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Flat tire? MapQuest iPhone app now offers roadside assistance

You can now get membership-free towing and other services from Urgent.ly via the app, but you'll have to pay for the work itself, of course.

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MapQuest's new Roadside Assistance Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Who can you call the next time you get a flat or your car won't start? One new option is to whip out your iPhone and tap into the latest version of MapQuest's iOS app.

Released Monday, MapQuest version 4.6.1 adds a new Roadside Assistance feature. The feature provides 24/7 assistance that can help if you have a flat tire, need a jump start, get locked out of your car or simply run out of gas.

You don't have to pay any membership fees -- as you likely would with an auto club like the AAA -- but naturally you'll have to pay the service provider for the work itself.

The feature could lure more people to download MapQuest's mobile app. Most users who need directions probably turn to Apple's Maps app or Google Maps. With the new feature MapQuest is now the first navigation app to offer such help (the Android version of MapQuest added Roadside Assistance at the end of October).

To offer the new feature, MapQuest teamed with roadside assistance provider Urgent.ly, which could see wider exposure as a result of the deal.

"By partnering with MapQuest, we can take Urgent.ly nationwide, bringing on-demand emergency roadside assistance to customers throughout the US," Chris Spanos, CEO of Urgent.ly, said in a statement. "For the first time, drivers will have access to transparent, reliable roadside help through a free navigation app, without membership fees or expensive auto club dues. Because Urgent.ly offers flat-rate pricing and only charges drivers for services they actually use, we can provide help to millions of MapQuest users whenever and wherever they need it."

The app itself requires iOS 7 or higher and is compatible with the the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

To call for help, you tap the Roadside Assistant link in the app's menu, then choose the type of problem you've having. Enter the make and model of your card, your name and your phone number.

You'll then be prompted to enter your credit card number, though you're not charged until any work is done. You'll also need to share your location through the app. You're then connected with a local service provider, and help is on the way.

MapQuest's Roadside Assistance Web page details the services that it provides and explains how it all works:

  • You can request roadside assistance for the following services: tow services, lockouts, jump-starts, fuel delivery and flat tires.
  • For flat tire changes, Urgent.ly requires a working spare to be available, as it does not repair tires; it authorizes for the cost of a tow in case the tire change somehow is not successful and needs to become a tow, but will only charge for the work that is done.
  • Urgent.ly service does not include the sale of batteries.
  • In most cases, its service providers have adequate room for at least two people to ride in the truck to the destination in the event of a tow.
  • Urgent.ly does not tow vehicles when the owner of the vehicle is not present. It does not provide impounding services.
  • If the vehicle owner needs a tow and does not know where to go, its service providers will be able to provide appropriate options. Customers can also work that out with its call center.

If you already belong to an association such as the AAA, then you're covered and wouldn't need MapQuest's Roadside Assistance. But for those without such a membership and no easy access to any other type of assistance, the new service could come in handy the next time you're stuck on the road.

A spokeswoman for MapQuest touted other recent enhancements and promised more in store for users of the app.

"We are highly focused on user benefit and craftsmanship," the rep told CNET. "And while, at this time, we can't share any details of what's coming next, we feel the recent launch of our standalone app, Commute, and integrations with Yelp, OpenTable, Urgent.ly and others pave the way for future experiences MapQuest will provide. We have a lot more in store for our users."