Auto Insurance vs. AAA: What's Better For Roadside Assistance?

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  • Roadside assistance is extremely useful.
  • A lot of auto insurers either offer it as add-on coverage or even include it as part of a regular policy.
  • AAA is best known for roadside assistance, but a membership comes with other perks that might be useful to you.

Evaluate your options to make the best choice for you and your car.

If you've been a licensed driver for any sizable length of time, chances are you've found yourself on the side of the road in need of some help. Perhaps you ran out of gas, locked yourself out of your car, or had a simple flat tire. Or maybe you've had something more colorful go wrong, like accidentally running over someone's discarded tailpipe on a snowy highway, puncturing your oil pan, and having all of your engine's oil leak out. That was me one day back when I was a grad student. It wasn't a fun day, but thankfully, I had roadside assistance coverage through my auto insurance.

Roadside assistance coverage can be added to many car insurance policies, and having access to it can really come in handy. Roadside assistance can help you if your car breaks down for any reason -- it can include towing services, battery jumpstarts, locksmith help, and more. And it can be especially useful if you have an older car that is out of warranty from the manufacturer, as they are more likely to require mechanical intervention.

But if you're interested in roadside assistance, plus access to various discounts and other useful perks, you may be wondering if you should get a AAA membership instead of opting for roadside assistance through your insurer. Here are a few questions and answers that can help you decide between car insurance and AAA for roadside assistance.

Does my auto insurance come with roadside assistance?

If you're trying to decide whether to spring for roadside assistance through AAA, it's a good idea to review the policy details for your auto insurance, as you might already have it. If you have a comprehensive policy with your insurer, roadside assistance could be included, or you may already be paying for it. Through your insurer, it's likely a nominal fee of perhaps $8 to $25 per year. If you already have this coverage, or can easily add it to your insurance policy, is it worth also considering a AAA membership? Perhaps.

How much is a AAA membership?

Pricing for AAA memberships vary based on where you live, how many vehicles you want to cover, and whether any special deals are available. As of this writing, here are the available membership tiers/annual costs available to me:

Basic Plus Premier
$40.60 per year $66.50 $92.40
Data source: AAA Northeast

As you can see, even the basic level of membership is more than the average annual cost of roadside assistance through an auto insurer. However, AAA very clearly outlines the level of service they provide; for example, if I opted for the Plus level membership, I would be entitled to four roadside assistance calls per year, and AAA would tow my car up to 100 miles. My auto insurance policy is through one of the larger national insurers, and according to its website as well as my experience of using this service in the past, it only covers towing my vehicle to "the nearest repair facility." This is less helpful to me than being able to choose where my vehicle is taken. And remember, AAA membership comes with more than just help if your car breaks down.

What does a AAA membership include?

AAA is pretty well-known for offering a myriad of discounts on hotel stays, car rentals, and other travel expenses. But it also gives members the chance to reap discounts on dining out, gym memberships, and even prescription eyeglasses. And these discounts are available regardless of the AAA membership level you purchase. Suddenly, paying for even a basic level membership might make more sense for you.

Will I use these extra features?

Now we reach the crux of the matter: Does paying for a AAA membership make sense for your budget? If you will use the discounts and perks available to you as a AAA member, you're a frequent traveler, or even if you drive an older vehicle that is prone to mechanical problems and you'd prefer to have more flexibility in the roadside assistance available to you, then a AAA membership might indeed make sense for you. It's a good idea to find out if you have roadside assistance coverage through your auto insurer, what it might cover, and how much a AAA membership might cost you. This information will help you make the right choice.

If you, too, have known the dread that comes with a car breaking down and leaving you stranded on the side of the road, you've no doubt rejoiced that roadside assistance programs can save the day (or at least your bank account, because towing services are often expensive). Now that you know how to decide between roadside assistance through your insurer or AAA, you are better prepared to be safe behind the wheel (as well as save some money).

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