You may have had a recreational vehicle, or 'RV,' parked in the driveway for several years, waiting to have the time to use it more than weekends and vacations. Or you may be selling your house and going on the road full time. Either way, RV insurance is something you cannot be without. As one of 750,000 to 1 million seniors looking to experience a life of adventure on the open road, you do not want that adventure ending because of loss or accident.
Why is insurance so critical? Because an RV is an important investment that combines transportation and living quarters. RVs are filled with personal possessions, maybe all your possessions if you are a full-timer. As such, you want to be sure you have all the coverage you need, at a price you can afford.
The logical first thought would be to get RV insurance as an extension of your auto insurance. However, an RV presents a unique set of potential issues. Extended auto insurance may be enough if your RV is older, pretty simple and used only for the occasional road trip. However, the more you use your RV, the more risk you take of an incident that your insurance does not cover. That risk can quickly extend to liability issues where your retirement nest egg is wiped out.
If you live in your RV full time, you want your policy to cover the 'vehicle' aspect of your RV, as well as the homeowner aspect of your 'home on wheels.' That could include coverage for possessions in your RV and those left behind in storage. You might want replacement cost coverage so you are not left homeless in case of total loss. Moreover, you want personal liability to cover all the situations, such as a guest being injured in your RV, where an extension of your auto insurance policy would not have covered you.
Like auto insurance, RV insurance is available through insurance agents who will write your RV policy through an insurance company. That company can either be one of the large, well-known insurers that cover multiple insurance products, or smaller insurers who specialize in RVs. You could start making a list with recommendations from fellow RVers or with extensive online research that includes reading reviews for trends.
You will want to choose a large enough company to have access to local support wherever you might travel, in case of need. National companies are probably best, as travel plans can change once you get out on the road and you do not want to curtail an opportunity for fear of no support somewhere far away.
Once you have gathered data on a short list of possible insurers and obtained quotes, you want to run comparisons until you find the RV insurance policy that provides the perfect balance between adequate coverage and affordability.
Every state requires RV insurance, with a minimum amount of Liability coverage and possibly with Uninsured and Underinsured Motorists coverage. You choose the limits of Collision and Comprehensive coverage you want to include, as a way of protecting yourself from excessive out-of-pocket costs should you suffer a loss or be at fault in an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage.
Having sufficient RV insurance:
- Protects the potentially large investment made in your RV, especially if purchased with a loan that still carries a balance;
- Protects your financial future against lawsuits by others whose person or property you may have injured or damaged;
- Protects you against other RVers who are uninsured or underinsured in incidents that are not your fault;
- Provides coverage of costs related to roadside breakdowns and even to lodgings as your 'home' is being repaired; and
- Provides general peace of mind, knowing you are being a responsible RVer.
The reference most people have when first buying RV insurance is that of buying auto insurance. Both insurances share concerns about the cost of premiums (including discounts), the ease with which the insurance can be put in place, what is included in Standard coverage and what add-on coverages exist. (Some add-ons are more RV-specific, such as protection of your custom electronic equipment, rental reimbursement after breakdown or accident, personal belongings and high-value customization.) Lastly, you are concerned with the quality of customer service offered by the insurer regarding accessibility and level of support.
Criteria that are related to RV insurances include whether an insurer offers a storage discount while an RV is not being used, whether a policy covers you in Mexico, what types of vehicles are covered and how personal effects are covered.
Regarding basic criteria, the selection of RV insurance by a senior is no different than by someone in another age category. However, two additional areas should be explored when examining a policy from a potential insurer: its age friendliness and its health-related value.
Age friendliness means how convenient and easy a service is in adapting to your changing needs as you get older. In the case of RV insurance, this is primarily how the insurer communicates with the customer. The absolute minimum is having multiple means of communication and offering solid and patient support from the insurer's customer service representatives.
Since the majority of bill paying and claims processing will be done online, especially on the road, the company’s website should be easy to navigate and should provide step-by-step procedures for those transactions.
Age may also affect how a senior uses an RV as a full-timer, possibly going from extensive travels with long stays in different locations to parking the RV near a child or other support person. Straightforward policy changes should be available to accommodate that fact.
Health-related value reflects how a service might change in perceived value as a person’s health declines. In the case of RV insurance, the predominant factor is the physical condition of the RVer. While Medicare insurance is accepted nationwide, an RVer in ill health will likely want to be close to familiar doctors and hospitals, and especially close to loved ones.
Besides, driving and maintaining an RV requires a certain amount of stamina, which a senior may not have as health declines. As an RV goes from being a 'home on wheels' to a stationary home, an insurance carrier should be able to make some accommodations to your insurance coverage
RV insurance cost calculations start with a definition of the class of vehicle. RVs are divided into Class A (full-size motorhome), Class B (travel trailer or camper) and Class C (mid-sized motorhome). Class A, the most expensive, includes vehicles up to 45 feet long called luxury coaches, converted buses or motor coaches. Class B, the least costly, includes the smallest recreational vehicles, such as cargo vans, travel trailers and camper vans, but with no cab-over.
Class C, in the middle in terms of insurance cost, includes vehicles that use standard cargo vans as the motorized part, with a camper portion that extends over the cab area. "Fifth wheel' vehicles, which are non-motorized recreational vehicles towed by an insured pickup truck, can fall within Class C.
Smaller non-motorized RVs might only need regular auto insurance with riders for the extra value of the cargo (camper unit or pop-up tent). Personal items can be covered by the senior's homeowner's insurance.
Actual fees -- or policy premiums -- will vary from case to case based on several main factors:
- The class of your RV: Class A, B or C;
- Vehicle make, model, age and value, including custom features;
- Personal data: your age, marital status, driving history and accident record in RVs and cars, claims history and insurance credit scores;
- Your state of residence;
- The assets you want to protect in case of a lawsuit or liability claim;
- How you use your RV: part-time or full-time use, seasonality of travel and whether you cross state and country borders;
- The deductibles you choose: the higher the deductible, the lower the premium, but know your out-of-pocket tolerance level; and
- The riders or coverages you want to add, such as for personal belongings, towing and roadside assistance.
The amount of risk you take on may be decided by the cost proposed by insurers for the coverage that you feel you would want. One source roughly estimated an annual premium cost of $2,000 or more for a Class A vehicle, and a range of $1,000 to $2,000 for a Class B. A Class C vehicle would fall somewhere in between. However, because the cost is so influenced by all the variables listed above, obtaining at least three formal quotes is the best way to understand your options.
Discounts also play a major role in determining the cost of your motorcycle insurance policy, and you will want to explore every possible discount offered by each insurer. Some offer a few, and others offer a long list.
A senior should look for as much coverage as is affordable and justifiable by the RV itself and by how it will be used. In any case, the state minimum legal coverage is rarely enough. How you 'build' your policy is up to you.
The most important evaluation criteria in buying RV insurance include the price of annual premiums, available discounts, the ease of putting the insurance in place, what Standard coverage includes, what add-ons are available and the quality of customer service offered.
Price: Whatever RV insurance you select needs to be affordable, or you should not take your RV out of your driveway. (The rest of your road experience should not be ruined by being left with no money to enjoy it.) Several 'givens,' such as your age, the value of your vehicle, state of residence and so forth will affect how each insurer rates your premium. Each insurer will weigh those elements differently. Where you have the most pricing discretion is in the deductibles and the add-ons you choose. Altogether, your policy should reflect the risk you are willing to take regarding financial loss should the policy be insufficient to cover liability and losses.
Discounts: The number of discounts offered will vary with each insurer: some offer very few, and some offer many. Neither case should be considered good or bad, as the discounts need to be weighed against how high or low that insurer has priced the total package you selected. Typical discounts include mature rider, safe driver, pay-in-full, storage option, anti-theft, anti-lock brakes, completion of driving courses, commercial license, multi-policy/vehicle (bundling, where it makes sense), club/association membership and active or retired Federal Government and military employee.
Ease of enrollment: Building the exact insurance policy you want to purchase for your RV is complicated enough. The actual process of buying it should not be difficult. The more ways a company lets you do so, the better. Being able to purchase online and by phone are the bare minimum.
Basic coverage: What each insurer includes in its Standard coverage may vary, so you want to be sure you are getting the exact coverage that is important to you. You do not want to assume, for example, that all Comprehensive coverage is the same. Detail is important.
Basic coverage should include:
- Liability (Property Damage and Bodily Injury) covers injury and property damage expenses to others where you are at fault, as well as lawsuits that might be filed against you, up to the limit you have selected for your policy.
- Collision helps cover repairs to your RV after an accident or incident caused by you.
- Comprehensive helps cover repairs to your RV caused by anything other than a collision, such as theft, fire, weather damage or vandalism.
- Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist covers the cost of repairing your property and paying for medical damage to you and your passengers if the other person is at fault and either has no insurance or insufficient insurance.
- Medical Expense covers medical care for you and your passengers resulting from an accident, regardless who is at fault.
Add-on coverage: Here is where RV insurance companies can shine or fall short, as this is where you can tailor your insurance policy to your personal needs and wants. However, what one company calls an add-on, another company may include in its basic coverage. Again, detail counts. The upper limits, or caps, on different add-ons can also affect how appealing they might be.
These are other areas of coverage seniors should consider:
- Full Replacement Cost covers the replacement of your RV if stolen or totaled, instead of paying its depreciated value. Replacement cost will be based on a determined formula or pre-established value, including in the case of custom RVs or vintage classics.
- Roadside Assistance covers towing to the nearest repair facility when you break down, plus roadside labor costs. Having high-limit coverage will cover the high cost of those services for extra-large RVs.
- Personal Property and Attachment covers the repair or replacement of extras you have in or on your RV, from awnings and furniture to satellite dishes and solar panels, in the case of theft or damage.
- Full-time RV coverage includes elements of a homeowner's policy, such as high-limit personal liability insurance, 'contents insurance' for belongings left in storage while you are on the road and medical coverage for any injured visitors.
- Vacation Liability coverage is liability insurance that covers any incidents that occur while you are parked in a park or campsite and cause injury or damage to others.
- Travel Expense coverage helps pay for alternative transportation and lodgings while your RV is being fixed after an accident or mechanical breakdown that occurs a certain distance from your fixed home.
Customer service: Your assessment of customer service should be based on more than just on the hours an insurer's representatives are available and how many ways you can reach them. It should reflect your overall expected experience, including:
- the friendliness and ease of use of the company’s website;
- the ease with which complete decision-making information is made available;
- the simplicity of bill paying (online, phone and maybe a smartphone app);
- the transparency and support offered during the claims-processing procedure; and
- the willingness of the company to offer insurance that fulfills your particular needs today and in the future.
The quality of customer service is especially important to seniors, particularly as they age and decline in health.
RV-specific criteria include whether an insurer offers a storage discount while an RV is not being used, whether your policy covers you in Mexico, what types of vehicles are covered and how personal effects are covered.
If you are not a full-time RVer and you store your RV during parts of the year while you live elsewhere, your insurer should make some pricing concession since your RV will not be moving and at risk of damaging or being damaged due to an accident.
Most insurers will not cover you or your RV if you cross the border into Mexico, but they will work with you to find the exact coverage from Mexican RV insurers if you plan to go there. Do not take the risk of 'just a quick hop across the border,' thinking nothing will happen. You will be putting everything at risk, including jail time. Even if your U.S. RV insurance policy claims to provide coverage in border areas in Mexico, it is not recognized by Mexico and therefore does not fulfill the Mexican law as proof of insurance. The Mexican RV insurance you purchase will also cover the temporary import permit without which you may risk having the vehicle and all its contents confiscated by Mexican Customs. Also, unless you have certain Medicare supplement plans, your Medicare insurance will not cover your health while you are in Mexico.
Most insurers will cover you and your RV if you cross into Canada. Be sure your selected insurer will. Some will issue you a non-residence insurance card in case you are asked by Canadian authorities.
Potential insurers can be ruled in or out based on what kind of vehicle you have, and what kind each insurer covers. Some cover just RVs: bus conversions, campers and other motorized vehicles. Others also cover non-motorized units and the 'toys' that might be accompanying the RV, such as watercraft, motorcycles and ATVs. The word 'RV' encompasses so many other descriptors: motorhome, camper, fifth-wheel, sleeper unit, teardrop trailer, travel trailer, tent trailer and toy hauler, among others. You just need to find the insurers that cover yours.
Another question is how your personal possessions (as opposed to the contents that are fixed in the unit) will be covered,. Beyond the dishes and clothes, you may need special riders for firearms and jewelry. All these possessions are at risk whether lost, stolen or damaged while traveling on the road or parked in a campground.
Nothing would be worse than purchasing RV insurance from a provider, paying the premiums and then discovering the company is too shaky financially to cover your claim when you present one. Before settling on an insurer, be certain to check ratings such as A.M. Best, which is the leading insurance rating agency. That rating should be at least an A.
You also want to know how that insurer will handle claims processing, although it is hard to gauge before you have one to process. Two alternative resources exist: reviews by actual customers on independent websites and something neutral like the U.S. Auto Insurance Claims Satisfaction Study by JD Power. While JD Power does not cover RV insurance per se, if your insurer also covers auto insurance, you will get an idea of how it handles claims in general.
Again, the reference to auto insurance does not mean you want to bundle your RV insurance with your auto insurance. Too many RV-specific needs would be left uncovered. However, several big-name auto insurers also offer RV insurance, as separate policies, and you might benefit from a multi-policy discount with your auto insurer. Besides, you already know if you are happy with how the company behaves when you need it.
Very little has changed since the appeal of the original RVs, introduced in the early 1920s. "Adventure, freedom, spontaneity and community" are how RVers still describe the experience. Your goal is to enjoy that experience, with affordable protection against any unacceptable risk.