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In most areas, the service is provided by competing commercial service providers, with a set yearly fee to purchase the service. In some areas, there is a government-sponsored or -sanctioned monopoly, and the service may be in the form of an insurance policy with premiums, instead of a member subscription fee.
In Europe, it is popularly available via each country's national automobile membership association, but may also be made available as part of the service of a vehicle insurance company, or other companies whose primary business is to offer such assistance. Many automobile manufacturers offer roadside assistance for their customers, sometimes for free for some period after the purchase of a new vehicle.
The term breakdown cover is most common in the United Kingdom; elsewhere, it may also be referred to as emergency roadside repair or roadside assistance. Such services originated with early national motoring organisations, such as the member clubs of the United States' American Automobile Association (AAA), the United Kingdom's Automobile Association (AA), Germany's Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club, and the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
Many of these associations were founded as membership-based clubs for early enthusiast motorists; services to assist members were introduced sometime later. 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. Eventually, as the user of cars expanded, the organizations created fleets 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.
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.
There are also many private roadside assistance companies in the United States. Most can offer these services for a fair price without being a member to a large motor club group.
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Most roadside assistance is done via contracted services, as described above. Many large Jewish communities on the East Coast of the United States offer a free, volunteer service called Chaverim ("friends"), that performs similar services, supported by donations. Most Chaverim organizations usually do not offer towing, and have limited geographic service areas.
- "Bicycle". Wikipedia. Retrieved 16 January 2013. "In areas where it is available, some cyclists purchase roadside assistance from companies such as the Better World Club or the American Automobile Association."
- HM Revenue & Customers (UK) - Vehicle breakdown services
- Roadside.co.uk - Most Frequent Causes of Breakdowns