At first blush, buying roadside assistance at the rental car counter might seem like good idea. After all, the cost might seem relatively small at $4 to $7 per day, and it might give you peace of mind to know that you can get help on the road if you have a breakdown or other mishap.
But ask industry insiders, and they'll tell you that roadside protection is a really bad deal for consumers. For starters, roadside assistance ordinarily provides limited coverage only for driver-induced incidents—locking keys in the vehicle, losing keys, running out of fuel, or needing a jump start if the battery runs down. You're not covered for accidents or collisions that are the renter's responsibility, and you're not covered for mechanical breakdowns that are the rental company's responsibility.
What's more, there can be a wide variation in how rental car companies define their roadside assistance services. Hertz guarantees assistance in 90 minutes or the price of coverage is refunded. Dollar and Thrifty both offer a similar 90-minute guarantee.
Alamo and National pay for towing not related to an accident (which would, of course, be the most likely time a renter would need to have a vehicle towed). Payless says Roadside Assistance will cover towing or winching “if the vehicle becomes inoperable” to a site where the vehicle could be repaired.
Why Rental Car Roadside Assistance is a Ripoff
The truth is that some rental car companies selling roadside assistance really aren't equipped to properly provide the service. In particular, Payless appears to have a completely worthless roadside assistance program. AutoSlash has received complaints about virtually every rental company from renters who have been left stranded for hours.
The most reputable rental companies typically rely upon contracted service from external service providers or organizations. A company with newer, well-maintained vehicles might even be covered for roadside protection for free under manufacturers' under program agreements. In this case, a car manufacturer would include roadside assistance to the rental car company. While these special "program cars" represent about a quarter all rental cars, the counter staff will still try to sell you roadside assistance.
Don't Rely on Personal Auto Insurance for Rental Car Roadside Assistance
The emergency road service that may come with your personal auto insurance policy is probably not going to help you out. These low-cost insurance riders rarely extend to rental cars. Always check to see what your policy covers before assuming that services are the same for your personal auto and a rental car.
AAA Provides Roadside Assistance for Rental Cars
The best-known roadside assistance provider in the U.S., AAA is an option for drivers who also want coverage in a rental car. In fact, AAA members are covered in any car, whether they are a driver or a passenger. Any car includes rental cars. While AAA is a large group of smaller associations, service extends through the United States and Canada.
If you have AAA membership, be sure to note it when requesting a car rental quote, as it can bring you a discount.
When renting a car, AAA membership also comes in handy:
- to avoid an additional driver fee,
- to waive a young driver fee,
- to reserve a fee-free child safety seat,
AARP Provides Roadside Assistance for Rental Cars
AARP membership is also frequently used to save on rental cars. All-State offers a slightly discounted version of its roadside assistance program for members of AARP as an add-on to the basic AARP membership, with costs mirroring AAA's.
The program is emphatic that members are "always covered in any car, anywhere, anytime as a driver or passenger!," which obviously extends to rental cars. And, like AAA, AARP offers this service for rentals in the U.S. and Canada.
AARP offers basic benefits to travelers who rent from the AvisBudget Group (Avis, Budget, and Payless) and include discounts, free additional drivers, and a firm cap on damages.
Roadside Assistance Policies at Rental Car Companies