The pros and cons of roadside assistance services

It’s almost that time of year again, when many South Africans pack up their cars and set off for the summer holidays; a time of long trips, busy roads and an unfortunate increase in car accidents. To prepare you for the festive season and ensure your safety throughout the year, Moneybags investigates whether you should sign up for a roadside assistance service, and what kinds of options are available to you.

Check your insurance policy

Over the years most insurance companies have improved their cover to include a comprehensive roadside assistance service.

If you insure your vehicle with First for Women, for example, you have access to their Road Assist and Guardian Angels. If you break down, Accident Assist will tow you to the nearest panel beater and cover 72 hours of storage (at a First for Women certified partner). If you run out of petrol, Road Assist will bring you 10 litres (charged at standard fuel prices, although the delivery is for free). Guardian Angels cover a variety of emergency callout services, from a flat tyre to a dead battery to locking your keys in the car. The call-out fee and first hour of labour are covered, and your Cash Back remains unaffected.

Qualifying OUTsurance clients in South Africa with annual limits of R5 000 (and a maximum of two incidents) have access to Help@OUT, a 24 hour emergency service which covers both vehicle and home emergencies. All costs relating to the towing and storage of your vehicle are covered in the case of an accident or breakdown (at an OUTsurance partner). And, if you are over 50km from home, OUTsurance will cover your accommodation or alternative transport home.

Similar benefits are available with Discovery, MiWay and other big insurance brands. Check your policy carefully or speak to a consultant to find out more about your benefits.

The Automobile Association of South Africa

Currently, the AA offers similar roadside assistance options to First for Women and Help@OUT, with a few differentiating factors, such as the management of claims against the Road Accident Fund. They can alert you to traffic fines in your name, and will even contest them on your behalf if relevant.  They also offer new services such as ‘Home Chauffeur’, ensuring you get home safely if you have exceeded the alcohol limit.

If your current insurance policy does not include a roadside assistance service, then joining the AA could be a cost-effective option. “With a long history as South Africa’s most well-known motoring advocacy organisation, you can trust that you are in safe hands,” says Kade Goldun of the AA, South Africa.

Is it worth signing up for AA on top of my insurance benefits?

This depends largely on how often and far you travel, and how many call outs your insurance offers you. The AA still leads in some ways with its cover. For example, its technicians can fix minor car issues on site, instead of towing you to a partner mechanic where you could be charged more.  “All our drivers are qualified technicians,” says Goldun, “So most minor technical issues are fixed on site as part of a complementary call out.”

Further to this, the AA are upgrading all products from 1 November 2015. “Unlimited call out benefits on Advantage Membership is just one example of the many unbeatable upgrades the AA are bringing to the market,” says Goldun. If you drive regularly, this could be an alternative to the policies offered by insurance companies.

Roadside assistance services on new cars

When purchasing a new or used car, make sure you investigate the roadside assistance services offered by the manufacturer. For example, BMW On Call is a standard service provided to any new BMW owner for up to 60 months from date of purchase, and includes 24 hour roadside assistance, towing, accommodation and emergency medical help. Certain benefits also apply to BMW used car buyers.

VW Alert and Alert Plus offer 24 roadside assistance to Volkswagen owners for up to three years or 120,000km, whichever occurs first. “VW offers this service as a benefit to any VW cars purchased new after 1 May 2006, so long as they are under warranty,” says team leader Jason Barnard of VW Alert. “If your vehicle is second hand but still under warranty then the VW Alert benefits still apply.”

Mercedes-Benz Service24h and Ford Roadside Assistance have similar benefits.

Get to grips with your policy

Make sure you know what your insurance policy offers in terms of roadside assistance, as well as the emergency assistance benefits that may come with your new (or even used) car. Ultimately, if you are frequently on the road such a policy could be invaluable when you suffer car trouble.