Does car insurance cover towing?

If a breakdown left you stranded by the side of the road, here’s what you need to know.

In a perfect world, no driver would ever find themselves stranded on the side of the road with a broken-down car. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and breakdowns happen. If you find yourself in need of a tow-truck ride to the nearest repair shop, you’re likely wondering how much, if any, of that tow will be covered by your car insurance. The answer depends on the specifics of your policy.

Most car insurance policies won’t cover towing because of a mechanical issue, but roadside assistance, also called towing and labor coverage, is a usually inexpensive coverage add-on offered by most major auto insurance carriers.

If you don’t already have towing and labor coverage as part of your policy then your insurance policy probably won’t cover towing.

But if you have what’s sometimes referred to as full coverage, or liability insurance plus collision and comprehensive coverage, or if you pay for roadside assistance through a separate service, your tow-truck ride might be covered after all. And if you were involved in an accident that was caused by another driver, then subsequent towing may be covered by the at-fault driver’s insurance.

What is roadside assistance?

Roadside assistance, sometimes called emergency road service coverage or towing and labor coverage, is a car insurance coverage option that covers you in case you’re stranded on the road, like if you get a flat tire, or run out of gas, or get into an accident that makes it impossible for you to keep driving.

How do I get roadside assistance?

If your auto policy only includes liability coverage, then it probably doesn’t include roadside assistance.

But if you have collision coverage, which covers damage from an accident regardless of who was at fault, and comprehensive coverage, which covers damage from weather events, vandalism and a host of other incidents, your policy may also include roadside assistance. A note: collision and comprehensive coverage typically require you to meet an out-of-pocket deductible of either $500 or $1,000 before the coverage kicks in.

If your policy doesn’t already include roadside assistance, or towing and labor, it’s usually easy to add on. You can purchase an endorsement — a rider to your base policy — for around $5 to $15 per car.

What does roadside assistance cover?

The specific services covered depend on your insurance carrier, but roadside assistance, or towing and labor coverage, typically covers:

  • Flat tire changes
  • Jump starts
  • Fuel or battery delivery to your car
  • A locksmith if your key is lost, stolen, or locked in your vehicle
  • Towing (often only up to a certain distance)

Some auto providers offer multiple tiers of roadside assistance coverage. Nationwide, for example, has multiple coverage options, including bare-bones towing and labor coverage, a basic roadside assistance package that covers towing up to 15 miles, and its “Nationwide Roadside Assistance Plus,” which covers towing up to 100 miles. Travelers also has two levels of roadside assistance, basic and “premier,” which cover either up to 15 or 100 miles of towing respectively.

You may be able to request a tow truck directly through your carrier or you may have to pay out of pocket and then request reimbursement later. If you’ll need reimbursement, remember to document everything and save all of your receipts. The better records you keep, the easier the reimbursement process will be down the road. And remember, if your car is towed to a lot, remember to pick it up as quickly as possible. Your actual tow might be covered, but your insurance won’t cover the extra costs you’ll rack up if you neglect to pick up your car.

Will insurance cover towing costs if I don’t have roadside assistance?

If you don’t have roadside assistance or towing and labor coverage, your insurance likely won’t cover towing after a breakdown. But if you’re involved in an accident caused by another driver, and your car is too badly damaged to keep driving it, any towing you need should be covered by the at-fault driver’s liability insurance. Liability insurance exists to cover damage that a driver causes with their vehicle.

So if another driver causes an accident that damages your vehicle, their insurance should cover that damage, including your tow-truck ride to the repair shop. But be sure to retrieve your vehicle as quickly as you can — because, while the other party’s insurance should cover necessary repairs and labor, if you leave your car sitting in a tow lot for longer than is necessary, they might not cover the fees incurred if you don’t pick up your car in a timely manner.

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Is my car covered by insurance while it’s being towed?

Yes, your car is still covered by insurance while it’s being towed, even though you’re not in it. If the tow truck towing your car is in an accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance will pay for damage to your vehicle, just like if you were in an accident while driving. And if you have collision coverage, you’ll likely be covered if your car is damaged while it’s being towed.

What about third-party roadside assistance?

If your insurance doesn’t offer roadside assistance, there are other ways to make sure you’re covered. Some car manufacturers offer roadside assistance with a new car, usually free up to a certain amount of time or number of miles. If you purchase a used car, you may be able to get roadside assistance for that vehicle through the dealership, often as part of a warranty.

There are also standalone roadside assistance providers, like AAA, which offers you a certain amount of towing per year, depending on which coverage plan you purchase. Other roadside assistance providers include Good Sam Roadside Assistance, National General Motor Club, Allstate Motor Club and Better World Club. AARP also offers a roadside assistance program for its members, who must be older than 50 to join.

And believe or not, your cell service provider may also offer roadside assistance. Both AT&T and Verizon have roadside assistance plans that cover towing, along with fuel delivery, lockout assistance and jump-starts for a few dollars a month.

Regular maintenance and safe driving can help minimize your roadside emergencies, but, for those times when you find yourself stuck on the side of the highway, it helps to have some kind of coverage.

Policygenius’ editorial content is not written by an insurance agent. It’s intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal or financial advice. Consult a professional to learn what financial products are right for you.

Updated February 15, 2019
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