EVEN though 4WDs are more reliable than they have ever been, even the best-prepped, well-looked-after and carefully driven vehicle can suffer a breakdown.
That’s no problem if your 4WD grinds to a halt in town, as you can join a state motoring club to access basic roadside assistance (although you’ll cop a surcharge if you join up after breaking down).
When you’re in the bush it’s a different matter. Just to get your vehicle from where it broke down in remote bushland to somewhere it can be repaired can leave you thousands of dollars out of pocket. However, there are premium breakdown subscriptions available that can get you out of strife without you having to pay big money.
READ THE FINE PRINT
THE difference between breakdown providers’ policies is all to be found in the fine print. If your vehicle can’t be repaired on the spot, then all providers will tow your vehicle. The key points of difference is the distance limit for towing your broken-down vehicle (most provide ‘round trip’ distances, or, in other words, the distance the recovery vehicle has to travel to get to you is included) and if there’s a weight limit to what they will tow (some providers will only cover towing vehicles weighing up to 2000kg).
The good news is that if you’re towing a trailer and break down, most premium breakdown policies will cover towing the trailer as well.
Most breakdown providers won’t touch a vehicle if it has been crashed – that’s going to be down to your insurer to come to the party and lend a helping hand – but some will cover the incidental costs such as accommodation and transport while your vehicle is repaired, or the transport costs involved in getting home.
TYPES OF COVERAGE
THE most popular breakdown coverage comes from state-based motoring clubs such as NRMA, RACV and RACQ. All the motoring clubs share reciprocal rights, so if you break down interstate, you’re covered. Note that the reciprocal rights don’t guarantee the same level of service if you’re interstate – many only guarantee reciprocal coverage at basic level. You may need to pay upfront for services and get your motoring club to refund you later.
Here we’re only looking at the area of coverage that concerns getting your vehicle fixed or towed, and in all cases the top coverage available within the given provider (as the lower levels of coverage aren’t worth taking for bush travel).
Plenty of the premium breakdown coverage polices have other features such as free fuel (up to a certain value) if you’ve run dry, locksmith services, free windscreen damage repair, car rental, and accommodation/food allowances if your vehicle can’t be fixed away from home within a certain time frame.
The most comprehensive bush breakdown coverage you can get comes with a catch – you have to insure your vehicle first to get access to the coverage.
CLUB 4x4 doesn’t provide mechanical assistance in case of a breakdown, but it does include in its comprehensive 4WD insurance policy a feature called ‘Off-Road Recovery Coverage’. The policy gives you up to $1500 worth of recovery coverage (that is, Club 4x4 will pay recovery fees of up to $1500 to get your vehicle from where it is stranded to a gazetted road). If you’re planning a big trip deep into the outback, you can top up your policy to get your Off-Road Recovery Coverage that year to $15,000 or $30,000 maximum coverage (retrieving a vehicle from the middle of The Simpson, 4x4 Club claims, can cost up, or in excess of $25,000).
The insurance also gives you coverage of up to $1000 in mechanical repair costs to get you going again.
STATE MOTORING CLUBS
FOR most 4WD owners the cheapest and simplest way of getting breakdown coverage in the bush is to pay for the premium breakdown coverage with a state motoring club.
Each of the state motoring club’s top-shelf coverage provides towing for both vehicle and trailer – so if you’re towing, you won’t have to leave it where your vehicle broke down.
The bad news is that they all stipulate that they will only attend a breakdown and tow your vehicle if it is accessible by a 2WD vehicle in all weather conditions. However, some motoring organisations are more liberal than others in defining what an accessible 2WD area is.
Allianz Global Assistance is the only national breakdown coverage available with decent rural/remote coverage. Its Premium coverage offers up to 200km towing if it’s in a remote or regional area. Allianz will tow a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes but will only provide a tow or bogged vehicle recovery where a 2WD vehicle can reach.
New-vehicle warranties also include breakdown coverage as part of the warranty. These for the most part provide better coverage for breakdowns than the state motoring organisations in that if you need to be towed most do not cap towing distance – provided that it’s to a manufacturer’s dealership.
However, all specify that if you’re bogged or broken down you’ll only get a tow where a 2WD recovery vehicle can get to as part of the coverage. Any additional costs to get you out of where a 2WD can’t go are on you.
The manufacturers’ breakdown policies are all similar, but a few have conditions you should be aware of. Ford only offers breakdown coverage for 12 months of its three-year new-vehicle warranty and from then on only if you get Ford servicing – so when you get a service at a Ford dealer, you get 12 months’ complementary state motoring organisation membership with it.
For Land Rover, breakdown coverage is for the three years/100,000km warranty period, but no vehicle modifications can be made from the manufacturer’s factory specifications to be eligible for the warranty’s breakdown coverage component.
Like Ford, Mitsubishi’s Diamond Advantage Roadside Assistance is only active for 12 months from the purchase date of a new vehicle (despite the new-vehicle warranty being active for five years/100,000km) and contracts the work to the state motoring clubs. You get a bonus 12 months coverage if the first annual service is done by Mitsubishi.
Despite a similar vein running through the various breakdown coverages available, there are some glaring differences. None really offer adequate coverage for remote bush travel. Unfortunately for that, it seems, you’ll have to get your own insurance.
STATE -BY-STATE COVERAGE
The Northern Territory’s AANT, under its Premium subscription, will tow you up to 200km. An extra 50km (up to $300) is available in a country service area, while vehicles/trailers with a GVM of more than two tonnes (and up to four tonnes) are only covered up to $220-worth of towing a year. Bogged vehicles, or those broken down on unsealed roads are not covered.
RAC WA’s Ultimate Plus coverage will tow you up to 200km but will only cover the service provider travelling up to 150km to get to you. If the vehicle cannot be fixed within 24 hours, RAC WA
will tow the vehicle (but not trailer) to your home or preferred repairer, provided you’re not more than 100km from home. Only caravans up to 5.5 metres (18ft) are covered; for bigger vans you’ll have to top-up any additional fee to the towing contractor.
South Australia’s RAA, like RACQ, has a ‘special towing allowance’, although RAA is more generous with a $300 allowance (as part of its Premium coverage). Also, like RACQ, RAA has up to 200km free towing in country or remote areas, but only 50km in any direction (limited also by a value of $320 per incident). RAA won’t recover bogged vehicles.
Queensland’s RACQ will provide breakdown assistance for a vehicle and its trailer weighing up to four tonnes each, but can’t guarantee your towing entitlement for anything weighing more than three tonnes. RACQ does have a $250 allowance for what it calls ‘special towing’, for example if a winch is required to extract a bogged vehicle. RACQ says it will provide roadside assistance to specific locations within mainland Queensland where rivers need to be crossed (the Jardine, Daintree and Bloomfeld rivers). It also will provide service at selected islands, including Fraser Island, but wherever a ferry journey is required, the driver has to pay the ferry fees – for both the recovery vehicle and the vehicle being recovered. RACQ will pay to tow your vehicle up to 200km from where it
broke down, provided it’s on the way back to the contractor’s service location. If not, then you get up to 100km free towing.
In NSW and the ACT, the NRMA’s Premium Plus coverage will tow a broken-down vehicle and trailer of up to 10 tonnes combined, with 100km of towing in remote areas. In country areas, you’ll get 50km free towing in any direction or to an NRMA Country Service Centre.
Tasmania’s RACT has no towing distance limit (within Tasmania) for vehicles less than 2.5 tonnes. Its Premium subscription will cover towing for up to four tonnes to the value of $300 per year. If you’re 100km from home and your vehicle is towed to a mechanic and it can’t be fixed within 48 hours the RACT will cover the cost of getting you and the vehicle back home or to your original destination. If your vehicle can’t be towed during its first tow from the breakdown to your nominated repairer, you have 14 days to get it towed for free – but only up to 20km. RACT won’t retrieve bogged vehicles and won’t cover breakdown assistance on unsealed roads.
RACV in Victoria has a Total Care package that offers 100km free towing (rural or metro) in any direction. No distance limit applies if the tow is to the nearest RACV attending service centre. If your vehicle or trailer can’t be fixed within three days, RACV will cover the cost of transport to anywhere in Australia. RACV will only retrieve a vehicle where there’s 2WD access, but will do so on unsealed roads where traffic can pass and on private property. While RACV has a generous four-tonne GVM limit on vehicles it will tow, you’ll need to select the ‘Total Care with Tow Pack’ option if your caravan is more than 6.7m (22 ft) long or 2.7m (8ft 10in) high (the Tow Pack limits are 9.0m [29ft 6in] length and 3.3m [10ft 10in] height).