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EXPLAINED: How does roadside assistance work in Switzerland?

A warning triangle on a road in winter
How can you access roadside assistance in Switzerland? Here's what you need to know. Image: Pixabay
Whether you run out of fuel or have a serious accident, you might need roadside assistance. Here's what you need to know about roadside assistance in Switzerland.

From serious accidents to the car simply not starting, you can run into all kinds of problems on Switzerland’s roads. 

Fortunately, there is a comprehensive offering of services for anyone on Switzerland’s roads, whether you’re a visitor or a long-time resident. 

Unfortunately, this can be a little complicated. 

Unlike many other countries, there is not one overall motor club which offers roadside assistance and other services. 

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Instead, there are several different options, while private insurance is also a popular choice. 

In many cases, you might already have roadside assistance in your current insurance policy or motor contract – in this case, you don’t need to do anything else (although it’s handy to know if you have it or if you don’t). 

Here’s what you need to know. 

How does roadside assistance work in Switzerland? 

Roadside assistance is known in German as Pannenhilfe, in French as dépannage and in Italian as soccorso stradale.

Roadside assistance in Switzerland works much like it does in other countries. 

You will pay a regular payment to an insurance company or take out a membership with a club or association, which entitles you to assistance in the event of an emergency. 

Paying the cost of these services without a membership in Switzerland can be quite expensive, as it is elsewhere. 

If your membership also includes insurance, then you may be liable for large costs in the event of an incident. 

There are three major forms of roadside assistance in Switzerland: membership of a road or motor association, car insurance and manufacturer obligation or responsibility. 

Roadside assistance through membership 

For English speakers, this is the most common form of roadside assistance. 

You pay a regular amount to become a member of a club or association which will then step in should you have an accident or need breakdown assistance on Swiss roads. 

The United States has AAA, the United Kingdom has the AA and RAC, Australia has state-based organisations including the NRMA and RACQ and New Zealand has AA. 

READ MORE: Where in Switzerland can you find the cheapest fuel?

There are three main automotive clubs in Switzerland: Touring Club Switzerland (TCS), Automobile Club of Switzerland (ACS) and Traffic Club of Switzerland (VCS). 

These vary in cost and what they offer. 

For individuals, TCS costs between 93 and 110 francs, with the cost rising to between 139 and 157 francs for families. 

There are often discounts on the first year, as well as discounts for people under the age of 26. 

ACS costs 98 for the first year, with the annual fee increasing to around CHF130 per year (depending on where you live and other factors). 

VCS membership including breakdown assistance costs 130 francs for individuals and 140 francs for families. 

One important benefit of motor club membership is that the membership attaches to you, rather than to your car.

Therefore, if you are driving another car, you will most likely be covered (although it might not attach to your car if there’s an accident when someone else is driving). 

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One other thing to consider is whether coverage extends to driving in other countries. 

Coverage with ACS includes most European countries, while membership of TCS and VCS is only for Switzerland and Liechtenstein. 

To get European coverage, you will need to pay more with TCS and VCS. The cost is an additional 80 francs for TCS, for example. 

Autoclub memberships often offer discounts on petrol. ACS and TCS members can save between two and five cents per litre on petrol. 

Signing up close to the end of the year can also get you discounts. 

A mechanic from Germany's ADAC repairs a car with flat tyre

A mechanic from Germany’s ADAC. Does your roadside assistance plan cover other European countries? Image: Pixabay

Roadside assistance through insurance

Damage to your car due to an accident will be covered by car insurance, but many car insurers will also include roadside assistance as a standard or optional extra. 

This is important as without it, while you may be covered in the instance of a crash, you might have to pay out of pocket for someone to come out to your car with a tank of petrol if you run out. 

Even if you don’t have roadside assurance as part of your current insurance policy, it is often cheaper to upgrade your policy to include roadside assistance than to take out a membership of an auto club. 

Keep in mind however that insurance will usually attach to the car rather than the driver, meaning that if you are driving a different car you may not be covered. 

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Unlike auto club membership where providers usually have their own cars, roadside assistance through insurance will usually involve linking up with local mechanics. 

There are a myriad of insurance options which will offer all kinds of extras, so be sure to read the fine print. 

Companies like Zurich, Allianz and Winterthur (through AXA) are some popular options. 

Roadside assistance through manufacturer or retailer obligation 

Due to the complex nature of insurance in Switzerland, it is not uncommon for people to have two or even three roadside assistance plans – sometimes without even knowing it. 

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The most common way this happens is when you have bought a new car or a second-hand car from a dealership. 

The purchase contract will include an obligation to repair the car for a set period of time, which can include a roadside assistance policy. 

These contractual obligations are often relatively generous and can include a replacement car, towing and additional transport costs, so it’s worth knowing if you have one. 

What about for English speakers or people visiting Switzerland? 

If you are visiting Switzerland – whether renting a car in another country or in Switzerland – then the best option is to talk to your rental company about roadside assistance, rather than taking out a policy yourself. 

Regardless of which option you choose, the situation is similar for people who are uncomfortable in either German, French or Italian. 

The helplines for auto clubs and insurance companies will usually have English options, although the mechanics they send out to assist you may not. 

That said, if they get your car up and running, it doesn’t really matter whether you speak the same language. 

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