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What is European breakdown cover and do I need it?

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Written by Adrian Holliday, Finance Writer

Edited by Dan Moore, Finance Writer, 28 January 2022

Breaking down whilst on holiday can be extremely stressful, but good quality European breakdown protection isn’t expensive. Read on to find out more about European breakdown insurance.
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What is European breakdown cover and do I need it?

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Holidays abroad may seem like a distant memory, but as the pandemic appears to be passing, thoughts are turning to a week or two in the sun. If you’re planning to take a trip across the Channel this year, the last thing you want is for your car to expire at the side of the Autobahn. 

Breakdown cover can provide peace of mind, while you enjoy a well-earned break, providing you get the right policy.

What is European breakdown cover?

With European breakdown cover, vehicle repairs that are needed to get you back up and running would be carried out at the roadside. If they can’t, perhaps because it’s not safe, isn’t permitted (as is the case on French motorways) or the problem requires more work, you’ll be towed to a local garage rather than left stranded. 

It sounds simple, and it is in theory, but it’s worth noting that breakdown protection varies wildly, so be sure to scrutinise your policy before heading off. 

European breakdown cover offers much more than just a tow truck and a quick fix at the side of the road or in a local garage. Other key benefits include:

  • Pre-trip protection: you can call the breakdown service if your car won’t start when you’re intending to leave home on holiday

  • Repairs: your policy will pay for some or all of the repairs required to get your car back on the road. Always check the limit, as it may be worth paying a little more for extra cover

  • Courtesy car: you can expect a courtesy car to be delivered to you so you won’t be stranded while repairs are being undertaken

  • Misfuelling: Some providers will cover costs stemming from putting the wrong fuel in your car, including recovery and repair

  • Key cover: pays for repairing and replacing lost or damaged locks and car keys or fobs

  • Repatriation: you may be covered for the cost of returning your car to the UK for comprehensive repairs. 

Breakdown policies: what else might you need?

When comparing policies, it’s also worth checking to see whether the following benefits are included:

  • 24/7 cover: not all European breakdown protection include 24/7 cover so check for any day or night restrictions

  • Car parts: are parts included or not? Generally, they’re not but check

  • Towing restrictions: what conditions lie in the small print? If your car needs towing to a garage, is this extra?

  • Onward travel and temporary accommodation: if you continue your journey by public transport while your vehicle’s repaired, are these costs covered? Also, are you covered for temporary local accommodation while your car is fixed?

  • Overall claims limits: are there any restrictions on the number of claims you can make?

  • Number of people in vehicle: find out what are the limits? This is particularly important for mini-bus cover as well as any car cover with repatriation promises.

COVID-19 – how does it affect my travel plans now? 

Advice on travelling abroad is constantly evolving in response to the latest developments. If there’s an outbreak here or in a country you are travelling through or holidaying in you should check the latest rules on the government’s travel advice website

Don’t attempt to travel to a country that has restrictions or that the UK government has stated should not be visited and ensure you follow quarantine rules before and while travelling. Otherwise, your cover could be invalidated. 

Also, note that although breakdown services are operating abroad, there may be delays in reaching you due to possible local restrictions. Check on your breakdown provider for any updates and advice before travelling.

Is my European breakdown cover still valid now that the UK has left the EU?

Although the UK is no longer part of the European Union most providers have not changed their European breakdown policies. This means you’ll still have access to the same services you would have had before Brexit, unless your provider has contacted you to say differently.  

How much European cover do I need?

The amount of cover required will depend on your vehicle, but most cars, vans, minibuses and motorbikes can be covered. 

You’ll then need to consider how many European trips you plan to make in a year. This can help you decide whether you need: 

  • Single trip or short-term cover: policies can cover single trips from just one day up to around 180 days 

  • Annual cover: longer-term cover could work out to be better value overall if you plan to take two or three trips a year. Be sure to check if there’s a limit on the number of consecutive days you can be covered for 

You may not need any breakdown policy at all if you’re covered through your bank account – Nationwide’s FlexPlus account and Co-Op’s Everyday Extra Account offer such cover, for example.

Should I opt for Personal cover or vehicle cover?

There are two types of cover: personal and vehicle. 

Personal breakdown cover

This is the more expensive of the two, with prices starting at around £7 a day. It’s costlier because it covers the driver and not any specific car. This makes it harder for the insurer to assess the potential value or likelihood of a claim. 

Always read the T&Cs before buying personal cover as certain cars, such as those more than 15 years or so old, of a high value or high performance may be excluded.

If your household has more than one vehicle then it’s an option to consider, as you’ll be covered which ever you drive.

Vehicle breakdown cover

The less expensive option, with prices starting at around £3 a day for single trip cover. It covers you while driving the car on your policy schedule only.

How much does European breakdown cover cost? 

While a higher level of breakdown protection may cost more, it’s not always the case. Shop around and you may find better-value and better-quality protection. 

You generally build your cover according to what you want. Policy cost depends on how long you will be away for and any excess charges.

Most policies need details of your vehicle, including age and condition. You must also say if you’ve made any modifications. If you tow a caravan or trailer on your trip, then you will need to check any repatriation options carefully. 

Your existing UK breakdown policy might allow you to upgrade for a modest fee – but be careful if the fee seems too high. It may be cheaper to buy standalone cover.

How do I compare European breakdown costs? 

It is easy to compare Uswitch breakdown cover. After entering a few details about yourself, your vehicle and the type of cover you’re after, you can then compare quotes quickly. 

It’s straightforward to work out quotes by price and what’s included as well as courtesy car availability and any excesses.

Checklists of essentials to pack for a European trip

Each country has its own rules of what you should carry in the car at all times. 

For example, consider France’s requirements:

  • Emergency warning triangle (two in Spain)

  • Headlight beam deflectors

  • Unused breathalyser, which shows the French certification mark ‘NF’

  • High visibility reflective jackets for each occupant of your vehicle

  • Spare headlight bulb kit 

  • If your car registration plates don’t display the EU symbol/Union Flag then you need a GB sticker

  • Spare pair of driving glasses if you use driving glasses

  • Some French cities now demand emissions stickers – ‘clean air’ vignettes – on your windscreen

Pay close attention to mobile phone use. Using a Bluetooth hands-free mobile in France is illegal. In some cases, you can have your licence suspended regardless of nationality if caught using a mobile at the wheel – which would seriously disrupt your driving holiday. 

Sat Navs that warn you of speed cameras in France are also illegal – so turn off your satnav speed camera alerts.

Extra driving rules to consider

Winter tyres are mandatory in Austria, Czech Republic and compulsory in Italy on certain roads. In mountainous regions of France, Germany and Italy snow chains must be carried in the car. 

If you are not sure about highly specific local requirements, check carefully before leaving. Typically, European winter tyre regulations come into force between 1 November and the middle of April.

Rude or offensive gestures towards other road users can attract steep fines in Germany, for example. Be aware too of local rules around eating at the wheel and distraction risk.

10 tips to remember when driving in Europe 

Here’s a few more ideas to help you get the best policy deal:

  • Remember, you don’t want to duplicate cover or spend money you don’t need to. Does your bank offer you European breakdown cover via your current or savings accounts? The same goes for your insurance cover – you might already have cover

  • Likewise, if your car’s fairly new your manufacturer warranty might include European breakdown protection. Check?

  • Does your car have a spare wheel – if not, are you covered in a blow-out? (Some countries will demand that you carry a full-size spare)

  • Documentation – take your driving licence, insurance cover note and your V5 log book. Not taking all these documents risks a fine from European police

  • If your car is lower value – say under £2,000 – are there any repatriation cost limits burrowed away in the small print? 

  • GB sticker - some department stores can charge £10 plus. They’re less than half that price on eBay

  • Bear in mind some policies may need you to pay up front for any costs – so keep any breakdown paperwork and receipts so you can claim back later

  • Take a car spare key and find a safe place in your luggage to keep it

  • And don’t forget your European breakdown cover documentation – policy numbers, ‘phone numbers. You may need to upgrade your car insurance if you’re heading overseas

  • A cheap policy can be cheap for a reason and riddled with get-out clauses. But there are good value policies that offer high quality cover too. A low quality policy is always a bad deal

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