Of course you insure your RV itself. And most policies will cover the RV’s permanent attachments, but your belongings are a separate matter. If they were to be stolen or destroyed on the road, or even in your own driveway, you may well be out thousands of dollars. That’s why we have personal effects coverage.
What are Personal Effects?
Imagine if your RV had a lid on the top like a giant sardine can. If you peeled off the top of the RV, flipped it upside down, and shook it, what would fall out?
Anything that stays put– that is, any items permanently attached to the RV – should be covered under your RV policy. Now put your RV down and look at the pile on the ground. Those are your personal effects – and they aren’t necessarily covered under your existing RV insurance policy – especially if your carrier is a standard auto insurance carrier.
Comparison with Homeowner’s Insurance.
If you have a homeowner’s insurance policy or a flood or fire policy, it works the same way: There is one coverage for the structure or dwelling itself, and additional coverage to cover the contents of the home. From time to time, it’s a good idea to take an inventory and valuation of a home’s contents and furnishings and update the contents coverage accordingly; that way, you won’t be severely damaged if a covered peril should destroy some or all of the contents in your home.
An RV, essentially, is a rolling house - and so the same principle applies: There’s one element of the insurance that covers the RV itself, including all the permanent accessories and attachments such as bolted-in furniture and electronics, a hard-wired satellite antenna or dealer-installed dish, the engine, transmission and chassis, and a separate level of insurance that covers everything else you buy separately and house inside the RV. Things like:
Dishes, pots, pans and kitchen utensils
Bikes and motorcycles/scooters
TVs (other than those that came hard-installed in the vehicle)
Laptops, computers and other related accessories
DVD and CD collections
Clothing, towels and linens
Customizations since you bought the policy
Some carriers will offer basic personal effects coverage along with a basic RV policy at no additional cost. In most states, RVInsurance.com includes the first $3,000 in coverage with the base policy, but you'll want to check with your broker for state-specific details.
$3,000 provides a basic level of protection – sufficient to cover a laptop computer, a bicycle, a nice propane grill and some other common RV items. But most people who take a careful inventory of everything they take with them on the road find they want more than $3,000 in insurance protection.
Fortunately, it’s very easy and inexpensive to purchase additional RV personal effects coverage – usually by adding a few dollars per month to the premium for each additional $1,000 in insurance protection.
What are the coverage limits?
RVInsurance.com will underwrite personal effects coverage up to an amount that is equal to 20 percent of the original RV cost (original cost new/MSRP), or up to $30,000, whichever is lower.
Will You Get What You Paid?
Many carriers cut corners to keep premiums artificially low. That helps them pick up market share, but the most important metric for any insurance customer has to be the level of protection you actually receive at claim time. Here’s an example:
Many budget carriers will only reimburse you a depreciated amount to replace a lost, destroyed or stolen item. Over time, the insurance company may reimburse you a depreciated value that’s far below what you paid, or what it will cost you to replace your valuable property.
At RVInsurance.com, we want you to be made whole; that means we don’t depreciate personal effects before we cut you a check. After verifying the validity of your claim, we will reimburse you the full amount that you initially paid for your stolen or destroyed property. The coverage may cost a few dollars more in premiums, but ultimately you can control that cost. Meanwhile, full purchase price reimbursement ensures that you will not experience a financial setback at claim time. You are protected; that’s what insurance is all about.
What about items outside the RV?
Sometimes you have property outside the RV. In that event, should the covered property become lost, damaged or destroyed, up to ten percent of your total coverage may be applied to property that is stored outside or away from the RV.
What About My Satellite Dish?
If your a satellite dish is permanently attached to the RV, it’s generally covered under your base comprehensive or collision policy. Under a Full Time Protection endorsement, a satellite dish permanently attached to the RV is covered under Comprehensive or Collision; a satellite dish that is not permanently attached to the RV is covered under personal effects.
I’m a Full-Time RVer. Can I Buy Additional Protection?
If you are a full-time RV resident (that is, you don’t keep a residence outside the RV), you may qualify for the full-timer plan. In this event, up to 25 percent of your coverage may be applied to items outside or away from your RV at the time of loss or destruction. This can be important for bicycles, grills, camping supplies, scooters, motorcycles, tools and anything else that routinely leaves the RV and that is at risk of theft or destruction.
Note: You must own comprehensive coverage on your RV before you can purchase personal effects insurance coverage. Liability-only RV insurance won’t qualify.
Coordination issues with other insurance policies.
In the event of a covered personal effects loss, PE (personal effects) coverage is primary, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance in place is secondary. That is, your PE policy will pay benefits up to policy limits, and your homeowners and renters insurance policy will pay the remainder .
Note: Only personal assets are covered. Business assets are not. If you are running a business out of your RV, you may need to invest in separate commercial coverage to cover your business assets and inventory. Pets are not covered under this policy. Coverage of art, jewelry and collectibles may be limited. Discuss any limitations or exclusions with your agent when shopping for policies.
To protect your own interests and ensure a smooth claim filing, take the time to inventory and document your property beforehand. Where possible, you’ll want to photograph any valuables and document serial numbers and other identifying information, including make and model of equipment, electronics and anything else.
Don’t forget to document the routine items, too: The dishes, linens and towels. If possible, photograph your receipts and add them to the record. There’s even an app to make the process even easier. It's called KnowYourStuff.org and it's a service of the Insurance Information Institute. It helps streamline and simplify the process of taking a personal effects inventory - complete with photographs - and automatically uploads that information to the Cloud, so you have an offsite inventory that can’t be destroyed in a flood, tornado or lost in a fire.
If you don’t use KnowYourStuff.org or a similar program, be sure to keep your paper inventory and documentation in a secure place away from your RV, and/or email it to yourself or upload it to Dropbox, Google Docs or another suitable cloud storage site.
That's it! Those are my top 10 tips for buying an RV. Oh, and don't forget to test drive the unit. I guess that's an obvious one, right?