Yesterday I did something I rarely do, well, other than the whole flying in a private jet thing. The other very unusual thing I did was driving from our house north of Houston all the way to Hobby Airport in South Houston. I get some flak on the blog from time to time when I talk about how I just almost won’t go to Hobby. It’s not the airport itself I have an issue with, I just really hate driving through Houston with a serious passion. There can be very bad traffic, insane drivers, and it makes for a stressful experience. I sucked it up and made the drive early yesterday morning to catch the free private jet (which was obviously worth it), but I paid for it this morning when I realized I had picked up a bolt somewhere along the way, and now had a very flat tire. Thanks Houston!
Of course I noticed the problem after I had the girls loaded in the car, had ordered Starbucks via the app to pick up, and generally thought I was doing better than average this particular morning at getting everyone out and ready…ha ha ha! I made it just a couple of houses down the block before I realized what had happened. I then parked the car at the closest neighbor’s and figured out what to do next.
I’ve been shown how to change a flat tire, but that just means I know enough to not want to do it. It looks dangerous and unpleasant…especially with two little girls and the July Texas heat. So, we abandoned the car and set off on foot with our already packed backpacks and lunch kits to Grandma’s house where we re-grouped and I decided to use roadside assistance to have someone come help.
Now let’s fast forward to the end of the story where I went with the third best option of getting help, but in the (literal) heat of the moment, I did the best thing I could think of. I have been paying $2.99 per month for roadside assistance via my AT&T phone since the dawning of time, so I thought first to call them. It took 15 – 20 minutes or so for their third party service provider to get ahold of a company that could come out, and within about an hour of that a tow trucker driver came out to put on the spare for us. The AT&T third party dispatcher told me I would owe essentially a $20 co-pay to the tow truck company as their fee was over my covered amount. The dispatcher couldn’t/wouldn’t tell me what that amount was, but it seems AT&T has a $50 max coverage per covered incident, and the tow company charges $70 for this service.
So, the first step of my problem was fixed for $20 on top of the $2.99 I pay each month for the service, which really didn’t feel like a great deal. Once I had a minute to think through everything I realized I could do much better. Not only that, but I want you to do much better than I did even when stress is running higher than normal.
Here’s who to call for roadside assistance if you have a flat tire, run out of gas, need a tow, lock your keys in the car, etc.
If you have a newer car, check that coverage first.
Lots of newer cars actually come with built-in roadside assistance coverage while you are still under warranty, so check that option first. I by far should have called Mercedes as they apparently would have sent a Mercedes tech to help for free. You would think that almost anyone in that industry can change a flat tire, but I’m pretty sure the tech I had today dropped my car while changing the tire, which can’t be good. Now I may need Mercedes to check the car out for me anyway to make sure it wasn’t damaged. I’m already out $20 for the co-pay + the $2.99 monthly I paid into perpetuity on my cell phone, and it could get worse from there.
Bottom line, with a newer car that is under warranty, see if you are covered there from the start.
Use your premium credit card’s roadside assistance.
If your car doesn’t have you covered, then the next best option may be lurking in your wallet via one of your premium rewards credit cards. The best built-in coverage I know of is the Premium Roadside Assistance available via some premium Amex cardholders who are within the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
Some eligible Amex cards for this included roadside assistance include:
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN
- The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN
- Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express
- The Platinum Card® from American Express
To use the Amex Premium Roadside Assistance coverage you call 1-800-333-AMEX and they will help locate a third-party who will provide towing, winching, jump starts, flat tire change when you have a workable spare, lockout service or delivery of up to two gallons of fuel. From what I can tell there are no co-pays for service, other than a $3 per mile fee for each mile towed over the included 10 miles. Amex will cover this service up to four times per year if you have one of the eligible cards. Other Amex cards also have roadside assistance that helps you locate a provider, but without the included services.
The Citi Prestige has similar coverage when you are within any of the 50 United States, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands if you call 1-866-506-5222. This service will provide: Towing and winching (you will be responsible for expenses associated with towing beyond 10 miles), jump starts, flat tire changes (when a spare is available), lock-out service (when the key is in the vehicle), or delivery of up to 2 gallons of fuel. To take advantage of this benefit you must be with the vehicle and in a regularly traveled area (not off-road) that’s accessible to ordinary tow trucks.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve also has a built-in roadside assistance coverage as well, but it doesn’t seem to be as good as the others already mentioned as it only covers a maximum of up to $50 for each service event, similar to the one I used through AT&T. These days I think any call for help is going to cost more than $50, so I would expect a co-pay type situation with this one. Still, it is better than being 100% on the hook for the costs, so to use this service provided through the Cross Country Motor Club you call 1-888-675-1461 within the US or outside of the U.S., you can call collect at 1-804-281-5772.
They will assist you with flat tires, dead batteries, running out of gas, and lockouts. Assistance will be provided for one service event for the same cause during any consecutive 7-day period and there are up to four $50 covered events per year while you are within the U.S. and Canada, and you must be away from your primary residence to use this service.
Roadside assistance coverage via your cell phone, AAA, car insurance or other.
I hadn’t done a good inventory of our roadside assistance options in the last decade or so, but now that I have, it is clear that I am wasting money every month paying for coverage via AT&T. I have better coverage available via multiple rewards credit cards than what I am paying for on my cell phone bill. In fairness to ten years ago me, that probably wasn’t the case at the time.
I know that many pay AAA for coverage, but the reality is that their base level plan provides worse coverage than most of the premium rewards cards with a maximum of five included towed miles and still the $50 covered service maximum for covered issues. They do have more premium plans available for a higher cost.
A final place to look for roadside assistance coverage is via your car insurance as it may already be there.
Lessons learned from using roadside assistance.
Like with everything in life, you are best served if you take a minute to think clearly rather than immediately starting to act. I thought for half a second and used the first coverage I had that came to mind, but I clearly should have thought for a few more minutes and used a different coverage option that would have cost nothing out of pocket and maybe wouldn’t have resulted in my car crashing down. For many people in this hobby I don’t see the need to pay anything for additional roadside assistance coverage since it is already available via many premium rewards credit cards. However, if you do decide to pay for coverage be sure you check the benefits you are paying for closely as a $50 maximum per issue or 5 – 10 mile towing radius probably isn’t going to fully cover you in many cases.
I also want to add that via most of these coverages you will be going through a third-party to find a local locksmith, tow truck driver, etc. that can come and help. If you need immediate help, you may find that faster directly all by yourself. You may or may not be able to get reimbursed by any of these coverages for your expenses, but if you immediate help is essential for whatever reason then just keep that in mind.
What has your experience been using roadside assistance via a credit card or elsewhere?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.