Beware the fine print – Roadside Assistance when you are off sealed roads

While at The Big Red Bash last week, I heard about a couple that had broken down at Poepel’s Corner while on their way to the Bash.  They had experienced a mechanical breakdown while crossing the Simpson desert, (an unsealed but gazetted road). They had taken out the highest level of roadside assistance cover with one of the big motoring service companies and figured everything would be OK following assurance over the phone that they would be covered for their Simpson crossing because technically it is a Gazetted road.

I can only imagine their surprise when they called their provider, only to be told that because they were slightly off the track when the incident occurred and there was no 2WD access that they were pretty much on their own, except for the ability to claim some accommodation costs.

The end result was that they had a 2 week wait for a tow at a to cost them of $5,500.00. This was simply for the towing company to turn up and consider towing them back to Mt Dare.  Luckily some good Samaritans gave them a ride to Birdsville, camper trailer in tow, even going so far as to drop it off at the Big Red Bash and arranging for another friend to get them back to Birdsville after.  Even more impressively, these people wouldn’t take anything for the trouble. Right now though, their vehicle sits out in the Simpson Desert waiting a tow.

I don’t know about you, but I would be very frustrated if I had taken the top level of cover from one of these providers to only be told ‘sorry, but we can’t help you’.

The message  loud and clear is that you need to read and understand the fine print when taking out cover against something going wrong (whether it be insurance, roadside assistance or any kind of coverage).

When you delve into the detail (even briefly, as I have) a very different picture emerges of the service you can expect vs what you might have been led to expect.  I researched 3 large motoring services organisations and the cover they would provide in the above situation, and learned a number of things.

I’m not going to name these organisations for the fact that this is not about shaming anyone, it is simply about making you aware that if you have roadside assistance cover, there are a number of things you should be aware of.  I encourage you to take the following points and do your own research into the terms and conditions of any cover you have so that you are not surprised if something goes wrong.

Note: all of my information was collected from the websites of the providers.

GVM and weight limits

Of the three major providers I researched, one excluded any form of towing cover if you had a vehicle over 3 tonne GVM.  I’m pretty sure that’s most 4WD’s these days!  Sure, they’ll still give you a tow, but at your expense. The other two had 8T and 10T limits for their top level of cover, but less for other tiers. Make sure you know that the cover is suitable for the weight of whatever you are taking somewhere remote.

Limited cover for ‘specialist’ recovery (if anything other than a standard tilt tray is required to recover you)

By this, I mean cover for recovery where the tow vehicle is not a standard tilt tray 2WD.  I found that all of the providers either wouldn’t cover any tow for bogged vehicles, or would limit your cover to $250.00 for a tow requiring anything more than your run of the mill tilt tray.  So if you get bogged somewhere that isn’t right on the gazetted road (and in some cases, even if it is on the public road), you might not have any cover for a recovery.  It’s the same for breakdown unfortunately in most cases.

What distance will they travel to help you?

A number of providers will limit the distance they will come to you from their regional depots.  You need to check how far that is and understand if it is sufficient if you get stuck the furthest you will be from anywhere on your journey.  Or you could face a rude shock, and an expensive bill because you are up for the full cost of the recovery.

Gazetted Roads

In the situation of the couple above, the couple were told they were covered on gazetted roads.  While this may technically be true, I’ve found that all of the policies I looked into had further restrictions on this, as well as exclusions.

All of the providers stipulated that the assistance was generally limited to places where it was safe for a 2WD vehicle to access, which the couple above clearly were not told.  Some went as far as to say they won’t cover public roads if it won’t safely allow for two way traffic, and one stated help was limited to not needing to leave a constructed road or driveway.  Others explicitly excluded beaches, national parks, fields, parks and ovals, tracks and logging roads.

Still, some wordings suggest that they wouldn’t necessarily help you if you were just off the road in question.  Others stated that they wouldn’t travel to areas where the safety of their people might be at risk.

So even if you are told you are covered on a gazette road, look for further conditions and understand what they are because there are plenty of exclusions.

Obligation to provide assistance

In every policy I researched, there was a clause that states that if the provider made reasonable efforts to help but was unable to get you towed, then you are on your own.  Yep, the ultimate discretion on whether to help you rests with them.  And you have no rights if they decide they can’t help you in most cases.


I admit that I have only done a quick review of the policies, and I strongly encourage you to do your own homework, but in most of the cases, if you are touring country areas in Australia and you are not within 200km of a town, or you are on an unsealed road, chances are that you will end up paying for the tow which you think you are covered for.

Sure, there are emergency situations where you get accommodation and other benefits which could come in handy, but if you are travelling these areas, chances are that accommodation is not your biggest issue.


Offroad recovery cover comes with every Club 4X4 policy

Club 4X4 does offer off-road recovery cover to help bridge this gap – there is $1,500.00 of cover with every policy, which can be increased to $15,000 or $30,000 of you are going to be travelling remotely.  (Find out more about Offroad Recovery Cover and How to use it)

If the couple in this story had taken a policy with Club 4X4, they would have had a minimum of $1,500.00 of cover to offset the $5,500.00+ of recovery cost, which after the excess payable reduces the callout fee to $3,200.00 which is a significant saving.  If they had taken our most popular option of $15,000 of recovery cover, then getting the tow provider from Mt Dare to come and look at recovering them would have cost $475.00 rather than $5,500.00.

I’m not writing this to name or shame anyone, simply to highlight the myriad of conditions that you agree to when taking out this cover, which means that you will end up footing the bill, or even that the assistance you expect you will get may not eventuate.

The message:  READ THE FINE PRINT, or risk a nasty and expensive surprise if you happen to get stuck or something goes wrong.

I hope you’ve found this useful and that it drives you to look into your cover in more detail so you avoid a rude surprise if you breakdown traversing one of the amazing dirt roads around this country. That’s what you bought a 4X4 for isn’t it?




Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Comments 20

  1. I agree with your comments but it is not necessarily as bad as portrayed. One of Victoria’s largest insurers has a top line policy that in the case you described would have only required extracting the vehicle to a gazetted road that was accessible by the local contractor. Recently I broke an axle in the Kimberley about 30 km off the Kalumburu Road. I was advised by the insurer that I would have to pay the distance from where I was to the gazetted road a nominal $1500. In practice the contractor did not charge me as this was a minor additional cost for him given the distance from Kununurra. The insurance company did take some pressing to recognise that the Kalumburu Rd was a gazetted road and it took me pushing the insurer to call various towns to find a suitable recovery company – this was all friendly I knew the area they were based in melbourne and had no idea. One contractor from Broome tried to convince the insurer that you would have to be mad to recover from where I was and with my encouragement the insurer kept trying until the found someone – they were excellent to deal with but needed guidance.
    So for me there are two takeaways from the exercise – one that the recovery insurance you sell is worth gold – it is something I purchased not long after you came into business, secondly when you are talking to your insurer (in my case via sat phone) that you know your stuff and can guide the insurer, or in the case of Club 4×4 insurance can organise your own recovery – smooth the path for them.

    1. Post

      Thanks for your comment. Sounds like in your instance, you might be talking about an insured event, but I’m glad things worked out well. The intention of my article is about when its not an insured event, which is where the average person either relies on their roadside assistance expecting that to cover them, or have a recovery cover like ours.

  2. While we’re on the subject, I’ve got your full comp insurance plus the 15k recovery for my car but my van is not insured through you guys as I live in it, (other wise it would be). If we were to get bogged/ stuck somewhere and needed to be towed/ recovered and we had the van on the back of my Patrol would you tow/ recover both vehicle and trailer?

    1. Post

      Hi Allan,

      A great question. The reality of our recovery product is that it is a financial benefit. This means that you have up to the amount to use on your tow / recovery in the case that you are stuck offroad. If you are towing a van and something happens, you can use up to the limit of your cover to get yourself out of trouble. In that instance, we’d cover the towing of the van as well, up to the limit of your cover.


  3. All well and good, but be aware that off-road recovery and on-road recovery are different things!
    I recently left Bathurst in my 100 series Cruiser towing a 20 foot van to Sydney, and the clutch started to fail near Lithgow. I rang Club 4X4, with which organisation both items are insured, and was told no recovery help was available as I was on road when the breakdown occurred.
    So I had to pay for a tilt tray to carry the Cruiser and tow the van back to Bathurst, while I had to hire a car to take my wife to hospital in Sydney. No help with the hire car either.
    Not quite what I expected, but I had no feathers to fly with.

    1. Post

      Hi Greg,
      I’m sure it would have been a let down to realise that there was no cover in this instance, but this is why it is really important to understand the detail of any cover you have. The offroad cover was designed to cover the gap where roadside assistance won’t cover you. There is a lot of work going on in the background around our cover and looking to innovate in this space, so we should have some exciting updates in the near future. Out of interest, what did the tow end up costing?

      1. My tow-er is a friend and we are members of the same Rotary club in Bathurst! I wasn’t game to ask what the real price should be, but I happily paid what he suggested, and I still owe him a good turn!

  4. Hi Aiden
    Good article in raising awareness.
    I may have missed something but with Cub 4×4 cover of $15,000 why does it still cost someone $475 using $5,500 as the recovery cost?

    1. Post

      Hi Mike,

      There is still an excess with the Offroad recovery cover. It is $200.00 on the $1500 of cover, and on the 15k worth of cover you also pay 5% of the value of the claim.

  5. In 2015 we crossed the Simpson from Mt Dare to Birdsville via the French Line. Before leaving we checked with SA and QLD. Both advised the Simpson was NOT a gazetted road so roadside assist was not available.
    Travelers out there need to check, not blame their insurer

    1. Post

      Hi Gary,

      Thanks for the information. These guys did actually check before they left and were told over the phone that the roadside assistance provider would cover them. It wasn’t the case when they went to use the cover.

  6. After reading all of these comments it would seem that you don’t want to drive your rig any where unless it’s in TOP condition so you don’t have Any trouble and are able to winch your way out of trouble.

    1. Post

      Hi Leslie,

      Thanks for the comment. Realistically, the best thing is to not have a problem by looking after your rig, but the truth is that some of the unsealed roads around Australia can be very hard on a vehicle, even a well prepared one. Its always wise to have something up your sleeve in case you break down or get stuck and and need recovery, but there are lots of terms and conditions which means you need to read the fine print. Ultimately its about what risk you are willing to wear if things really go wrong and you get stuck. It can be well over $10,000 to get recovered if you get stuck in a remote place though…

    1. Post

      Hi Allan,
      Our recovery cover is designed for being offroad or on an unsealed road. We do offer a roadside assistance product for on sealed roads, but the offroad product was designed to cover the gap in the market in offroad coverage.


  7. My event was a typical breakdown not an insured event. The roadside assistance from the good insurers allows pick up from a gazetted road and all I had to do was cart it to a gazetted road. I have also been on trips where others have had the same issue and the vehicle has been towed to a point and then picked up by the local specialist. The reality was the the recovery company did not bother to charge the additional kilometres up the dirt track.
    The value for Club4x4 Insurance, which I have had since you came to Australia, is that if it is not feasible to get a broken down vehicle to a gazetted road then this insurance becomes your lifeline.

  8. I have had an issue where I had to be towed from 100ks from Wiepa and then from Wiepa to Cairns. This included towing caravan as well. All covered by .NRMA Premium Plus.
    Towie and NRMA brilliant. Was pre Club 4×4

    1. Post
  9. About 8 yrs ago, I had an issue with a blown turbo in a patrol heading out from Davies High Plains. I limped into Jindabyne over two days at about 20 kph. After finding the local NRMA and getting confirmation the turbo was gone, NRMA suggested a tow back to Sydney, as it would be quicker to get repairs there, and saved NRMA the cost of getting me home and back to pick up the patrol after repairs. The tow cost about $1600 in total, but due to premium cover, it didn’t cost me a cent. But I learnt a lot about premium cover from that experience. It was great, and NRMA were great, BUT I had used up most of my annual limit , so if I had been on a long trip or about to head off on one, I would have had almost no cover to draw on. Try finding that in the fine print anywhere. Bottom line is, you either take out the various forms of insurance available, and know you have some risk cover or you gamble on not having insurance, but at the end of the day, we cannot always cover all of the risk all of the time… life, and off roading and touring, comes with a degree of risk.

  10. Pingback: So you’ve got stuck or broken down somewhere out there. When is it Roadside, or an off-road recovery? - CLUB 4X4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *