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RVs: All the comforts of home - including insurance

Want to get away from it all and still have the comforts of home? That's the goal of millions of Americans who take their vacations in motor homes, also known as recreational vehicles or RVs. Before you hit the open road, however, it's a good idea to check the insurance coverage for your RV.

Most auto insurers don't cover RVs.

"Most insurance companies have restrictions on how they cover motor homes," says Bert Alanko, chairman of the RV Dealer's Association and owner of Phoenix-based MBA Insurance, a premier RV-rental insurance agency.

Insurers treat RVs differently than passenger cars or SUVs. The cost of RVs and the potential for extensive physical damage in an accident mean the ordinary coverage minimums that apply to passenger cars are too low. Additionally, since many RVs are driven by people who aren't accustomed to the extra size and length, insurers believe there is a greater risk for accidents.

Some carriers will issue a certificate of insurance that applies to a motor home. In other cases, if you have rental car coverage as part of your insurance package, it will apply to a recreational vehicle, but only if your physical damage limits are increased. If your insurer will sell you coverage with higher limits, that might be your first choice. If not, you'll have to find an independent agent who can write policies in the "specialty market."

A common misconception

Some people believe that the personal property in their RV will be covered under their homeowners policy. While this is true up to a point, home insurance coverage is limited when the property is kept somewhere other than the "residence premises," such as your personal car or your RV. Your car and homeowner's policies may not cover such items as appliances, plumbing or accessories. Without proper RV insurance, such expenses would come out of your own pocket.

RV insurance combines the protections offered by both auto and homeowner's policies. That includes coverage for loss due to fire, smoke, theft, vandalism, landslides, hail, windstorms and collision. It also provides coverage for your personal property, emergency-expense coverage such as lodging and campsite/vacation liability coverage — which protects you if you use your motor home as a residence. It should also cover awnings, satellite dishes and other attached accessories. Additional coverage can be obtained if your RV is used as a semi-permanent residence for most of the year.

As with standard home or auto policies, RV policies renew each year. Premiums are based on the type, size, and age of your motor home, where you live, how much you drive and your driving record. Premiums are also based on your age and gender, address at which the vehicle is principally garaged and your driving record. Many companies offer discounts for maintaining a good driving record or owning multiple policies with the same insurer. You have the same option as with car insurance to reduce your insurance premium by increasing your deductible.

Insuring a rented RV

If you are renting an RV, you'll need to make sure you have adequate insurance. Many companies that rent RVs offer insurance, but it might not be the best deal. Here are some of the things to watch for when renting an RV:

Is the insurance included in the rental price? If not, does the stand-alone price make sense? Depending on your RV model, insurance could cost you $15 per day for a small RV and up to $25 per day for larger model. In one year's time you could dish out between $5,475 to $9,125 for a policy.

What is the deductible amount? Most RV policies start with a $500 deductible and go as high as $2,000. How much are you willing to pay out of pocket if you have to make a claim?

Is the liability coverage adequate? Most states require motorists to carry liability insurance. Make sure your policy has adequate coverage for collision and comprehensive, too.

If you have a breakdown 60 miles from the nearest mechanic, the bill for an oversize wrecker to come get you could be pretty high.

Is the dealer's policy primary or secondary? If you're in an accident, the primary policy pays the claims up to its limits, and then a secondary policy kicks in. If you buy a secondary policy from the dealer to cover your rented RV, your own auto insurance company would become the primary insurer. That means the RV policy wouldn't pay until your own policy had exhausted its limits.

Are the limits high enough? Remember that a fender-bender in a 27-foot motor home could cost $5,000, compared to $400 or $500 for a similar accident in your four-door sedan!

Are you covered for towing? Half the fun of an RV vacation is traveling to remote areas far from fast-food franchises, motels and repair shops. If you have a breakdown 60 miles from the nearest mechanic, the bill for an oversize wrecker to come get you could be pretty high. Your policy should provide for high towing limits.

Does the policy exclude drivers under age 25? Some policies include a flat-out exclusion. Others give the agent leeway in determining whether a younger driver is mature enough to handle the vehicle. If your policy excludes a younger driver, an accident that occurs while the excluded driver is behind the wheel will not be covered.

Are you covered for medical expenses if someone is injured? Check the medical payment and personal injury provisions of the policy.

Buying offers other challenges

If you decide to buy a motor home, you'll encounter many of the same issues as if you rented. Car insurance companies generally aren't prepared to insure a motor home year-round, even if they offer temporary insurance to rent one.

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