You know who’s having the worst day ever?
It’s that guy, right over there, stalled along the right-hand lane in the smoking red hatchback. He’s obviously tried to pull all the way over, but the rear of his car is jutting into the lane and everyone is honking at him as they attempt to maneuver around him as he waits for help. Which may or may not be on its way.
Pretty much anytime you have an unexpected auto emergency, it’s going to be a rough day. But you can help yourself out by preparing for future car catastrophes with an app that will offer you handy roadside assistance. While most insurance companies—and even some automobile manufacturers—include a roadside assistance feature in their apps (see page 2 of this story for a handy list), you might not be a customer of any of those companies. Fortunately, a handful of other apps can offer assistance for any unforeseen issues, whether you’ve had an accident, engine trouble, a flat tire...or you just locked your keys in the car (again).
An app for National Motor Club members, Roadside2Go can snag you roadside assistance in two taps. Just enter your NMC member number, name, and phone number into the app to register. Then when you need assistance, simply select which type and tap the Call for Service button.
The app has options for fuel delivery, dead battery, lockout, flat tire, tow—and “other,” for nonconforming scenarios we don’t even want to imagine. There’s not much else to it—this a pretty simple app designed to get you roadside assistance as fast as possible, via a nationwide 24/7 service provider network for club members.
Whether you’re a member of the American Automobile Association or not, you should check out the AAA Mobile app. (The company used to have a dedicated assistance app called Roadside, but it’s since been rolled into AAA Mobile.) Once you’re set up, the menu screen shows five options: Maps & Discounts, Roadside Assistance, Search Hotels, Join AAA, and Battery Quote. The Roadside Assistance screen lets you Create Request, Call AAA, Call 911, and Cancel Existing Request. While it’s nice to have the option to contact a live person by calling AAA, the Call 911 button is probably only useful if you’re already in the app.
While roadside assistance is only available to AAA members, anyone can use the maps (although not the discounts), hotel search, and get a quote for AAA’s Mobile Battery Service. Maps is a fairly detailed feature—it offers a list of 13 icons to filter by, including electric charging stations, gas stations, and attractions—and the Co-Pilot feature provides turn-by-turn directions. If you are a member, the app even stores your membership card, which makes it easier to redeem your discounts.
Like every other app here, RepairPal uses GPS to determine your location, then gives you a quick tour of its features: Find a Shop, MyCar, Get an Estimate, and Roadside Help. Links along the bottom invite you to share RepairPal with your friends, join or login, or sign in with Facebook.
Most of those options are self-explanatory, so here’s what’s germane: the MyCar feature is actually a super helpful way to register important information about your vehicle, including mileage and what maintenance is due. This feature alone is worth the download, and the app can even keep track of more than one car. Find a Shop is slightly clunky for a search engine, but accurate enough. Get an Estimate can provide great information about a lengthy list of repairs, such as what parts are needed, but it won’t help diagnose your problem.
Here’s the biggest bonus: Because roadside help is pay-as-you-go, you don’t need to be a member—the service is available to everyone. And here are the inevitable drawbacks: It’s U.S. only, covers “most models 1990 and newer,” and requires an Internet connection to access all its features.
Another option that doesn’t require membership, Good Hands is brought to us by insurance company Allstate. The app offers a login for Allstate members and an Assistance NOW button. Selecting the latter takes you to a screen that asks if you’re in a safe location. If you’re not, you can dial 911 here. If it’s somewhat less dire than that, you’re taken to a list of possible situations from “Will not start” to “Is stuck.”
At the bottom is a link to Live Help Now—being connected to a person is always a welcome touch. Like RepairPal, this is a pay-as-you-go option: Good Hands says most cars are $75 per tow while other services (such as tire changes, jump starts, and lockouts) run about $50.
Allstate members might also want to check out Allstate’s Motor Club app. Although Motor Club also offers service to nonmembers for a fixed rate, it seems geared toward members, displaying your membership card and benefit details, for example. Another thing to consider: Good Hands is available on Android and iOS, while Motor Club is iOS only (and hasn’t been updated since 2011).
AARP members also get assistance, via AllState Road Assistance services, with this app. It’s got a pretty home screen going for it, with a vaguely pleasant image of a blue sky, underneath which a white SUV cavorts through a green field. Along the bottom are buttons for Roadside, Vehicles, Profile, and More.
While the home screen is playful and fun, the menus are all business: Roadside first asks if you’re in a safe location, determines your GPS coordinates, and then gives you the option to pinpoint that location further by adding notes and photos. Then you choose from a list of situations to help determine what type of service to send. The Vehicles feature allows you to save information on your vehicle and its service history, too.
Tow Truck Finder—iOS ($1)
And what if you don’t care at all about memberships and fees and features and all that because you just need a tow right now? Then this app will guide your way. For a buck, Tow Truck Finder will drop pins in every potential tow truck location near you on a map. Tapping a pin takes you to basic information on the business, namely its address and phone number.
Results can be toggled into a list view using the buttons on the bottom right. The globe icon will allow you to input a new location—and that’s about it. What this app lacks in features, it makes up for with straightforward functionality and a nicely populated list of accurate results. It’s a lot better than being stranded on the side of the road, at any rate.