Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lots of roadside help is just a phone call away

Our seven-year-old Toyota's original battery died suddenly in the supermarket parking lot this weekend. And I found out that much has changed since the last time I called AAA.

For one thing, the auto club sells batteries roadside now, and have been doing that for a couple years at least, according to the technician who answered our call. It's a moderately pricey service; we paid $115 to buy a battery that costs maybe $75 at AutoZone, have it installed and the old dead one taken away for recycling. But paying the extra money also allowed us to finish shopping at the next supermarket on our list and get home before the frozen food thawed.

I also realized we're potentially covered by at least three auto clubs. One is AAA, which was the most universally dependable services when we first signed up four decades ago. AARP offers a slightly reduced price similar service, which we haven't signed up for. Progressive Insurance also throws roadside assistance in with an auto policy we have. Many other insurers do that too; Allstate ramps up the service a notch with a special plan for Blackberry users. Even Subaru offered free help for the first year after we bought that car.

So, is it dumb to continue paying AAA for coverage that overlaps what these other providers offer anyway? That apparently depends on what is most likely to go wrong when we hit the highway, writes Vivian Blackwell at

Roadside assistance plans are essentially insurance policies designed to help policy holders deal with what are usually minor emergencies. Some are part of lusher larger services, like GM's OnStar, which costs about $200 a year after a first year free trial. Others are barer bones plans that may limit which vehicles are covered or where you take your car if you need repairs. Some aim for niche markets, such as the Better World Club, which has a roadside plan that covers bicycles too.

Finding the right plan is like finding the best insurance deal. You basically read the fine print and compare the choices.

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