RV Insurance 101: Ask the Experts!
RV Insurance 101: Ask the Experts!
Q&A with FCIS Insurance, operator of the Winnebago RV Insurance program
By: Katelyn & Howard Newstate
Welcome to another edition of the unofficial series, “Demystifying Scary Stuff About RVing!” In our most recent article, we went over the purchase process (including financing!) and now we’re rolling on to another topic that can cause confusion: RV insurance.
If you’re reading this, you probably already own or are considering buying an RV, and now you’re looking to get insurance (or maybe change your policy). Lucky for you, we went straight to an expert to get some answers! Courtney Wooge, owner and president of FCIS Insurance – which operates the Winnebago RV Insurance program, joined me over Zoom to discuss RV insurance. We’re excited to share his insights in this Q&A!
Have more questions? You can always reach out to a member of his team at winnebagorvinsurance.com.
An Intro to RV Insurance
Courtney, thanks so much for taking the time to help demystify RV insurance for GoLife readers. Can we start with the story of RV insurance and your family business, FCIS Insurance (operator of the Winnebago RV Insurance program)?
Sure, and thanks for having me, Howard. I’m the second-generation owner of FCIS Insurance; the first generation was my father. The story I’ve been told is John K. Hanson, the founder of Winnebago, and his son-in-law, Gerald Boman, approached my father here in Forest City, trying to develop a proper program for RV insurance because of depreciation that was happening when you buy a brand-new motorhome.
Having a claim in your first few years of ownership and owing money to the bank was the issue. If you have a 95% loan-to-value ratio and you have a claim, you’ve depreciated it further than your loan value. Not only have you potentially lost your RV if it was completely totaled, but you also now owe money to the bank. So, what my father did was develop Total Loss Replacement (TLR) for an RV insurance policy. It took two or three years to find a carrier willing to offer TLR that was licensed in every state. Then WE had to get licensed in every state.
Winnebago said, “Look, if you can solve this problem with the people having claims, we’ll help you obtain policies with the folks that buy a Winnebago.” That’s how our relationship began.
Can you tell us more about Total Loss Replacement (TLR)?
We call these “settlement options.” Auto policies typically only have settlement options of “actual cash value.” At the time of loss, the insurance carrier wants to put it back to how it was the second before you had that loss – which is really the depreciated value.
If you buy an RV policy with TLR within the first year after you buy a brand-new RV, it covers you for five years. The carriers will buy you a brand-new unit (RV) if a total loss occurs during that time.
For example, if you were to have a total loss in three years, the insurance adjuster will see you have TLR coverage and say, “let’s go look for a 2024 model to replace that (RV).” In years 6-10, if you have a total loss, they’ll go back and give you the value of what you purchased at. This is called a “purchase price guarantee.” It is a little less than TLR, but now you can go out and buy another RV with that payment.
If you don’t purchase a new RV, you could have a policy based on what is called an “agreed value.” You can set the value at that time, and we can lock in that value. Any loss would be at that price for the life of the policy.
What should you consider when comparing policies for your RV that might be different from an auto policy?
First, auto insurance does not have all the specialized coverages (settlement options, campsite, etc.). Second, you generally won’t be talking to an agent that does hundreds of RV policies every day. Third, there are three usage variables in an RV policy:
- For your weekend warrior, 30 days or less is one factor.
- Next is 30-150, that could be someone who uses their RV more frequently.
- Full-timers are those who use their RV for 151 days or more.
There are 365-day full-timers and also full-timers who travel more than 150 days, but they still own a condo or a home somewhere. The insurance companies put them into a full-timer’s liability with a slightly lower rating factor (lower cost). They figure you are going to go to that home at some point throughout the year.
Specific RVer Insurance Questions
What happens when you're camping (you’re not driving your RV) and using it as a home. RV insurance covers me there, right?
You’re covered. We have on every RV policy ‘campsite or vacation’ liability. It is also baked into full-timers liability.
What about all my ‘stuff’ that is in an RV, is that covered?
I like to tell people, “pick your car up, tip it over, roll down the windows, and what falls out?” Maybe some lip balm, loose change. Now pick up your RV, and what falls out? You’ve got pots and pans, camera equipment, all kinds of things.
With specialized RV insurance, we can go up to $99,000 worth of personal contents in your RV. Insurance carriers know you’re going to use this as a home. You’re going to have a lot of items in there that are going to move around. Generally, you can’t do that with auto policies.
What happens with a tow vehicle or a towable RV when they’re being towed?
In general, for those with fifth wheels and towable trailers, the same thing happens: Your liability of the powered vehicle (the motorhome if towing a car, or the SUV/truck towing a fifth wheel or travel trailer) follows anything behind it.
Therefore, whatever you tow behind is covered by the vehicle in the front. In the event of an accident involving the towed item while in transit, the claim would be filed against the policy for the RV/SUV/truck in front. That’s why we try to match the RV policy and your other vehicle with the same carrier (insurance company) to reduce confusion over who to contact for a claim.
As a full-timer, we were still asked where our RV would be garaged. Is that the same as your residence (or domicile)?
The insurance carrier cares about where the RV is because that's where you’re going to have a claim. But in the full-timers community, that can be anywhere in North America, right? This is why it’s important to work with an RV insurance specialist. Our carriers understand that if you’re a 365 full-timer, the garaging address is really set at the address of where you’re registering the RV. In many cases, this is a mail service.
There are three addresses we can include on a policy: where you get your mail, registration address, and garaging address. They do not need to be the same, but frequently they will. Sometimes (particularly for full-timers), you might register an RV in another state like Florida or South Dakota but have a mail forwarding service handling your mail in another state, like Texas.
When traveling in the rest of North America, we found that traveling north vs. south was definitely a different experience for us regarding our RV insurance. Can you explain the process to insure an RV for travel in Canada and Mexico?
In Canada, you can use your U.S. policy. All you need is a Canadian card from the policy to show to the border agent. However, for Mexico, they want you to use a Mexican carrier for liability. While you can buy the policy at the border, I always recommend getting that done in advance. Buy from a trusted source. Regardless, it will come from a Mexican insurance carrier.
The good news is you can scale the policy by the number of days you intend to be in Mexico, which determines your premium. Most of our carriers do cover physical damage (comprehensive and collision) in Mexico, so you would just need to add a Mexican liability policy which we can help you source.
Let’s talk about windshields. It’s one thing if you have a Class B or C, since they are the standard windshield of whatever chassis you have in your RV; getting a replacement windshield for our 2019 Winnebago Navion was pretty straightforward. But what happens with a Class A?
Replacement is different with RVs, and the number one claim is glass with RV policies. It happens quite frequently, and it has happened to me (Note: Courtney and his family travel in a Class A Winnebago Forza).
The carriers will outsource their glass claims to a third-party with a company like Duncan Systems. Because of their size, Class A windshields require two people to put it in, so there’s always a discrepancy on the labor AND the cost of custom glass (when compared to traditional automotive windshields). We are very aware and familiar with this at our agency and encourage you to work with an insurance agent to help in this process. Remember, your agent is an advocate for the consumer!
By the way, the second most common claim is caused by tire blowouts. It’s extremely important to keep your tires properly inflated. What also tends to happen is RVs sit in the garage for 6-7 months; they take the coach out and don’t check the tire pressure or the tires age out (tires can also fail from age). The tire blowout ultimately causes something else like damage to other components or the body of the coach. That’s why, typically, there are small policy discounts for safety equipment like tire pressure monitoring systems.
Since you mentioned discounts, what are other ways RV owners can save on insurance?
Safe driving courses (3-8% discount for many carriers), safety related items like tire-pressure monitors, and club memberships (like WIT Club) can also save you 3-8%. If you start getting a few of those discounts onboard, it can add up to some pretty good savings. Combined discounts usually top out at about 20-25%!
I’d like to thank Courtney for his time and knowledge about all things RV insurance. Whether this is your first time looking into RV insurance or you’ve had a policy for years, there is always something new to learn.
To find out more or speak with an agent, visit winnebagorvinsurance.com.