23/06/2021
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Motorhome insurance – the complete guide 2021

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Welcome to the annual What Motorhome insurance survey, and what a year it's been since our last update.

Report by Richard Dredge

Page of contents

 


Newcomers to motorhoming

The UK's divorce from Europe came through, which has led to complications galore and, separate from that, we have had multiple lockdowns to contend with.

For this annual insight into motorhome insurance, we have interviewed key people at the sharp end of the industry.

A major change from previous years highlighted by the experts is the increasing number of new people getting into motorhoming.

Many of these newcomers are relatively young (in their thirties or early forties), compared to the over 55-year-olds, which has long been the norm. In most cases they're opting for campervans, including van-derived campers, rather than coachbuilt motorhomes.

"Although around 85% of our customers are over 50, we've seen a 60% increase in the number of our customers who are in their 30s,” explains Craig Thompson from Caravan Guard (last year's survey winner).

“Most of those people have no experience of motorhoming and many haven't ever driven anything comparable. As long as they've got driving experience though, there are some excellent introductory insurance discounts available within the industry and these are worth seeking out.

"One of the reasons why younger people are buying motorhomes is to use them on an everyday basis. Instead of owning two vehicles, they're buying something like a van-derived camper as their sole transport, often because they anticipate working from home much more than they used to.

"If swapping a car for a camper or motorhome, any no-claims discount can often be transferred over; Caravan Guard offers a reduction of up to 70%. But, even if the family car is being retained, there are usually introductory discounts available.

"We offer a 64% discount, for example, if the policy holder has four years' no-claims bonus on their car, a good driving record and any experience of driving a van or towing.” Craig points out that similar discounts are available elsewhere.

Julie Constable of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, adds: "We expect to see more campervan owners using their vehicles on an everyday basis, including to commute to work occasionally.

"Some insurers don't allow business use on a standard policy however - or maybe even at all - so, if you're aiming to use your vehicle for anything other than social, domestic and pleasure, make sure that you're covered. For inexperienced drivers, or those that may not have driven for a while, doing a course can be helpful to improve confidence and minimise the risk of accidents.

"We offer motorhome manoeuvring courses across the country, which entitles you to a discount on insurance taken out through us, and there are even online simulator-type training courses available that can help.”

Another trend picked up on by all of our interviewees was the increase in demand for new and used motorhomes and the lack of supply because of factory and dealer shutdowns during the lockdown periods. The result has been an increase in values for many vehicles, often by thousands of pounds.

"We know that some people have been putting their life savings into a ’van, knowing that alternative forms of holiday have been difficult if not impossible to enjoy,” confirms Craig.

“It'll be interesting to see if they stick with it when those other forms of holidays are back on the menu. Of course, we’re sure many will. But we’d expect some to sell and that could increase supply and thus depress used values The insurance message is to make sure your insured value is bang on at every renewal so you’re fully covered and not paying for too little or too much cover.”

Knowing that their motorhomes were going to sit idle for most (if not all) of the year, a worrying number of motorhome owners let their insurance lapse for several weeks (or even months) in 2020, thinking that, because it wasn't going to be used, there was no risk of a claim.

"It's something that we touched on in last year's survey but, as the year progressed, it became more of an issue with many owners just accepting that their vehicles weren't going to get any use during the season at all.

"Some companies offer laid-up cover and some don't; normally the key stipulation is that the vehicle has to be on SORN (statutory off-road notice), and you'll be covered for fire and theft only, so no cover for the likes of storm damage, vandalism or bumps and scrapes.

"Such policies are worth looking at, but see this cover as the absolute minimum; don't even consider leaving your vehicle completely uninsured, because theft is more of a problem than ever. Speaking of which…"


A rise in motorhome and campervan theft

A rise in theft of (and from) motorhomes is another trend spotted by everybody we spoke to. There's a whole raft of reasons why theft is on the increase, including rising values, increased demand and a ready market for valuable parts.

According to Craig, 2019 was an especially bad year for insurers in terms of theft claims, but things improved a bit in 2020.

He told us: "Until recently theft wasn't a particular problem, then two or three years ago we started to see instances increase significantly. Immobilisers were getting bypassed and keys stolen, and it's not just thefts of motorhomes that's a problem; we've also seen a spike in the number of break-ins resulting in items such generators, TVs and camping equipment being pinched.

"After a lull last year our fear is that, post-Covid, we're going to go back to the 2019 trajectory with ever more theft claims being filed.”

It seems that security is more of an issue than ever for motorhome owners. Caravan Guard has seen a significant rise in the number of especially valuable motorhomes (£100-£150k) on its books over the past year.

The numbers are still very small but it's a trend nonetheless, although it's not these ultra-costly vehicles that are most at risk. Instead it's the vehicles worth between £40,000 and £50,000 that seem to be coveted most by villains across the country.

One of the reasons why these cheapervans are being pinched is because they're not valuable enough for insurers to insist on extra security being fitted, such as a tracker or category 1 alarm and immobiliser.

Trackers are often mandatory once a motorhome is worth £60,000, whereas a Category 1 alarm and immobiliser has to be fitted from £45,000-£50,000. What's surprising is how many owners of expensive motorhomes try to dodge spending a few hundred pounds for some added peace of mind.

"People think it won't happen to them and many owners are complacent,” explains Ben Cue from Comfort Insurance (the winners from just about every year up to 2020).

“We emailed one of our customers to say that we thought his vehicle was at risk of being stolen and he insisted that it wasn't because it was up against a bush so it was hard to get out. But thieves don't care about causing damage to vehicles or property, and sure enough they drove the motorhome through the bush to steal it, presumably to break for parts. It was never seen again.

"We have another client on our books with a motorhome that cost over £100,000 to buy - and he needed to be convinced about the benefit of investing a few hundred pounds in the best security that he can find, to protect his investment.

"We insure vehicles worth from £5,000 up to £220,000, although most of our policyholders have motorhomes worth between £15,000 and £75,000. The motorhomes in the middle of that are often worth £5,000 more than they were a year ago, such is the demand and lack of supply.

"We're seeing motorhomes stolen from driveways and storage sites - there are few places where you can be really sure that your vehicle is truly safe. Keyless go is causing us a problem as it's possible to beat the system so, if your motorhome features this, it's worth keeping your keys in a signal-blocking box. Catalytic converter thefts are also on the rise, with motorhomes an easy target because of their extra ground clearance.

"A category 1 alarm and immobiliser is a good investment, but only a tracker can really pretty much guarantee that your motorhome will come back to you. Even then it's not 100% fool-proof as some owners fail to notice their motorhome has gone, so they don't alert anyone; any vehicle that hasn't been found after 48 hours has probably been lost forever.

"It's also worth considering that some trackers are a decade old and the technology has moved on so, if your motorhome is fitted with an old system, it's definitely worth upgrading to something newer.”

All four experts stressed how useful physical deterrents can be.

"Motorhomes aren't stolen by opportunists. They're taken by professionals usually working in gangs and they know exactly what they're doing,” explains Says Motorhome Protect's Andrew Evanson.

“However, physical security measures such as steering wheel locks, cables and bollards all have a part to play and the harder you make it for thieves to take your vehicle, the more likely they are to go and find an easier target.

"At Motorhome Protect we always recommend having as much security as you can and, for added peace of mind, it's always worth going for an officially approved system. Electronic devices tested by Thatcham are worth a closer look, while mechanical devices tested by Sold Secure should also offer extra peace of mind.

"One of the things that will affect your premium the most is where it's stored, with many owners opting for a storage yard rather than their own property. That's fine if the yard has security measures in place, and the best way for insurers to be confident that your vehicle is safe is to use a CaSSOA site as they're all rated bronze, silver or gold, and there's now a platinum option too.”

Conversely, Craig adds: “CaSSOA approval is not the only thing to look for. First and foremost we recommend an owner checks the security levels in place at the storage facility - secure fencing around the perimeter of the site, entry and exit points that are locked at all times and CCTV are typical features of the best sites".


Premium insurance charges

It would be reasonable to think that your insurance premium should plummet when you come to renew. With many motorhomes parked up for much of the past year, it would be fair to assume that the value of claims dropped significantly.

Julie isn't so sure: "The companies that insure motorhomes have to underwrite a huge variety of risks and, in 2020, Covid as well as extreme weather events meant some very big pay outs, so there's every chance that motorhome insurance rates won't drop. Besides, most policyholders already cover relatively few miles each year so, for many motorhome owners, the drop in mileage covered over the past year may well be less significant than you might think.”

None of the panel would say what proportion of their claims was for thefts compared with crash damage, but Ben did volunteer:

"The typical accident damage claim is for a few thousand pounds whereas those for theft are often for £50,000 or more, so it takes a lot of claims for fixing scrapes to equal the value of one theft claim. Over the past year we've seen a noticeable drop in the number of people claiming for accident damage, but theft claims haven't dropped by a similar amount."

On this point, things might be even worse because, when this article was compiled in late April, many motorhome owners had yet to visit their vehicles for the first time in months. Several of the experts pointed out that some vehicle thefts committed over the winter were yet to be discovered, with some big claims likely to be on the way.

Julie also raises the spectre of fraud becoming more of a problem. She says: "We're hearing about cases of money laundering through insurance fraud, with people taking out cover on cloned or non-existent motorhomes. They then claim for the theft of those vehicles after they've supposedly been stolen. It's not a big problem, but it's something else for insurers to have to contend with and something that won't help them to keep premiums low.”

 


Don't mention the B word (Brexit)...

The UK's split from the EU has led to all sorts of problems in terms of increased costs and extra paperwork. It's currently an ongoing problem and, while some things will be streamlined, for the foreseeable future many things will be less straightforward than they used to be.

"As things stand, customers will need a Green Card to travel to European countries,” Craig comments. “We’re still hopeful that the UK will re-enter the Green Card-free circulation zone in some form in the future but, for now, we have issued all of our customers with full European cover an annual Green Card free of charge, either mid-policy term or at renewal. This is auto issued, and is applicable for travel to all countries within our standard territorial limits.

"Existing customers have been emailed this in preparation for possible European travel after 17 May in line with the Government’s covid roadmap, alongside key information to help make their motorhome trip run smoothly post-Brexit.

"A key legislative change in July 2020 allowed for Green Cards to be printed on standard white paper, in black ink, allowing customers to print at home, as opposed to having to wait several days to receive, while being printed on green paper at each insurance company's HQ, and then posted.”

When asked whether Brexit has led to higher parts costs and increased delivery times, all four experts made the point that Covid has masked the effects of Brexit up to a point. Parts supply has become more of a problem over the past year, but that's more likely to be down to factories having closed because of Covid, than anything to do with Brexit.

Ben offers some words of comfort (excuse the pun): "Although parts supply can be a problem, it's often possible to undertake temporary repairs to keep a motorhome mobile, while waiting for the right bits to turn up.

"We've seen delivery times for replacement windscreens jump from 24 hours to as much as three months in some cases but, in some instances, the vehicle has been perfectly usable so it's not necessarily a major inconvenience. Obviously, any repair, temporary or permanent, will leave the vehicle in a safe and roadworthy condition.”

 


Insurance changes on the horizon

Says Craig: "Another big talking point in the insurance industry is upcoming regulatory change focused on fair pricing. We’re awaiting the final FCA paper…but the outcome is likely to be major reform on pricing regulations and thus practices for motor vehicle insurers, including motorhomes, from later in 2021.

"The practice of setting an artificially low introductory price and then stepping the price up at each subsequent renewal should end.”

In recent years there's been a move to doing more and more business online. Getting quotes and taking out cover through the internet has become the norm, and you can expect this to continue.

"Covid has accelerated the speed at which services have moved online - Comfort is offering more and more help and information through its website,” explains Ben.

“Some people worry about security, but everything is tightly regulated and so far we've had no problems. We have to use password-protected document portals rather than sending files via email, but it's a system that works well and we can even issue free annual Green Cards. For those who don't want to take this route we'll still send correspondence through the post as we've always done. Furthermore, we’re always delighted to speak to our customers on the phone and even offer a call back service.”

Looking further ahead, Ben has this advice:

“It's a fair assumption that repair costs are going to increase in the coming years as the complexity of motorhomes is ramped up. We're already seeing this and it's only going to get worse. The fitment of pattern parts might help to offset this slightly, but it won't make much difference in the grand scheme of things.

"Capacity in the repair industry is also a concern - fixing an accident-damaged motorhome is a specialist job and in some areas the skills to carry out such repairs are hard to find. This is only likely to get worse in coming years as motorhomes become ever more complicated - and that's before we consider the fact that at some point electrification will become mandatory, which will require a whole extra set of skills."

If the idea of having pattern parts horrifies you, it shouldn't. The internet is awash with stories of people being stung by unwittingly purchasing cheaply produced knock-offs. But repairers won't be going on to eBay and clicking on the cheapest parts they can find. Instead they'll be sourcing parts responsibly via trusted providers. Those parts will carry all of the necessary quality standard marks but they'll come at a more palatable price.

Ben highlighted the case of a premium windscreen available as a pattern part, which was also available from the manufacturer itself for £1,500 more. As he pointed out, despite the price premium, there's no detectable quality difference.


Shopping around for motorhome insurance cover

If you want to get the best deal on any insurance product it's essential that you shop around, and it's no different where your motorhome cover is concerned.

"There are price comparison websites for all types of insurance nowadays, including for motorhomes, but this is a specialist type of cover, and a conversation with someone can make all of the difference when it comes to getting the best price as well as the right level of cover,” explains Andrew.

"Some questions don't get asked in the online forms because they're kept as generic as possible. By picking up the phone and talking to a specialist insurance broker you can give extra information about your driving history, your motorhome's safety and security features as well as where it's stored. All of this extra info could see your premium being reduced significantly, so it's always worth picking up the phone, especially if moving to a new insurer who doesn't know much about you.”

Craig adds: "Our policy includes £5,000-worth of equipment and personal possessions cover (including clothing) as standard. Many insurers ask you to specify a sum for specific items and they have a lower limit overall, but we think the average motorhome owner will have between £2,000 and £3,000 of non-fixed equipment including awnings, TVs, satellites, gas bottles, pots and pans, BBQs, outdoor furniture and so forth.

"Equipment cover is one of the key differences between standard car and a specialist motorhome policy - car or van policies often cover only around £500-worth of equipment and personal possessions. That wouldn’t even pay for most awnings, never mind all of the other items that you carry in your motorhome.”

There's also the spectre of unrealistically low limits on windscreen claims. It's something that was raised in last year's survey and you'll find that quite a few policies come with a limit of £600 or so.

That might not be a problem because there are plenty of motorhomes that will be adequately covered for that figure. But, if you've got a vehicle with a heated windscreen and lots of driver assistance systems such as main beam assist or a large A-class, a new windscreen can easily run to well over £1,000 by the time it's been fitted.

The final word goes to Ben: "My parents set up Comfort because they couldn't get the right level of cover for their motorhome. Since we launched more than 30 years ago, we've fined-tuned the formula constantly to offer the best level of cover that we can yet, even now there are companies coming into the market that claim to offer motorhome-specific cover when they're actually selling car policies dressed up as something they're not.

"In some cases those policies aren't any cheaper than some of the specialist policies such as ours, despite them offering a significantly lower level of cover, which is why it's absolutely essential that you look at exactly what you're getting for your money, not just how much the insurance is costing you".

 


This year's insurance survey

Every year we contact all the companies offering motorhome insurance to get a quote from them on a fictional couple and their motorhome. Last year we got quotes for George and Mildred Roper and the year before it was Terry and June Medford.

This year we've been getting quotes for Basil and Sybil Fawlty who used to live in Torquay, but they recently moved to Alwalton near Peterborough to add a bit of glamour to their lives.

Basil is a 47-year-old bank manager whereas Sybil is a 44-year-old teacher; years ago they tried to run a hotel but they soon realised that working in the hospitality sector wasn't for them. They've got five years of motorhome experience (hence five years' no-claims discount from their old ’van plus maximum no claims on their cars), and both have clean licences.

Their aim is to cover up to 6,000 miles each year in their motorhome, some of which will be notched up in Europe as members of the Camping and Caravanning Club.

The Fawltys have had a good year financially, so they've treated themselves to a new motorhome for the 2021 season. It's a right-hand drive Elddis Autoquest 196, which is based on a Peugeot Boxer chassis; it's 7,338mm long and 2,200mm wide.

The Elddis comes with a 140bhp 2.2-litre diesel engine, a factory-fit immobiliser and a manual gearbox. This six-berth vehicle cost the Fawltys £49,219 and they aim to keep their new ’van on their drive, with no additional security such as barriers or locks.

The Elddis has a reversing camera and a tyre pressure monitoring system, which will help to reduce their premium with some insurers. The Fawltys have opted for a £350 excess where they get to choose, although in many cases the excess is lower than this.

As always there's a wide spectrum of quotes, as well as features and benefits of the policies available. Don't assume that the most expensive cover has the most benefits and don't pay for benefits that you won't use.

Breakdown cover is essential, especially if you're going to Europe but, if you've got an unusually large motorhome make sure that it's not so long or heavy that it breaches the limits of what's allowed.

Not all insurers include European cover as standard; Caravan Guard charges extra for example, although it prefers to see it as a discount for staying in the UK. Craig notes: "Normally between 30 and 40% of our policyholders opt for European cover, but this has dropped to just 15% over the past year. Because we're not automatically charging them for that cover, that's 85% of our customers paying less than they might be.”

Also look at whether you've got new-for-old cover which will replace your vehicle with a new equivalent in the event of a total loss (theft, fire, major crash damage). Some companies offer this cover for up to two years and some for three - and some don't offer it at all. Where it is offered, the chances are that you must have bought the motorhome new and there will be mileage limits too.

Some companies separate equipment from personal belongings but it's a grey area as to what sits in each category. This might not matter but it depends on what the limits are, because for some insurers you get a much more generous limit for equipment rather than personal possessions.

And finally, a word about Saga. Because our policyholders are mere striplings they're not eligible to be covered by Saga, which is only for those aged 50 and over. The company hasn't gone away but it doesn't cover 40-somethings.


And the winner is…

Caravan Guard - but by the narrowest of margins. Comfort used to win every year but, in 2020, it was narrowly beaten into second place by Caravan Guard, and the same thing has happened this year.

Many of the features and benefits of both companies' policies are identical, but there are minor differences and we'll take the time to explain them here, as what might be unimportant to one person could be very significant to another.

Caravan Guard's opening gambit premium-wise is £289, whereas Comfort wants an extra £40 (£329). However, Comfort's policy includes European driving cover automatically; Caravan Guard charges an extra £30 for this, which reduces the gap between the two policies to just £10.

But it's still £10 saved, and, despite charging slightly less, Caravan Guard also includes UK breakdown cover in all of its policies, but you have to pay an extra £65 for Europe-wide breakdown cover from Comfort.

To upgrade your breakdown cover to Europe-wide with Caravan Guard you have to pay another £46, or £80 if the vehicle is more than 15 years old.

To summarise things so far, if you want to drive your motorhome in Europe with suitable breakdown cover, you'll pay £394 with Comfort and £365 with Caravan Guard (£399 if the ’van is over 15 years old).

Stay in the UK and it's still £394 with Comfort (including breakdown cover) but Caravan Guard wants just £289 for the same level of cover, which represents a 27% saving.

The swings and roundabouts continue because Comfort's hotel and alternative transport limits are lower and the single-item limit on equipment is £400 (£500 for portable generators) compared with Caravan Guard's £1,000.

But, very importantly, Caravan Guard's new-for-old cover lasts for just two years (with a 24,000-mile limit) whereas Comfort's is a more generous three years, but with a limit of 15,000 miles.

So, if you're about to enter your third year of ownership (from new) it could be worth switching to Comfort; if your motorhome is a total loss for whatever reason, you could be far better off if you're insured with Comfort.

Interestingly, while Caravan Guard and Comfort are clear leaders of the pack with very little to separate them from each other, it's much harder to find someone to take third place as there's a much greater range of pluses and minuses with all of the other companies.

All have something to offer, but as you can see from the comparison above between our two top-placed companies, even very similar policies have differences that can be significant depending on your circumstances.


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