Canadians drive a lot. According to research firm International Comparisons, Canadians drive about 8,200 kilometres annually per capita, second only to American drivers who average 13,000 kilometres each year. According to Statistics Canada, the average passenger vehicle in Canada logged 15,400 kilometres. Factor in harsh and unpredictable weather and long, unpopulated stretches between clusters, and it’s easy to imagine being stranded by the side of the road a long way from help.
Enter roadside assistance. There are plenty of options to choose from for programs that will help out when you need it. And you will need it. Even if you’re happy changing a tire after a blowout, at some point, you will lock your keys in your car, or it will refuse to start one morning in the dead of winter.
Roadside Assistance: How Can We Help You?
There are four types of roadside assistance suppliers:
- Auto manufacturers like General Motors and Ford Motor Co. offer roadside assistance programs, often bundled with the price of the car. Ford’s roadside assistance program is free for the length of a new vehicle’s powertrain warranty. GM’s OnStar offers internet-connected services on a subscription basis.
- Associations, clubs, and retailers offer roadside assistance programs to members and customers, usually on an annual basis. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) is the standard-bearer; the oval sticker is on 6.4 million vehicles in Canada. Retailers like Canadian Tire offer tiered plans through third-party operators.
- Financial institutions—banks and insurance companies—may also offer roadside assistance with their coverage. One advantage is the all-in-one approach: By bundling your home and auto insurance along with roadside assistance from Desjardins, for example, you might save money. Conversely, the CAA will bundle car, home, and travel insurance with your membership, and even offers insurance to non-members.
- Credit card issuers also will bundle roadside assistance with some of their premium offerings, or as a separate purchase. The TD Cash Back Infinite Visa ($120 per year), for example, provides Deluxe TD Auto Club Membership. That plan includes accident assistance benefits on top of the usual towing, lockout, and tire change services, as well as discounts and insurance on car rentals purchased with the card. The Bank of Montreal also offers a roadside assistance plan with its CashBack World and CashBack World Elite Mastercards ($79 and $120 per year, respectively). Check with your bank, since products, rates, and benefits change frequently.
How to Choose a Roadside Assistance Program
There are a lot of options. So how to choose? There are five primary considerations.
The services included in a program is an obvious consideration. Not all programs are created equal on the service provision front. At a minimum, a program should provide towing, jump start, lockout, fuel delivery and roadside tire changes. Some plans offer merchandise discounts and loyalty rewards at affiliated retailers.
Read the fine print on service caps. Most programs will cover four service calls per year; some offer more. Towing distances may be capped at as little as 10 kilometres per call. Fuel delivery to your out-of-gas vehicle may not include the cost of the fuel itself. Some programs, like TD Infinite Visa’s accident coverage, will put a dollar cap on towing ($200, in this case). Also check who is covered under the plan: Is it just the cardholder, or are spouses and children also covered?
Geographic coverage is also a concern. If you travel to the U.S. frequently, you’ll want to make sure your coverage is North America-wide.
How Much Does Roadside Assistance Cost?
Cost is also a prime consideration, but like selecting a car insurance policy, the price tag shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Plans (other than inclusive insurance and credit card programs) can cost from about $60 to about $150. Still, especially with providers that offer tiered programs, it’s important not to focus on price alone without considering the other components of a program. That extra service call or larger towing allowance could be worth the additional $20 to go to a premium plan.
The vehicle’s mileage and your driving patterns also factor into determining the most appropriate plan. If you do a lot of rural driving, for example, the towing radius is more important than it is for someone who drives primarily in the city and is more concerned with bundling insurance or banking services. And, of course, the age and condition of your vehicle is a consideration. If you drive an old beater, you’re more likely to need a roadside assistance plan than if your car is still under the manufacturer’s warranty.
Almost every company that insures cars will offer roadside assistance as an upsell, and it may even be included in comprehensive plans. The cost is often minimal. On the other hand, make sure calls for roadside assistance don’t count as claims against your policy. Instead of saving money, your premiums could go up. There’s also the benefit of the insurer’s network of trusted roadside professionals with whom they’re in touch with on a near-daily basis.