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Roadside assistance benefits

Many credit cards offers some form of roadside dispatch benefit. But in most cases, you’re likely to be disappointed once you dig into the details of what the benefit covers.

Most roadside assistance services offered as credit card benefits provide referrals to local roadside assistance providers. These providers can help with towing, changing a tire, or jump starting your car. Some roadside assistance services can also dispatch a locksmith or deliver fuel in an emergency

But you’ll find that these services are provided for free only in very few cases, on a small number of premium credit cards.

The call is free. The service is not.

Most credit cards offers some form of complimentary roadside dispatch services where you can call a call center and get referred to a towing company, locksmith or other roadside service provider. While calling the dispatch service is usually free, the service provider will charge for their services. Some roadside assistance programs charge a flat fee for service calls, but very few will cover the cost of towing, locksmith service or other roadside assistance services.

Visa Signature cards typically come with a roadside dispatch benefit that can provide towing, tire changes, jumpstarts, lockout service, fuel delivery or standard winching for a set fee. Mastercard has a similar RoadAssist Roadside Service. American Express dropped its complimentary roadside assistance program and now offers a roadside assistance hotline for cardmembers. Use of the roadside assistance hotline is free, but the actual roadside assistance services provided will be billed per-service.

The rare exceptions are a small number of Chase premium credit cards that cover $50 in roadside assistance services, up to four times per year.

What to do before you need roadside assistance

Know your benefits. Because very few cards actually offer paid roadside assistance benefit, be sure to read your card’s guide to benefits to understand what your particular card offers. As mentioned above, most cards only offer a dispatch/referral service to roadside assistance service providers. Some cards will provide roadside assistance for a flat fee. Very few cards cover the cost of roadside assistance.

Keep the dispatch number handy. If your car breaks down and you need to use your roadside dispatch or roadside assistance benefit, you probably won’t want to be hunting around for your card’s guide to benefits to find the phone number to call. It can be a good idea to keep the roadside dispatch number in your glove box or store it in your phone.

Where else can I get roadside assistance coverage?

Most people will be best served by getting roadside assistance insurance coverage through some place other than their credit card. Here are a few places to look for this coverage.

Your car’s warranty. In my case, my car came with a roadside assistance benefit for the first five years that I own my car. I’ve used this benefit once to get a jump start and it didn’t cost me anything extra. If you purchased a new car, check to see if your car’s warranty includes a roadside assistance benefit. You might already have this benefit and need to pay nothing for it.

Your car insurance company. Your car insurance company likely offers one of the cheapest ways to get roadside assistance service. Most car insurance companies can add roadside assistance to your policy. In my case, I added roadside assistance to my policy for $5 per six months. This roadside assistance package covers any car I drive, including rental cars.

AAA. When most people think of roadside assistance, they think of AAA. AAA Basic membership starts at $69/year and offers a full suite of roadside assistance benefits, including towing, lockout service, flat tier service and emergency fuel delivery.