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Roadside assistance and breakdown coverage are services that assist motorists, or bicyclists, whose vehicles have suffered a mechanical failure that leaves the operator stranded.
Early motorists were often capable of carrying out minor repairs themselves, but as automobiles become more complicated, this become more difficult to carry out successfully. Some early local motoring clubs tried to support their members by encouraging them to help each other. A rota of members who would help other members was kept and in some cases, cash was put aside to hire a tow vehicle if needed.
In the UK, the The Automobile Association (AA) (formed in 1905) and the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) (formed in 1897) offered repair services to its members on the spot, or a tow to a local garage or the driver's home if nearby (in all cases a limit of 20 miles).
The Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club in Germany began to offer a similar service in 1927. The American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) were established to offer similar services in their respective countries. Many of these associations were founded as membership-based clubs for early enthusiast motorists; services to assist members were introduced sometime later, with the creation of a fleet of assistance vehicles. In the case of the UK AA, these were traditionally motorcycle-mounted prior to the introduction of vans.
When communication technology and availability made it practical, a network of emergency phone boxes, placed at intervals by the roadside, was introduced in some countries. In recent years, the widespread ownership of mobile phones has, to a large degree, supplanted the need for an emergency phone network.
Provision of service
In some areas, especially in Europe, there is a government-sponsored or -sanctioned automobile membership association, and the service may be in the form of an insurance policy with premiums, instead of a member subscription fee.
Services may also be available as part of the service of a vehicle insurance company, or other companies whose primary business is to offer such assistance. There are many such private roadside assistance companies in the United States. Most can offer these services for a fair annual fee, without requiring the customer to be a member of a large motor club group.
Some automobile manufacturers also offer roadside assistance for their customers, sometimes for free for some period after the purchase of a new vehicle.
Breakdown cover may include jump starting an automobile, towing a vehicle, helping to change a flat tire, providing a small amount of fuel when a vehicle runs out of it, pulling out a vehicle that is stuck in snow or helping people who are locked out of their cars.