Don’t Waste Your Money on AAA: Four Options for Free or Low-Cost Roadside Assistance for Your Family

Gettin' juiced

Jumping your battery is a common service provided by roadside assistance (Photo credit: Charles Williams)

It’s time that you stop renewing your AAA membership. There are plenty of great, low-cost options for roadside assistance that make the yearly payout on AAA a complete waste of your family’s money.

AAA is pretty much a rite of passage. A child collects their license at which time parents turn over their keys and a brand new AAA card. Parents want to ensure that their children can get access to a jump, a tow or a spare flat tire should fate strand them on the side of the road. For decades, AAA has meant piece of mind for parents handing the keys over to the next generation.

What does tradition at cost at AAA? A basic annual membership is nearly $60. It covers 4 service calls, towing within 5 miles and a flat rate of $50 for a locksmith. It costs nearly $40 to cover a second driver. In other words, tradition is quite costly compared to your alternatives.

Over the last several years many companies have sought to add roadside assistance to their products as a way to entice new consumers, but many of us simply never took notice. You might already have roadside coverage from many sources without knowing it.

Here are some free and low-cost products that offer roadside assistance.

Your American Express Card

I featured this deal a few weeks ago, but it’s worth bringing up again. American Express offers free roadside assistance to their card members. It even extends to those that have prepaid cards. The card covers towing, battery jump, tire changes and locksmith services. It all costs nothing so long as you have a card that doesn’t use periodic or membership fees. Many other card issuers offer free or low-cost roadside assistance as well.

Your Car’s Battery

Before you are tempted to call a towing company, you might want to pop the hood of your car to take a look around. You don’t need to know anything about fixing cars to find the solution to your problem. You merely need to inspect your car battery to see if free roadside assistance is offered. Some premium manufacturers, like Bosch Batteries, offer free roadside assistance. You only need to call the number on the top of you battery.

Your Car Insurance

Few car insurance companies offer free roadside assistance, but they charge far less than AAA. Progressive charges roughly $30 per year and GEICO charges $24. All State offers free roadside assistance to its customers. Most companies have their own plans and most of those plans offer more coverage than AAA, for less cost.

Your Cell Phone Plan

Many cell providers offer roadside assistance plan and they are cheaper than AAA although not by much. For $3 to $4 each month, you can have access to roadside assistance. It may only save you $10 or $20, but it is cheaper than AAA.

I’ve needed roadside assistance on many occasions. It is definitely an insurance product you want to pass on to your children, but these days there is no reason waste money on AAA. There are plenty of free and low-cost options. You only need to pick the one that makes the most sense for your family.

Do you use AAA? Have you ever used an option outside of AAA?

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  1. says

    Learn how to jumpstart a battery and change a flat tire, and you’ve pretty much got nearly all of AAA’s potential help calls covered.

    I have used AAA (and my wife is still a member–she thinks the hotel discounts alone make it worthwhile), but I moved to an organization called the Better World Club, which promotes itself as America’s only eco-friendly auto club. BWC also has a cyclist’s plan. If these sorts of things matter to you, worth checking out.

    • John says

      You’d be surprised though. I’ve been in some locations where it was hard to find someone willing to jump me. (cough SNOBS cough)

      What kind of coverage does BWD have? I know that there have been a few times I could have used some roadside assistance.

    • Cow says

      I take road trips every year to remote areas in the South West (New Mexico, Arizona, etc) alone and drive nearly 14k miles a year. I’ve had multiple battery deaths and 4 tire punctures in the middle of nowhere. Still, here’s why I don’t have AAA:
      * Battery service: Don’t need it. Buy a battery pack, spend 15 minutes reading instructions and you’re good.
      * Tire change: Don’t need it. Change tire in your driveway using instructions and you’ll see it’s actually very very simple. Nothing more than a mental block the first time. Plus I check tires and spare and inflate them as necessary.
      * Fuel service: Don’t need it. I carry 2 2.5 gallon gas cans in remote areas. Usually they are empty and I fill ’em up only if it looks like there’s no gas. Even in the desert there’s gas stations nowadays at least once every 300 miles, usually a LOT less farther apart.
      * Mechanical breakdown: I drive a car < 100k miles that I service at the dealer and get everything inspected before long trips.
      * Tire issues: Get tires from good year and get free lifetime alignment/balancing. Last time I broke down near Salina Kansas I hobbled on a spare to Topeka and Good year gave me an amazing upgraded tire set for $150 below list price. (Also I don't buy cheapo tires.)
      * Lockout: Car has key code entry so not possible to be locked out.
      * Home lockout: Family in town have spares and we make sure to give them one when we leave town cuz we have chickens :)
      * "Who would I call?" I drive a Ford. They have roadside assistance free first 5 years and paid after that. Still, it's enough.
      * "I still need someone to talk to". There's no cell phone service out west where I go anyway :)

      Save your money, don't feel like you need these "services". It's your car, learn how it works, dive in, spend money on taking care of the fundamentals and you'll feel much more relaxed on the road whenever anything happens.

  2. says

    I remember my parents using AAA to get maps with highlighted routes to me across the country for the navy. I imagine it was worth it back then before GPS but I agree they have become obsolete. Usaa offers roadside assistance and it is either cheap or free, I can’t remember which.

  3. says

    We still do subscribe, and I do think it’s worth it depending on the family members involved.

    That being said, you bring up some interesting points. In particular, I did not know that some cell providers offer roadside assistance. Might have to look into this one a bit more!

  4. says

    Pretty cool stuff. My mother-in-law keeps buying us AAA… there seems to be little I can do to stop it, haha! Maybe if I can convince them that we have alternatives they’ll stop and just send me a fruit cake…

    • John says

      1) This would be the perfect article to send to your Mother-in-Law
      2) I’m going to pretend that fruit cake is a brand of beer

  5. says

    I’m going to play a little devil’s advocate here. I locked my keys in the car 3 times within a couple months 2 years back. Aside from the fact that I’m dumb, I called AAA every time and they were there within 10 minutes every time. Since they contract out to local shops around the country they have a presence very close to almost anywhere you’ll be.

    I actually have an AMEX gold card but I’ve only needed a jump once and I knew that if I called AAA they’d be there within 10 minutes(which they were), not sure how long amex would take. Has anyone tried it?

    • John says

      I would hope that it is good, since it’s a big part of marketing their member services, but I haven’t tried it yet. I did get a card and will be using it for the next roadside adventure that I have. I’ll be sure to report back.

  6. William Chamberlin says

    I know this is an old thread but for those reading. Sprint decommissioned there roadside in 2012. T mobile doesn’t offer one. Verizon’s is $3 per line per month. Which is for 2 lines as much as paying for AAA. basically I will stick with what has worked for years. One more thing my Credit card company also will charge me a rate, forgot how much while writing this but if I need service they just connect me to the nearest AAA.


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