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Can roadside assistance sabotage your car insurance?

When your car battery dies or you get a flat tire, roadside assistance can save the day. Car insurance companies offer roadside assistance insurance as an add-on, and it's usually cheaper than a membership like AAA. But can using roadside assistance car insurance raise your car insurance rates?

"People wonder if a claim will eventually go on their record," Amy Bach, a lawyer and the executive director of United Policyholders, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that advises consumers on insurance issues, says.

Roadside assistance coverage claims don't have the same impact as other car insurance claims. 

"It's unlikely that an insurance company will drop you or raise your rate if you file one or even two (claims) in a year," Bach says.

However, multiple roadside assistance claims in a short period of time can have an impact.

"It could cause your insurance company to raise your rates" or decide not to renew your roadside assistance insurance, she says.

Read on to find out how roadside assistance claims may affect your car insurance rates.

Does using roadside assistance increase insurance rates?

According to ConsumerReports.org, some car insurance companies report roadside assistance claims to ChoicePoint, a company in Alpharetta, Ga., that collects claims information for the auto insurance industry.

When you have multiple claims, this information can make its way to ChoicePoint and may eventually be viewed by auto insurers. But does roadside assistance count as a claim, and can it affect rates?

Roadside assistance claims are considered claims, but state rules vary in terms of whether – and how – your provider is allowed to penalize you for making an insurance claim, Bach says. Multiple roadside assistance claims in a short period of time could cause some insurance companies to raise your rates, she says.

"When you file claims, insurance companies look at their frequency, severity and who's at fault," Bach says.

Roadside assistance claims usually aren't severe. But if they're frequent, it could let your provider know your car isn't particularly stable.

Will you lose coverage for excessive roadside claims? Bach says it's difficult to know, because insurers combine claims information with many other factors when deciding who to cover and at what rates. Such factors include the driver's age, sex, city, vehicle and credit history.

To be on the safe side, it's important to contact your insurance agent to find out whether multiple roadside assistance claims could affect your rates or coverage.

Even if car insurance companies don't penalize drivers for making multiple claims, many policyholders still may fear using their roadside assistance services, Bach says.

If there's a small problem, such as a flat tire, they may decide to solve it themselves, she says. That way, they know that no assistance call will go on their record.

"Many people believe it's best to fly under their insurance company's radar by not filing a claim," she says.

However, paying for coverage but not using it doesn't make financial sense, Bach says.

Limitations of car insurance with roadside assistance

Roadside assistance plans from auto insurance companies often cover the vehicle instead of the driver. So, drivers with this type of coverage can't call their insurance company for roadside help if they are driving a friend's vehicle and it breaks down.

By contrast, assistance plans from organizations such as AAA cover the member who belongs to the program. That means members can call for assistance no matter which vehicle they're traveling in.

For example, how does roadside assistance work if your teenage child is a passenger in a car driven by someone else and the car has a flat tire? Your auto insurance roadside assistance likely won't help, but a motor club membership would.

"If your teenager is covered under a roadside assistance plan that follows the customer, instead of the car, then your teen could still get roadside assistance help, even though the vehicle does not belong to them," says Christie Hyde, an AAA spokesperson.

Additionally, claims with a motor club will not affect your car insurance rates.

That said, roadside assistance costs less with car insurance, often only a few dollars over a six-month term. For most drivers, it's a worthwhile addition.

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