these services to you. They state in the leaflet that ” you will not pay an additional amount for your cover but how much you pay us to arrange this “. There is a breakdown on the payment schedule that Arrangement and administration fee for your Roadside & at Home Rescue is £50.00. If the RAC is making this change for their benefit then why have they passed the charge onto their customer?
David S

That is rather a lot.

Have you tried phoning them for a better price? … I was going to renew my insurance with you but it has gone up rather a lot ….. I can get it cheaper….. I have been with you 53 years….

Been with Greenflag for four years for one small car and one driver last years price was £158.77 no call out last year but renewal quote is £216.00 On phoning them they reduced it by half to £113 but no longer trust them so an changing

It might be worth considering opting for cover as part of car insurance, Keith. Cover may be different and you don’t have any say in the breakdown company they subcontract to, but it seems a cheap option. I have not had a breakdown since 1989 and hate paying for cover, but cannot afford to be without it in case something major happens.

Don’t buy Recover cover In august I moved from the RAC to Recover cover Breakdown cover purely on cost. I the last week I purchased a new car which gave free 12 months breakdown cover with the RAC. When I cancelled the policy with Recover cover. I was told that I had to pay £6.99 just to end the policy. has anyone else had a similar experience

Colin W. I have just received my RAC renewal and was horrified. Up from £166.98 last year to £217.99 this. It now includes an “Arrangement Fee”. What is that for? In recent years it has gone up 2014 – £73.56, ’15 – £92.45, ’16 – 132.04, ’17 – £166.98. Even adjusting for the higher R.P.I inflation figure from each year to this year it would be from 2014 £83.37, ’15 – £100, ’16 – £141, ’17 – £171. I will see what I can reduce it to by complaining! I made the mistake a few years back of using their auto renewal direct debit. What happened to trust?

Have you thought of moving to the AA for example; and you can get cashback as well.

Hi ‘Castle’
Just been on to RAC and reduced it to just under £100. – that’s with a very minor cover adjustment. They probably thought that they could afford that from the profit made in recent years. My sister reduced her AA Breakdown Insurance from over £200 to about £130 but it has crept back up again. Next fight will be with home insurance and car insurance!

Paying a fortune for breakdown insurance but have you ever needed to use it Think why ?Why pay that fortune for something you never have used It’s just insurance against breakdown t hat might never happen as with most insurance for anything at all It just maybe gives peace of mind

Which? used to value test breakdown insurance.

I think Brittania and Green Flag often came out on top; AA & RAC not so much.

Having had the AA for years, they have been very good as long as you request an AA patrol vehicle.

My one experience of someone else’s Green Flag was they didn’t even check the vehicle but towed it to a garage and you then paid the garage to fix the problem.

It would be fairer to offer a no-claims discount for breakdown cover.

On the other hand, the longer you have breakdown cover the older your car is likely to be, so more prone to a breakdown. One of my cars was troublesome, It broke down in central London, in a country village and on the M25. Each time required a lift to my garage of choice. You appreciate breakdown cover then, not only the cost saving but otherwise trying to locate someone to sort you out if you didn’t have cover. Peace of mind can be worth a lot, if you are going on holiday, if a passenger is disabled, if it’s the middle of the night…….

I became fed-up with breakdown companies hiking their prices and included breakdown cover in my car insurance. I had to summon assistance a few months ago when I had a puncture and while jacking up the car to change the wheel, the jack slipped on the road, making impossible to turn the handle to lower the car. I did not know who the breakdown cover was subcontracted to, but an RAC van turned up, recovered my jack and replaced the wheel. It’s the first time in 28 years that I have needed help.

Breakdown cover is a real con and insurance companies should not be allowed to automatically help themselves to your bank account if you decide not to opt in to increased renewal demands. Their adverts lure you in with low quotes for the first year only to almost double the renewal for the second year. This happened to me a few years ago so I switched to combined breakdown/insurance cover with NFU. However their T&Cs stipulate an annual service plus the obligatory MOT for vehicles over 3 years old is required to validate any cover which in any event, substantially reduces the likelihood of a breakdown occurring. The AA refused point blank to refund the money they took from my bank account as I failed to cancel future premium payments in response to their letter although I had already switched and didn’t need it.

A couple of months ago the original battery which had been in since I
acquired the car in 2003 let me down the day before an appointment, so I phoned for home assistance which arrived at 6.30am the following day. I had to pay for the replacement battery but suspect I paid over the odds for it to cover the cost of the call out.

If all breakdown cover included a full annual service instead of just an MOT by a reputable government appointed garage (not a motoring organisation or a brand appointed dealer) it would substantially reduce the risk of vehicle breakdown and cover could then automatically be included with insurance when, in turn, it may encourage more people to shop around for the cheapest deal, would increase the likelihood of more competition in the marketplace and ultimately a reduction in the cost of car insurance, but given the reputation of the insurance world generally, there will almost certainly be more loopholes introduced by them to overcome!

I’m with NFU Mutual, Beryl. I think it makes sense to insist on cars being properly maintained. Their terms state: “YOU must always maintain the VEHICLE in a good mechanical and roadworthy condition and have it regularly serviced.” This would allow for owners to do their own maintenance, as I did until I bought my present car. I agree that it would be a good idea to offer combined servicing and breakdown cover.

I am not sure about allowing all owners to do their own maintenance Wavechange. Apart from checking the usual oil, water, antifreeze, tyres, windscreen wipers and petrol, that is the limit of my maintenance and is only carried out when anticipating a long journey, a rarity these days.

The increased sophisticated technological complexity of new vehicles means maintenance requires constant uptodate specialised training and competence to establish absolute safety on today’s overcrowded and potholed riddled roads. I for one definitely don’t qualify.

Even if the owner only does the basic checks, it’s worth looking for signs of developing problems. Which? testing has shown that servicing work is often done poorly and when my cars have been serviced by the main dealer during their warranty period I have seen examples of this. At present I have a small garage that I trust but I think the owner is coming up to retirement.

Don’t give up, Wavechange. Perhaps a new silencer and shock absorbers will make your trusted repairer fit for another ten years’ service.

Maintain your own car ? modern cars need a computer to find all faults so now I do not maintain mine everything is too complicated but I still check the thing that i am able to check oil ,water tyres etc. frequently Mechanics now plus faulty cars into a computer the change the parts the computer says are faulty An old time mechanic is who could repair everything and did is now hard to find

Maintenance and faultfinding are not the same. A competent owner can still do many jobs and most importantly look for problems between services.

Car owners can still save a lot of money by doing simple but time consuming jobs themselves.

For example, one of the design flaws on my 12-year-old Nissan Note is the flexible cable that connects into the tailgate. After about 10 years of use, fatigue from the repeated bending and straightening of this causes individual wires to start breaking. Then important subsystems like the boot release and the rear screen wiper cease to function.

Once you’ve figured out how to burrow down to the emergency boot release latch, fixing this is then only a matter of making good the failed wiring. However, that is a tedious and time consuming job, because the wires are not colour-coded.

So, after paying for my dealer to fix this the first time, I now do all subsequent repairs myself.

On the plus side, I now know not to even bother thinking about ever buying another Nissan.

This is a common problem. When the rear wiper on my previous Golf stopped working after four years I replaced the all the tailgate wiring with better cable – more strands and more flexible plastic insulation. Because of the limited space, using crimp connectors was out of the question and it was necessary to make soldered connections and provide adequate insulation.

On some cars (e.g. older Fords) there are copper contacts to supply power to the heated window and rear wiper. It’s a simple maintenance task to polish the copper, but unless this is done the ones for the heated window (which carry more current) may overheat and melt the plastic surround, requiring replacements to be fitted.

Thanks wavechange, I’ll add VAG to my “blacklist” too.

It seems to be a fairly general problem, Derek. Those who have older cars and open and close their tailgate frequently are obviously more likely to suffer from broken cables. Using highly flexible multi-stranded cable such as that used for multimeter leads and routing it to delocalise the twisting should eliminate the problem.

“Using highly flexible multi-stranded cable such as that used for multimeter leads and routing it to delocalise the twisting should eliminate the problem.”

I get that, but I would be hoping to buy cars where the designers have gotten the basic ENGINEERING for that right-first-time.

As we’ve both demonstrated from our home repairs, it’s not rocket science, and, as I hope we agree from other convos, dodgy electrics can be a fire hazard too.

I’m frequently disappointed by what I consider to be poor design. It may be the fault of the designer but I suspect that substitution of cheaper and less suitable materials is a factor. In general car design has been improved to reduce problems that were common in the 60s and 70s such as water ingress into connectors, chafing of cables and hoses, and fracture of cables due to inadequate strain relief. Sometimes cables and hoses are not replaced correctly during servicing or repair work, but this is easy to rectify. We sometimes hear about car fires due to electrical faults and I am not surprised.

One example of common but poor design is the cigarette lighter power socket. It is OK for small loads such as a phone charger or sat nav but use a travel kettle or (as I did) a car vacuum cleaner, and the plug could melt.

Trying to get back on-topic, electrical problems are a common reason for call out of breakdown services and will push up premiums.

Many cars just require the fluids and filters changing, plus checks on tyres (damage) which most can do if they don’t mind getting their hands dirty. But quite right, Beryl, for anything more you need a garage.

The big advantage of an MoT is that it should look at all the things that might prejudice safety, such as ball joints, brakes, exhaust, shock absorbers, tyres and identify work that needs doing. The trick is to find a reliable test station that does not use their role to also look for work. A council one in our area only does MoTs – no repair work – and is a good option. My independent garage looks after two old cars, and has never contrived work that didn’t really need doing.

How many owners are qualified to change a cam belt for example? An expensive but vital part of engine maintenance and protection. My garage will advise when this is due for change, something that I never think about. I am quite happy to pay for servicing if it ensures trouble free motoring which so far it has. So in light of your MOT detailed analysis Malcolm, what exactly am I paying extra for when it is being serviced as servicing is evidently part of the MOT process?

I’ve replaced timing belts but on some cars it’s best left to a garage with a ramp and lifting equipment. Failure to replace a belt can lead to very expensive repairs and I shudder to think what would happen if the belt snapped or slipped on a motorway without a hard shoulder.

There’s many vehicles that would fail an MOT on our roads, Beryl. If you enter the registration numbers of ones in your street you are likely to see examples of cars with potentially dangerous faults: https://www.gov.uk/check-mot-history

Thanks – that’s a useful link and also shows if there are any outstanding product recalls.

I’ve given the link a few times but for some reason never mentioned recalls. That is of use for a potential purchaser because recalls may not have ben acted on.

I was under the impression that info was only available to HM constabulary Wavechange! I have checked my own Reg and its history is all there with two fails one for headlight misplacment and one for not working which was immediately rectified by the garage before release. Must ask them to check the exhaust for signs of rust which could fail it at next MOT in May. I am a bit wary of checking the neighbours cars in case of reprisals as my conscience would almost certainly suffer if I failed to inform them if they were driving around in a dangerous and unfit vehicle!

Out of interest I have checked a fair number of cars belonging to neighbours and friends. Wherever I have seen MOT failures a subsequent test has shown a pass, so the faults will have been dealt with. I have not found any cars without current MOTs.

Problems that are not sufficient to result in an MOT failure such as slight corrosion of brake pipes will result in an ‘advisory’, as will tyres that are worn below 3mm or brake pads and disks that are wearing thin.

It can be useful to check a vehicle you suspect has been dumped. If it does not have an MOT or car tax, you can then report it to the police.

Your neighbours would not know you had checked their cars Beryl.

I am aware the police carry out random checks that also include road tax evasion since windscreen discs were discontinued at the end of September 2014. My dilemma would be whether to approach a neighbour or the law in the event of an unsafe vehicle being used Alfa.

It would certainly be useful to check suspect illegally parked cars in our private communal parking area which does happen from time to time despite clearly displayed notices. People have been known to park and go off for a few days on business trips or holiday as our village is situated on a main line rail route.

I understand that automatic number plate recognition is used to help identify untaxed vehicles. If I was aware of an illegal vehicle I would ring the police non-emergency number (101). I did this for the first time yesterday to report a vehicle on the verge of the road into town. It had been involved in a slight accident several days ago and was undriveable with one front wheel at 45° to the other. Mine was the first report and within hours it had been festooned with ‘police aware’ tape.

We have departed from the topic of breakdown cover. 🙁

Twitter On Traffic Police accounts will inform on the number of motorists caught every day for no insurance no tax no MOT etc. More than 1 every day just by one police force Since the subject has moved on

Report untaxed vehicles to the DVLA no MOT to the Police NO insurance to the police Reporting untaxed ones can be done online on the DVLA website

Extras added to modern cars are mostly gadgets not thing a driver NEEDS in this modern age Even before the advent of driverless cars some drivers expect their cars to do most things for them especially when they get themselves into trouble the want the car to get them out of if because the have not been taught to do it themselves as many drivers where learnt to do in the past THEY HAD TO Why some to tell you when you stray out of lane ? you should be paying attention to your driving not expecting a gadget to do it for you

Anything that contributes to road safety is valuable, the more so if it increases driver awareness of prevailing conditions. There are so many potential distractions outside the car so I share your concerns about distractions inside the vehicle but most driving aids have a good purpose and should relieve the stress of driving.

Which? often focuses on the need to shop around when renewing breakdown cover and other insurance. I would be more interested to learn which companies do not hike premiums. I am happy to stay with companies that provide good service and do not try to exploit their customers.

Brian S says:
22 March 2018

RAC renewal – full works cover for my wife, son and me in any car – last year £220. This year £218 PLUS £85 admin fee! So to do nothing but let my existing direct debit go through is £85, or nearly a 40% increase. To add insult to injury, on-line quote as a new member is £173, or over 20% down on last year or over 40% down on my renewal quote. Switching to AA or Green Flag would be much the same at around £190, so guess what I shall be doing…

If you are happy with the service the RAC give I’d suggest ringing them. Tell them you are considering leaving because of the renewal quote, point out the “new member” and their competitors prices and I would be surprised if they do not negotiate a price you are happier with. It should be close to the new member. I have to do this each year with the AA.

On the other hand if you’ve had enough….. 🙁

Simon Brown says:
17 May 2018

I have just received my renewal quote for the AA and so went to their website to check the price for the same cover if I was joining for the first time. The difference was over 30%! I have therefore just cancelled my membership and re-joined as a brand new member at the introductory offer price. The cover is virtually identical with the only significant difference being that legal expenses are excluded, but since these are already covered under my motor insurance I do not need this service. Not the first time they have tried this on, or that I have saved a lot of money by shopping around. Cheeky old AA!

I’ve been with the AA for many years. You don’t need to rejoin (and I would lose some loyalty advantages if I did). Just phone them up, discuss the new member and RAC price, and negotiate your renewal fee. It has worked every year; I presume they expect it.

Simon – The other alternative is to treat the AA with the contempt that they deserve and include breakdown cover with your motor insurance. I did that when the RAC hiked my renewal premium, saved money and when I did call the breakdown number I had been given, an RAC van arrived to sort out my predicament. It’s important to check that the breakdown cover suits your needs. Most motor insurers offer breakdown cover.

When I move from a company that hikes prices I make a point of ringing them up to explain why I have gone. One of the reasons I chose my present motor insurer is that a Which? review said that they don’t do annual price hikes. I should not advertise but it’s a mutual whose name is an acronym of FUN. 🙂