Dear Savvy Senior,
I would like to get my wife and I set up with some type of roadside assistance service in case we get a flat tire or our battery conks out. Can you recommend some good and affordable services for retirees on a budget?
--Too Old to Fix a Flat
Dear Too Old,
Getting set up with a roadside assistance service you can call on day or night if your vehicle breaks down is a smart idea, and can provide you and your wife some real peace of mind. Here are some different options to look into that help you find a plan.
For years, auto clubs like AAA were the only option drivers had when it came to roadside assistance, but today you have lots of choices. Most roadside assistance plans provide services like towing, flat-tire changes, jump-starting a battery, lost-key or lockout services, fuel delivery and help with stuck vehicles.
Before you start shopping for a roadside assistance plan, you first need to find out if you already have coverage, or have access to inexpensive coverage that you're not aware of.
For example, if you drive a vehicle that is still under warranty, there's a good chance you're already covered. Most auto manufacturers now include comprehensive roadside assistance coverage for free when you buy a new or certified used car. This typically lasts as long as the basic warranty, but not always. Be sure you check.
Also check your auto insurance provider, your credit card issuers and cell phone service providers. Many of these services provide different variations of roadside assistance as add-on plans that cost only a few dollars per year, or they're free.
But be aware that many of these services are limited in what they cover. When investigating these options, find out the benefit details including: Who's covered (individuals and vehicles); how many roadside-assistance calls are allowed each year (three or four is typical); the average response time per service call; and the towing rules on where they will tow (to the nearest repair shop, or one that you choose) and how far (about 5 miles for basic plan is common, although some plans might cap the amount they pay for a tow at $100 or less).
If you find that you aren't covered, or you want a better roadside plan than what's currently available to you, you'll want to check out auto/motor clubs. Most of these clubs offer two or more levels of membership depending on how much roadside assistance you want and are willing to pay for, and they often provide a variety of discounts on things like hotels, rental cars and other services.
One of the best known and longest running clubs, AAA offers comprehensive services and has an extensive network of more than 40,000 roadside assistance providers, which usually means fast response times. Costs vary widely from $48 to $162 per year depending on where you live and the plan you choose, plus an additional fee for adding a family member.
Some other clubs to consider that may be a little less expensive include Allstate Motor Club; AARP Roadside Assistance for AARP members only; Better World Club; BP Motor Club; Good Sam; and GM Motor Club.
Another new money saving option to consider is pay-on-demand roadside assistance services like Urgently and Honk. If you use a smartphone and live in their service area, these non-membership app-based services will let you call for help via smartphone, and will only charge you for the assistance you need at a low price.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.