NEW YORK – A roadside-assistance plan is among the few purchases that pays for itself the first time you use it. Drivers have plenty of choices these days, from motor clubs that offer a host of services and discounts to cheap add-ons to your insurance policy. Many auto manufacturers also include roadside assistance with new cars but the plans may come with restrictions and generally expire with the car's warranty.
The Automobile Association of America is the oldest and largest club, with 49 million members. The basic roadside services — towing to any service station within three miles, locksmith, flat tire, gasoline and minor epairs — come with membership, which costs $38 to $80 a year, depending on which chapter you belong to (there are 61 of them). You can also add family members for an extra fee and you'll have AAA's nationwide network of service stations and tow trucks to rely on. A single tow can make a year's worth of dues pay for itself and members also get discounts on travel, shopping and insurance.
AARP offers a plan through the General Electric Motor Club. A standard membership costs $44 for one person or $74 for a family and includes towing up to five miles as well as money for bail if you are arrested for a traffic violation and a reward if your car is stolen.
How practical those last two are depends on your driving habits and penchant for parking expensive hot rods on the street. For $25 more a year, a premier membership comes with free towing up to 100 miles and extra reimbursement for incidentals if your trip is interrupted.
Allstate has its own motor club, open to insurance customers and noncustomers alike. Plans range from $48 a year to $156 for a platinum membership that includes up to $250 worth of roadside service and $1,500 worth of trip-interruption reimbursements. The club has 1.3 million members.
Buying an extension to your auto insurance is the cheapest and most straightforward way to make sure a tow truck finds you. Allstate charges under $20 a year, Progressive charges $14 and State Farm less than $5. But you won't get extra services like reimbursement for meals and lodging with those plans, just a tow or a boost when you need one. Using the service would not impact a driver's premiums, the insurers said.
Something to remember when shopping for a plan: some clubs place limits on how many times you can use their services in a given period and manufacturer tow services may take you only to the nearest dealer, which may not be to your liking.
Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.