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Breakdown Recovery - Expectations V Reality

Blog Date 17 October 2019

I have on several occasions had need of breakdown recovery. I have been very very lucky indeed and never required a long distance recovery, all my mechanical issues have happened "locally", say within 50 odd miles.

The first expectation I had corrected was this notion of assistance within 1 hour. This purely depends on sheer luck. I have received assistance within 20 minutes of my call to the breakdown cover firm, I have been left roadside for over 3 hours. 

Wait times depend on your proximity to a suitable assistant but mostly on the date and/or the weather. If it is a regular Tuesday afternoon in say April and the weather is middling then it's likely it will be quiet and you stand a good chance of a prompt response. If it is a bank holiday and/or it is snowing, maybe the rain is tipping down or it is excessively hot? All these things lead to traffic and breakdowns. Be ready to wait.

Being a BAT reader you of course have at least some mechanical knowledge. You know that if your chain has snapped unless the assistant has a spare chain you will need a tow truck. If your engine has seized you will need a tow truck. You of course relay this expert knowledge to the recovery company who promise to send a tow truck.

The alternator coils from the CBF125 that are "fried"
Fried coils are not a roadside repair.

I'd say there's a 40% chance you will get a tow truck rather than a small van. It depends on who and what is available and nearby to you at the time, NOT your individual requirements. If you are attended by a small van, there is still hope. Some of them have a natty clip together trailer for motorcycles, but don't get too excited. As like as not the assistant will confirm this is not a roadside repair, contact head office to send a suitable vehicle and then leave you at the side of the road once more.

As stated I have not broken down a long way from home (yet). It may have taken many hours but once my motorcycle was aboard a trailer or truck I have been taken straight home. But what happens if you're a long way from home? 

Again luck plays it's part here but it is likely you'll be relayed home. Let's say you live in Bolton and you break down in Cornwall. Once it is established that the vehicle cannot be fixed at the roadside OR be fixed at a local garage in a reasonable time frame then you will start an epic journey. 

You might make it out of Cornwall to say Taunton. Here you will be left at a motorway services and wait for some time for another vehicle to take you perhaps as far as Worcester? Once again you'll be left to wait then transferred to another truck that might just get you home, more likely another wait and swap at Knutsford. What would have been an 8 hour ride could easily take 24 hours or more.

It all depends on luck. I suppose the key point I'm trying to get across is to manage your expectations. If you're aware this recovery is unlikely to be a simple lift home then you can brace yourself for what could be an epic journey. Think about food. Think about toilets. Maybe even think about sleep! 

Sharon in heavy rain getting wet in her bike gear
A handful of hours stood in the pouring rain is just what you need.

And then there's European recovery. 

Again it would be easy to believe that if your motorcycle has a serious malfunction then you and your vehicle will be recovered right back home in the comfort of a shiny van. My first piece of advice is to read the small print - carefully. There are a lot of EU recovery offerings and there are a lot of different ways these can work.

It seems quite common to find that upon vehicular failure you as a person will be taken by taxi to an airport and flown home. Your bike in the meantime will enter a system that collects broken down vehicles together until there's a lorry load full. It will then be returned to the UK at the insurer's leisure. It might be a week, a month or even longer before your bike is returned to you.

IF it is returned to you... Again check the policy but imagine I'm in Southern Italy on my 85,000 mile 10 year old wreck of a CBF125 and the engine nips up. Rather than transport the bike all the way back to the UK it would be cheaper for the recovery company to write the bike off and give me the value of the CBF125 - £200. While my dirty old rat means a lot to me personally I'm afraid that won't wash with the recovery folk - and understandably so.

Sharon has recently used some weird policy. They don't actually organise anything, they just give you a grand or two if you break down and tell you to sort yourself out. Again, check and check again but if you're the resourceful type this could be a good option. 

What's been your experience? 


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Reader's Comments

Ian Soady said :-
I have an all-singing all-dancing policy with Britannia Rescue - currently via a flexplus Nationwide bank account but previously freestanding. I've used it twice for bikes - once for the Honda 4 with its mysterious inability to start when warm, the other when I arrived for an MoT with my Ariel Arrow and discovered the back tyre was flat. On both occasions it took around 90 minutes for someone to arrive but fortunately in both cases I was somewhere I could sit down and enjoy a cup of something hot.

Both times a dedicated bike recovery van arrived with a competent driver who returned me home with no fuss.

The NW covers me for any vehicle I'm travelling in whether it's mine or not and whether I'm driving it or not, anywhere in the UK or the rest of the EU. It comes, together with worldwide travel insurance and various other benefits, for £13 a month which to me seems like excellent value. I've never had to use it outside the UK but others report good service. These others tend to have things like large cars and caravans to recover so a titchy motorbike shouldn't be a problem.

I do take your point about the value of the bike but I suppose we have to remember that these things are run as businesses so expect to make a profit. And anyway if all you've got to get home is a 125 then just rent a Transit, bung the bike in the back and drive it to the Channel. Your £200 would cover that......

As it happens, I did spend a year working as an AA patrol but left when Relay came in as what I liked about the job was fixing stuff and didn't want to be a truck driver.

The thing Sharon has sounds a bit like GEM which I used for a while some years ago. It was quite good on the couple of occasions I used it (using a Triumph Stag as a daily driver did stretch their patience a bit).

On my first long trip across the water - to Northern Greece and back - I didn't have any breakdown cover at all and would have relied on said rented Tranny. Of course my Norton was absolutely reliable so no need.......
17/10/2019 5:08:43 PM UTC
Upt'North said :-
I know I'm going to regret the next sentence.
I haven't used a Breakdown Company in Donkeys.
Our main cover in the UK is with the RAC, this would cover the bike but only in the UK.
For our foreign cover we get free (?) breakdown cover through Carol Nash motorcycle insurance. This would also cover the UK for the bike and I think it is actually run by AXA.
I take your point about vehicle value and cost of recovery to home. At least with Carol Nash I have a generous agreed value.
Surely the best breakdown cover is to run a Honda, they never breakdown, what have I said.
Upt'North.
17/10/2019 6:19:33 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Ian - I too have the Nationwide cover through the account. Until this month the account used to pay 5% interest up to a max of £2,500 balance. As such if you kept over 2.5k in there you'd make about £6 in interest reducing the cost from £13 to £7. However this stopped this month. I did consider changing the account but upon reflection EU breakdown and global travel insurance it's still acceptable value. I have not used their services yet and long may it continue.

Upt' - I know a few folks "use" the Carol Nash cover when they're abroad. I don't know what the service is like and again I hope they don't have to find out. As for Honda - well yes obviously.

We are all now going to have problems aren't we. I wish I'd kept my blooming mouth shut.
17/10/2019 8:53:01 PM UTC
Stuart said :-
I have only used breakdown cover once. I live near Reading and was on a days ride out to the Brecon Beacons on my Kawasaki ER5 which is known for a weak reg / rec. It started to misfire so turned around and just got back to Brecon where it died.

Called my insurance Company making it clear what I thought the problem was and sat and waited 90 minutes for someone to turn up. A man in a van turned up and I explained what I thought the problem was. "I can't help with that you will need recovery" and he left.

Another 2 hours and a man in a van turned up but he did take me back to my door.

The only positive was I had made it back to a pub so had to nurse my first pint for 90 minutes but after I found out I was being taken home could have a few more pints.

Would car drivers put up with being taken part of the way home only to be left and passed onto another recovery truck? I don't think they would.
17/10/2019 10:29:26 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I daresay Stuart that if you broke down in your car a long way from home you would be relayed much as you would be on a bike.
18/10/2019 9:24:02 AM UTC
Upt'North said :-
I agree Ed, plus anyone who travels our beloved motorway system must have seen Relay trucks doing a handover on the services. It seems pretty regular. I'd love to know if anyone has actually first hand knowledge of the CN service.
Upt'North.
18/10/2019 3:39:01 PM UTC
Snod said :-
I've used the CN service a few times, a couple were quite long distance and I got relayed between several trucks/companies. The last time was in 2017 when I had to get back to Leicester from London, it took 4 trucks including the first one who couldn't take me anywhere because the bike couldn't be pushed along despite me explaining this to him before he came and then several times while he was winching it on to the flatbed. The past few times it took every bit as long as this post suggests.

I've also seen a guy use them while in mechanical trouble in Austria, they arranged to have the bike taken to a dealer to be fixed which he then had to pay for but they were pretty sharp/quick about the whole deal. But that was back in 2014 and to me they've gone downhill significantly since then, I finally switched insurer this year after 9 years of service because the renewal was ridiculous. Again. Plus they'd messed me about in 2017 and charged me £45 admin fee to add the Z250SL so I was pretty fed up with them..
18/10/2019 10:08:39 PM UTC
Upt'North said :-
Thanks Snod.
Upt'North.
18/10/2019 10:55:12 PM UTC
Ian Soady said :-
The other thing to remember, as Snod mentions, is that all the insurers have to do if you break down overseas is to take your bike to a garage where you'll be left to foot the bill if it can be repaired. They only have to repatriate it if it can't be repaired in a reasonable time (usually a couple of days). So if, for example, your £200 bike needs a £500 component plus £200 of workshop time is it worth having it fixed or would you be better off cutting your losses or going the rented van route?

Of course all of us here maintain our bikes in perfect condition so won't need any of this.....

With respect to the free breakdown cover provided by insurance companies (I use Peter James and have this) I've never actually tried it. Maybe one day I should break down and call both them and Britannia?
19/10/2019 8:03:23 AM UTC
Pocketpete said :-
You could always do ny trick and crash it. Then police move it for you lol.
My Honda came with aa cover for the first year or so. I used it once I think when the brake reservoir fell off. They took 20mins to arrive and quick cable tie later I was on my way so pretty good.

Not sure if it covered you for Europe though.
20/10/2019 8:17:37 PM UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Upon reflection Pocketpete, I think it would be easier all round to just wait a while for the breakdown truck.
21/10/2019 9:01:11 AM UTC

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